Green Arrow began as a sort of second-tier Batman: he was a millionaire playboy who fought crime with the help of an adolescent, orphaned ward; they drove the Arrowcar, had an Arrowplane, operated from the Arrowcave, were summoned by the Arrowsignal (which prompted an exasperated Batman to ask, in Kevin Smith’s graphic novel Quiver, "Didn’t you do anything that was original?”) and an arrow for every occasion. (Bad guy set something ablaze? Fire Extinguisher Arrow! Get knocked off a tall building? Parachute Arrow!)
In the 1970s, when DC wanted to make their comics more “socially relevant,” they teamed him with Green Lantern (the white guy) and he became the voice of the 99% to Lantern’s voice of the establishment. In Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns he became a one-armed anti-Establishment radical-in-hiding and subsequently, depending on the continuity, he lost/gave away his fortune and started living with the underclass, died, came back, got married, retired, semi-retired. There was talk of a Green Arrow movie but that never went anywhere.
Seeking a replacement for its long-running and successful run with Smallville (and perhaps in part due to his popularity on that series, in still another reimagining), the CW gives us Arrow (Wednesdays, 8 pm ET; they probably decided to drop the “Green” part after the underwhelming successes of The Green Hornet and Green Lantern.) On the surface it seems they just turned this Emerald Archer into the Opposite of Batman: Bruce Wayne saw his parents killed, Oliver Queen’s parents saw him make it to adulthood. Bruce wanted to carry on his father’s legacy, Oliver wants to clean up his father’s messes. Bruce pretended to be a feckless playboy, Oliver was a feckless playboy. Batman has an ally in the police commissioner; no one on the police force likes Arrow. But the biggest difference is the one line Batman will never cross, the taking of a life, no matter whose. (Just think: one well-placed Batarang and who knows how many of the Joker’s estimated 2,000 victims could have been saved.) Arrow doesn’t mind crossing that line.
Oliver Queen becomes Arrow after spending five years on a mysterious island in the South China Sea (what happened to him there we’ll doubtless find out as the series progresses), the only survivor of the sinking of his father’s yacht. He returns home with a list of names, people who are destroying his city, who he will confront. Virtually no one is happy to see him back: his girlfriend wishes he were dead (of course, sleeping with her sister and then being responsible for her drowning can do that), his “best friend” can’t be trusted, his sister blames him for “abandoning her” (hey, cut the guy some slack, he almost died), and he’s making enemies every time he dons his green hoodie.
The production values in the pilot episode are outstanding; pay special attention to the lighting (things are shaded in green the way they used to shade with blue light on The X-Files), the cast is appealing and the quiet moments give you time to catch your breath between action sequences. The only minuses (so far) are perhaps too many reverses and doubles-crosses, too many crossing paths, and too much foreshadowing (his sister’s nickname is “Speedy;” comics geeks know what I’m talking about—she even has a drug habit!).
But for an opening act, Arrow is right on target.