Some Things That Are Wrong With Arrow

My co-hosts and I haven’t made any bones about our feelings on Arrow‘s most recent season:  It’s a notch or two down in quality.   No matter how high they ratchet the action, tie in related comics properties, or hype the romantic pairing of the week,  it all seems built on quicksand.  The ratings bear me out on this:  Currently, Arrow is rocking half the audience of its heyday, and is beaten soundly every week by the CW’s other tights-and-capes effort Flash.

The reasons for this, I fear, are mired in the show’s foundation: I’Il bet many of them are in the series bible, or were pitched at network execs early in production.

Listed below are the chief reasons the show is losing my attention.  Although they are separate aspects, they are connected at common threads throughout:

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1.  Ollie Isn’t Likable

It’s tough to judge series lead actor Stephen Amell on his performance as Oliver Queen, when he’s clearly directed to maintain intensity at all times.  I bet his every line in the script is in italics.  I bet the director routinely scolds him for turning up the corners of his mouth, even a little. Put simply, somewhere between the writing and direction, there is a mandate that Ollie not be allowed lingering moments of joviality, affection, sadness, sincerity, kindness…you know, the kind of emotional bearing that wins friends and influences viewers.  And don’t cite the occasional 30-second speech about his feelings he gives every other episode, between melee attacks:  Narration is the cheapest means in cinema to tell a story.  We’re to believe Ollie loves the women in his life because he says so…like a robot, on his way out the door.  We’re to believe Ollie feels hurt, afraid, angry, nonplussed, etc. because he says so…like a robot, on his way out the door.  I’m amazed how little it occurs to the writers to have these sorts of emotions flow freely from conversations, arguments, etc., instead opting again and again for pre-melee statements and speeches.

Ollie is surrounded by a supporting cast purported to be his friends…but for the life of me, I can’t figure out why.  Can you?  His little odyssey got Laurel’s sister killed and alienated her from her father…why’s she still around? Felicity spends her nights wearing tight dresses to the Arrow cave, but invariably ends up alone, bathing in the light of an LCD while Ollie orders up this or that digital deus ex machina; Why is she there?  Is there a particular reason Roy feels inspired by Ollie’s crusade, enough to don red leather and brave the militaristic villainy of Starling City?  There may be all the reasoning in the world, but without giving Ollie some charisma, none of these relationships feel natural.  Come to think of it, why should I care about Ollie?

2.  Modeling Arrow After The Movie It Wants To Be

The problem here, I think, is in modeling the show after cinematic takes featuring similar characters. The “action movie every week” model mandates Ollie define his relationships in curt statements uttered while he straps his quiver on.  Further than that, the push toward melee action makes every subsequent effort at dramatic tension less and less convincing.  Although the writers have been successful, after a fashion, at roping nearly every threat into the hero’s origin or personal mileau, these conflicts never carry the weight they should: The personal stakes are alluded to, but their effects are all but ignored.  Because of the lack of emotional range allowed the main character, it just doesn’t grab.

3.  CW Pairing Of The Week

If the show-runners spend half their time thinking about how they can make Arrow more like Batman Begins, then a good part of the remainder is spent playing musical chairs with the supporting characters’ relationship status.  These approaches are wholly at odds with one another:  Attempting a Nolan-esque tone for Arrow is admirable, in my opinion, but a lot of that tone is subverted by the sort of “will they won’t they” romantic tension and shifting relationships that is a cornerstone of the network’s offerings.

Take Laurel’s ever-changing relationship dynamic, for example:  Laurel mad at Ollie/Laurel supports Ollie, Laurel vs. drugs/Laurel masked hero, Laurel lies to her Dad/ Laurel loves her dad/Laurel the DA working against her Dad on Ollie’s behalf….and that’s just one supporting character!  The Arrow/Canary relationship is, imho, one of the best pairings in comics….here, you’d need pushpins and yarn just to explain Ollie’s relationship to Laurel.  As the central figure, Ollie’s own palette is decidedly more convoluted: Ollie will/won’t Laurel, Ollie will/won’t Felicity, Ollie’s working with Detective Lance but protecting Canary’s identity, etc. constantly changing in dynamic, yet never managing freedom from the tepid, muddy tones these relationships become mired in.  Speedy is just a train wreck at this point: The writers have contradicted themselves on her motivations way too many times for her character to seem anything but a means to a narrative end.  I can hear her voice now:  “You lied to me, Roy/Ollie, so I hate you! But it was to protect me, so I love you again! I’m hanging out with the dad I never knew who’s a psychopathic mass murderer, because it seems like a good way to get back at you or avenge my mom or something! But now I hate him because he lied to me, and I’m going to sell him out to the League of Assassins…”

4.  Ollie Isn’t A Hero

This is the most important aspect, I feel, in which the Arrow has ‘failed this city’. In its attempts to capture the tone of Nolan’s Batman films, the Arrow creators missed the mark on one very important aspect of character:  Through most of the first season, Ollie was portrayed as a vengeance-fueled nemesis who checked his enemies off the list, Punisher-style.  The show was well on its way through the first season before series bible changes were made and the opening narrative was amended with a vague stricture against killing.

I’m sure the show-runners were going for a darker tone, a more “mature” theme to entice the ever-important young adult male viewership.  I’m sure many would defend the “willing to kill” idea as a stylistic choice, citing how this kind of psychotic behavior and emotional deconstruction of a character can be complex, even fascinating, to explore in series television.  While I agree to that possibility, I don’t think the writers either fully understood or evaluated how this would impact their long-term goals for the character.

The effects of this decision weren’t just stylistic.  Besides alienating many fans of the comics character (who no doubt represent only a tiny fraction of the tv viewership), Ollie racking up (see what I did there?) a body count that would make Rambo blush set relationships on which the show depends on a foundation of quicksand.

Think about it from a writer’s perspective, in terms of the early planning for the character: You’re telling the story of a vigilante who lives in a fair-sized city in the modern era.     Your desire is to surround him with the supporting cast necessary for that CW soap-opera aspect.  You accept that audiences will lend you a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, especially when your hero is cloaked in some form of “super” costume.  Maybe they’ll allow that the hero shows up at the crime scene without being noticed by the several hundred smart-phone laden persons he had to drive past… while in costume…on his green motorbike.  Maybe they’ll accept that a hood is a great way to conceal one’s identity from an interested population.

Of course you anticipate your hero running into the police from time to time.  If you were planning such a character for series television, wouldn’t you carefully define that relationship early on?  No doubt they are the most likely source of allies and/or rivals for your character, or at least a source of information on crime.  Is your character in constant threat of being arrested and tried? Maybe there’s a friend on the force or at city hall who provides tips to your hero.  Maybe there’s a detective nemesis searching for your hero’s identity.  Arrow has or had all of these things, and relies on these relationships frequently.  Think of how the decision to make Ollie a murderer affected his relationship with the police.  Is there any positive aspect?  In any case, wouldn’t the conceit that the police turn a blind eye (as illustrated in The Dark Knight) to the hero’s nightly exploits because he’s a ‘good guy’ be helpful? Conversely, if you’re planning on illustrating the hero as a perpetual fugitive, and are on board with him murdering people in a quest for justice, then you’d better pare down the close relationships with those in and around the police, maybe?  Like maybe Ollie shouldn’t foster a working relationship with Laurel as Canary?  Like maybe Detective Lance should be a little less ready to embrace the vigilante as a force for justice?  Batman meeting Jim Gordon on a rooftop makes sense because Batman doesn’t kill people

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Even though he turned a new leaf in later seasons, Ollie-as-murderer still strains credibility in terms of his relationships. Whenever purportedly rational characters, characters who know and/or care about him, speak concerning these deeds, they seem delusional.  Witness Felicity, when confronted by Ray over her alliance with murderer Ollie: “You don’t know him…you don’t know what he’s been through,” she says, sounding a lot like a 14-year-old explaining her love of early 2 Live Crew to her horrified father. Witness  Detective Lance: No doubt it was the alcohol that inspired him to knowingly turn a blind eye to a mass murderer for a year before coming to his senses, right?  How de-humanizing is it whenever Roy and Diggle talk Ollie down when he expresses even the least bit of remorse: “You did what you had to,” and whatnot. Only he didn’t have to, did he? Ollie himself, in CW-sized moments of remorse,  talks about bearing “the burden”, as if the consequence owed him for killing all those people is having a 1000-yard stare and being unable to articulate emotions besides intensity.

Judging by the hood and the way he acts around women, maybe his idea of an appropriate consequence is celibate monasticism.

Ollie is harried and pressured into just about every move he makes as the Arrow, instead of exposing his sense of justice, love of his friends and family, or any other traits that elevate the hero from the vigilante.  Yes, there are those times where protection of loved ones supposedly motivates him, but the show does not invest enough in establishing those relationships for that aspect to ring true.  Further, the emotionally stunted way in which Ollie addresses the danger he places those loved ones in by allowing their association with him doesn’t speak highly of his character.  At least the Punisher knows enough to keep innocents at arm’s length.

Bringing it back to the comparison:  Batman is a character that is, in my opinion, not principally motivated by a need for vengeance, regardless of any themes and mantras he voices about being ‘the night’ and whatnot.  Vengeance is a trait not in keeping with his discipline of mind and body, his commitment to the mission, and his forthright expectation of cooperation from other heroes and guardians of justice.  As a character, I think the best portrayals of Bruce Wayne depict him as a boy robbed of justice, of order, and of safety in a way that his sheltered life couldn’t keep at bay. Therefore, he seeks to create justice, order, and safety for others via use of the Bat as a symbol to inspire fear in criminals. The same discipline that allows  him to do so without succumbing to fear himself denies him the self-indulgence that vengeance represents.

What if the same had been true for the Arrow?  What if, in gaining skill and overcoming the threat the island posed, he forged peace and justice for himself instead of anger?  In my opinion, this would have been the better outcome, and the one more likely to yield interesting plots for seasons to come. Although Ollie’s “evolution” from murder has yielded much in terms of conflict, we don’t need every aspect of character and relationship defined by conflict. Contrast is a necessary part of defining a character, too! If you can’t convey love, hope, or joy, then you can’t do justice to loss, shame, anger, etc.

In short, I think vengeful Ollie was a serious mistake, and I’m glad to see in recent episodes the writers finally address the consequences in a seemingly serious way.  However, the damage has been done, and a full exploration of realistic consequences would involve many long years with Ollie in a prison cell.  Best now to tell a quick story about it, then move along.  I’m hoping the writers find a way to close the book on that aspect of character AND its consequences.   I hope they give Ollie and the supporting cast some time to strengthen emotional  ties and humanize the main character.  Let the conflicts come from his enemies exclusively for a while, and give viewers a hero they can empathize with.

 

 

Madonna’s intro and first thoughts

Hello everyone, Madonna here, I just wanted to give everyone a quick introduction, share a few thoughts, and ask an Agents of Shield question I have.

 

Firstly I want to thank Ken for getting me involved in the podcast of the damned. I really enjoyed talking comics and all things nerd/geek with him. I haven’t had the privilege of meeting Michael or James yet, but next time I trek back to Philly I’m going to try to get together with everyone and maybe even record an episode with them. I’ve been reading comics since the mid 90s. My father got me into them, he let me read his classic x-men collection, and I never looked back. I’m currently reading mostly Marvel, Image, and IDW comics. I used to read more DC, but I’m getting further away from them.

I want to talk about 2 comics real quickly. The Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw is one of the best comics I’ve read in years. If you haven’t seen it or know anything about it I’ll give a quick overview. It’s a fantasy series staring anthropomorphic animals, who live in a world with magic. Magic starts failing and a conclave of wizards get together to bring the Champion, the one who brought magic into the world, back from the past to try to strengthen magic in the current time. This series has excellent writing and world building. Issue 5 just came out this week, it’s a great read and you should pick it up.

The other comic I want to talk about is the most recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series from IDW. SPOILER ALERT: Donatello “dies” at the end. I wont believe he’s dead until I see a funeral, dead body (they show him but its not confirmed he’s dead), and it goes for 2 or more years without him coming back. Most likely they’ll put his brain into Metalhead’s body. I just wanted to congratulate and praise IDW for not revealing this months ahead of the time. Anymore previews just ruins big reveals to sell comics and not pumping this “death” to sell comics really speaks highly of IDW and the trust they have in their writers. They know they have a good story and they let that speak for itself.

While listening to this week’s podcast the guys talked about Agents of Shield. They made some great points and I had a few thoughts and questions I wanted to get out there. First of all I see that SHIELD (Phil Coulson’s team) and The Real Shield (TRS, Edward James Olmos’s team) as the set up for the end of Avengers 2 and the start of Captain America: Civil War. SHIELD is going to be the Anti-registration, and TRS is going to obviously be Pro-registration. Like the guys were talking about TRS is set up. They had a base, red shirts, money, and a feeling of legitimacy. If you show the average person both teams TRS looks like what you’d expect a covert team to look like. SHIELD is underground. Coulson’s team is scrambling, they only have a few agents and support staff, plus as the guys said, 2 of their main field agents are TRS spies. Looking at the fighting between Fitz and Simmons, this is just the beginning of the infighting that’s about to start. Simmons is going to leave SHIELD. She’s clearly freaked out by powers, doing everything she can to prevent Skye (can we call her Quake yet?) from manifesting her ability. I loved Fitz finally calling Simmons out. Simmons has been a pain in the ass since season 2 started and I’m looking forward to seeing Fitz grow once Simmons goes to TRS.

One of the biggest questions I have is, is the blind teleporter actually Reader from the comics and if so does he work for the Capo? Is Agents of Shield setting up 2 inhuman groups? Agents of Shield has had a symmetry to it since it started, do we think that they are setting up Reader and the Capo to be going around, gathering Inhumans, building their army, while Black Bolt and Medusa are quietly sitting in the background with the Royals waiting for a big reveal?

 

Thank you for reading my randomness. If you haven’t yet, check out last weeks podcast, the guys did a great job. I’ll be writing more for the site, I’m going to start a few days a week and build up from there.

Aspects of Batgirl

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, a controversy has brewed  over the past day on whether DC Comics was right in their decision to pull a planned Batgirl variant cover.  The cover was going to be offered in small amounts via your typical variant cover artificial scarcity incentives aimed at both retailers and collectors, in celebration of The Joker’s 75th anniversary as a character.

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Maybe, like, for Earth 2 or something

 

Most of you have heard the story already.  I’ll try to keep the setup short.

Contributing artist Rafael Albuquerque recently previewed his proposed variant cover to Batgirl, an homage to Moore’s Killing Joke from ’88, depicting a creepily casual Joker apparently  holding the captive Batgirl hostage at gunpoint.  The image garnered cheers from some fans as well as some pretty heated backlash from the Twitter-verse under the hash tag #ChangeTheCover.  Some apparently thought the cover too demeaning to women.  Some may have thought it too contrasting to the lighter-yet-more-empowered, and arguably more socially aware, take on the character from current writer/artist combo  Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart(covers, layouts?)/Babs Tarr(interiors).  Cameron has been vocal on Twitter about his displeasure with the proposed cover, and has asserted the creators’ right to veto an image they see as at odds with their goals for the character.  DC announced a short time after the preview went viral that the variant cover idea had been pulled. Statements of agreement with the move followed, by almost all creators involved.

I’m not one to get that interested in Twitter debates.  But this one has actually raised some thought-provoking questions for me.  Let’s get the preliminaries out of the way:  I am a supporter of the move to aim Batgirl squarely at a new audience by employing  a more youthful, vibrant tone.  I like that she crusades for social justice.  I like that they’ve elevated her from the “just another sad sack sidekick from Gotham” status by means other than making her more…let’s just call it more New52.  I like that they at least make an effort at relevance with social media, even if it comes off at times as a sad attempt by 30- and 40-somethings to appeal to a new 14-year-old target demographic. I like that they’re trying.  I like that not all comics are written for old dudes like me.

I’d like to think that DC comics is simply parroting the creator’s wishes: That shows at least some interest in their product as art, doesn’t it?  Or does it show the opposite?  Are they simply pandering to a vocal minority on Twitter to ensure that demographic’s sensibilities aren’t damaged, and, if that is the case, is it a bad thing? Or is it a vocal majority that is in question, and the business of comics is, rightly, to sell comics to the majority? Should the percentages even play into the publisher’s thinking?  Pandering to a vocal minority by vetoing one artist’s input in favor of the others is bad, right?  We all complain when we see editorial seemingly dragging creators off on some profit-motivated crossover event tangent or status quo mixup…unless the crossover is good.  When should editorial play the “guiding hand”?

The most interesting aspect of the debate, to me, is the issue of creator control over the character it raises.  What do you say to the writer and artist of the book when they call for support for their “right” to veto the cover in question? Does the Brenden/ Cameron/ Babs combo get a veto on variant covers they don’t like, just by virtue of being the current creative team on the character? What if they disagree?  Does the letterer get a vote?  How about a half a vote for the colorist, one quarter for the letterer?  What if Cameron Stewarts’ feeling on the cover is at odds with, say, Carmine Infantino’s  (rest his soul)? Even if the creators all (eventually) agree with the hash tag crusade, does that make it better? And does the new editorial direction for DC, supporting individual tone for individual books and creative teams, mean the Batgirl character isn’t a larger, collaborative effort any more?

You want my opinion, it’s this:  I like the variant cover.  I think it’s perfect for a variant.  I like the idea it depicts the Joker not giving a shit about hash tag campaigns, social awareness, and Batgirl’s newly empowered status on the other side of town.  That’s kinda his thing.

Maybe it’s insensitive of me, but I don’t think the content of the image justifies the outcry, either.  I can conceive that it may invoke pain, or even terror in some that view it…but get ready to lose if you’re trying to satisfy a “no painful memories” image criteria.  I like when artists’ visions are supported, but I don’t like the idea of DC bending over for every hashtag brigade…believe me, we’ll all be sucking saccharine shortly if that’s the case.  And I think comics, especially when it comes to limiteds and variant covers, should always leave a little room for subversiveness.

I bet they even have a regular cover that’ll sell, like, 10% more than the variant.

I’d like it if the current creators involved would realize that their time on the throne is (hopefully) temporary, their efforts are collaborative, and their visions for the character are up to subjective interpretations.  I feel they owe it to their fellow creators, at times, to allow diverse visions of these characters, even ones directly at odds with their “message”, to peek in on them every once in a while.  I’d like these creators to remember the chances the publisher took with their own work.  And, especially in the cases of variant covers, one-shots, and guest appearances by other creators involving characters that have been around longer than most of them have been alive, I think creators should not be so territorial…you know, like not shitting all over other creators’ work because of some perceived slight to their own.

I’m not asking creators to dilute their vision by committee at every opportunity, or allow other creators to steal their time or effort.  How about they just give that little nod every once in a while, and maybe even be supportive, even if their vision is at odds with it?  It makes comics more diverse, open to a larger audience, and just plain better.

“This 1-in-400 variant cover image isn’t Cameron Stewart Batgirl enough for my Cameron Stewart Batgirl comic” is a kinda petty statement, in my opinion.

 

Batgirl design

Jim’s TV reviews: iZombie Ep. 101 – Pilot

iZombie is the latest comics-to-tv offering on the CW.  More or less based on the Chris Roberson/Mike Allred comic of the same name, the tv effort by series creators Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars) and Diane Ruggiero-Wright premiered on the CW this past Tuesday.

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iZombie tells the tale of Liv More (har har), a young and promising med student whose life is cut short by an “inexplicable zombie outbreak” during a late-night party on a yacht.  Surviving (sort of…well, not really) the attack, Liv finds herself balancing the line between dead and undead. She has a compulsion to eat human brains, the unhealthy pallor most often associated with fans of The Cure, an inability to sleep, loss of sensitivity to taste, and an overall lack of enthusiasm.

When she doesn’t give in to her new eating disorder, Liv goes full-on feral zombie.  Logically, she quits her hospital internship and finds work at a local police morgue, wherein she might dine on the occasional deceased victim’s frontal or occipital.  She is thus informed of one of her special zombie “gifts”:  A psychic connection to the victim’s experiences.  Feeling emotionally connected to her supper, Liv helps her police compatriots track down killers.

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iZombie on the CW focuses squarely on the quirk.  It rarely surrenders the light-hearted tone in favor of the type of deeply personal emotional exploration one might expect from a new undead. Instead, it exposes Liv’s plight, lightly and with a dash of snarky inner monologue, through her relationships: Her caring but meddlesome match-maker mom, her bewildered and at-arms-length former fiance, her concerned roommate.  This is all very intentional, and very in keeping with what you’d expect on this network. Nevertheless, series lead Rose McIver manages some really interesting depth.  She communicates quite a bit of empathy-inducing emotion from the character using quick micro-expressions and ticks.  A quick furrow of the brow, a brief frown, a softening of the eyes…she knows how to navigate a series where ennui is the new normal for her character.  She comes off as lovable and sincere, even though much of the passion and determination of her former life is behind her.

The pilot moved a bit too quickly from the questions raised by its origin-story opening, instead heading straight for weekly procedural territory.  But there was enough quirk, enough performance from McIver, and enough originality to the premise to keep me in my seat. Most interesting was how the pilot left open the question whether Liv’s ennui was more a cover for human despair and regret over the secrecy between her and her loved ones, or whether it stemmed more from her zombie nature. Looking forward to more from this series, but cautiously:  If it surrenders to “corpse of the week” too quickly, I’ll be dropping it soon.

Comics Podcast Of The Damned Episode 01: All Roads Lead To Buffy

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Join us for the first of many ‘casts to come, as Ken, Mike, and Jim blast through the latest comics and comics culture!  This week, co-host Ken gets out all that pent-up comics and tv commentary he’s been dying to deliver, leading us through our auspicious inaugural offering!


Experience the wailing and gnashing of teeth!