No, CW’s Arrow won’t be like the comics

The major creative forces behind The CW’s new serial adaptation of DC Comics’ Green Arrow comics line apparently don’t believe the upcoming show is about a super hero.

In a recent interview with The Huffington Post, the exec producers of the new series, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg, talked about their inspirations and motivations in creating this version of the character and his new story. A lot of it is great, and jives with the great stuff we’ve been hearing all along about how gritty and ‘real’ this series will be, and how dynamically the character will be portrayed.

I especially like the idea of the LOSTesque flashbacks, in which Oliver will be constantly remembering things that happened back on the island where he learned everything he needs to be Green Arrow, both as a way to make sure the audience never forget the genesis of all this stuff, but also as a way to tie everything together.

“You get to contrast and draw thematic connections between the two storylines.” said Guggenhiem. “I think that’s one of the things people will enjoy from the series. It’s like, ‘Oh, that’s clever, that little moment that happened in the flashback pays off in the present day.'” It sounds a bit gimmicky, but I think he’s right that it will work well if they make it flow, and it’s not a mechanic that the audience will be entirely unfamiliar with.

Something in the interview bothered me, however. When asked about what heroes might be included in the show, and specifically who Arrow’s sidekick may one day be, Kreisberg said, “I think you’ll find that there’s going to be more of the Green Arrow lore from the comics in the show than even hardcore Green Arrow fans aren’t going to believe. He’s choosing his nouns and his verbs very carefully … Stay tuned. There’s the reference to Speedy in the pilot. But I think there’s a lot of story to tell and we have a lot of cool characters to start with. Right now we’re sort of focusing on servicing them. But it’s always been our intention to open up the universe and allow not just characters from the Green Arrow comic books, but other DC Comics characters, some lesser known ones who’ve never really gotten their due and sort of put our unique spin on it. So, it’ll feel like a rich tapestry of a show.”

Then Guggenheim chimes in with “I’m so surprised by the number of questions we’ve gotten about DC characters and superheroes and everything. It’s interesting to me because we don’t really see the show as a superhero show.”

Hang on. One of the creators of this adaptation of my favorite comic book line doesn’t even see this as a super hero show? But wait, it gets worse: “We see it as more like a crime thriller. It’s designed to appeal to comic book fans, obviously. That’s why we’re putting in all the Easter eggs and everything. But it’s also designed to appeal to a much larger audience.”

I get that they want a wide deomographic appeal, but to outright admit that the comics only influence parts of the shows that they consider Easter eggs – hidden extras – in the story. So it’s just a crime drama with DC hero names on the characters, but no actual DC Comics elements below the surface? That sounds awful.

Then Kriesberg takes the floor again, saying, “We were heavily influenced, obviously, by Chris Nolan’s take on Batman, especially the second movie, The Dark Knight. If you pull Batman out of that movie you’re essentially left with Michael Mann’s Heat. It really is just a crime thriller. Truly, the only fantastical thing in it really is Batman. That’s the way we approached this material. Oliver could just as easily have a gun and a ski mask. The only thing that even makes it a comic book is the fact that he wears a hood. The only reason he does that is it’s not so much to wear a costume as much as it is that’s how he feels most like a predator. That’s how he gets back into the mindset of the hunter on the island. And to conceal his identity. He’s not wearing tights. He’s not dressing up to dress up. Given that, there is very little about it that’s sort of comic booky.”

Is it just me, or does this sound rather disparaging of comics and dismissive of the medium, as if it’s not possible to have a serious graphic novel without all the spandex and secret identities. Does Guggenhiem even read comics? He’s clearly seen The Dark Knight, but did he read Batman: Year One in which the things he talks about as being not “comic booky” about The Dark Knight were done long before Nolan’s films were even in development? It doesn’t seem like it.

Perhaps he hasn’t read a super hero comics since the silver age, when the things he is saying were true, but that doesn’t instill much confidence in his ability to adapt the material for television. When someone is tasked with adapting one of my favorite stories, I want that person to be in love with the source material, not dismissive of it, that’s how we end up with things like Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender, by allowing the creator to dismiss the source as unimportant to the adaptation.

It’s fine that they want to grit the tale up a bit, darken it even. It’s fine that they want to skip the nicknames and tights, and make things feel a bit more realistic, but stuff like that should be done out of love for the material and character, and a desire to see it in a new light, not because you think the original is wrong or dispensable.

I guess those of us who actually wanted this comic book adaptation serial to adapt the comic book (weird, I know) will have to hope that there are enough other creative influences on the show who do like and respect the source material that it will make up for these two.

The interview is much longer and goes into other concepts, which is perhaps not as discouraging as this response. You can check out the whole thing over on HuffPo.

Arrow, which stars Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen, will air on Wednesday evenings starting this fall on The CW.