Before George Newbern, Brandon Routh, Henry Cavill, and Tyler Hoechlin got to suit up as Superman for newer generations in both animation and in live-action, The WB Television Network, a.k.a. the greatest television network in all of existence, introduced the world to Smallville, which centered around teenage Clark Kent (Tom Welling) adjusting to his powers and the responsibilities that come with having them, while also beginning a friendship
involving lots of homoerotic glances with his future arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum).
It aired for ten seasons, and created new Superman fans, while also satisfying and entertaining longtime ones with its grounded approach to showing Clark Kent, Lex Luthor, Lois Lane (Erica Durance), and many other well-known characters on their path to becoming the established heroes and villains we know, love, and love to hate. For those who love and enjoy comic book movies and television shows, it can be easy for some people to forget or ignore what Smallville was able to accomplish during its ten-season run, and how it helped lay the groundwork for many other comic book television shows that would soon follow in its footsteps.
Smallville also introduced its own version of billionaire crimefighter Oliver Queen, a.k.a. Green Arrow (played by Justin Hartley), during its sixth season. There were some early discussions about launching a spin-off centered around Green Arrow, but Hartley wasn’t interested in what he saw as taking the spotlight off of Welling and putting it on himself. Not too long after Smallville aired its series finale, discussions came up once again about a Green Arrow television series, but with an entirely different version with no connection to Smallville. Once writers/producers Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim shared their vision of what they wanted this series to be, The CW gave them the green light, and on October 10, 2012, Arrow made its network television premiere.
After five years of being missing and presumed dead due to a shipwreck that took the lives of his father, Robert (Jamey Sheridan), and his girlfriend, Sara (originally played by Jacqueline MacInnes Wood), Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) is found shipwrecked on a remote island near the South China Sea called Lian Yu, and is rescued and brought back home to his family and friends in Starling City (soon to be known as Star City): his mother, Moira (Susannah Thompson), his younger sister, Thea (Willa Holland), his best friend, Tommy (Colin Donoghue), Moira’s husband, Walter Steele (Colin Salmon), and Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), Oliver’s ex-girlfriend and sister to Sara, who was sleeping with Oliver behind her back and ended up dying in the shipwreck.
They all sense that Oliver has changed, and is not the same spoiled manchild that he was before his disappearance. When he and Tommy are kidnapped by a group of masked men, and questioned as to what Oliver really knows regarding his father’s secret business activities, Oliver manages to easily break free and kill all three men while Tommy is conveniently unconscious, and informs the police — including Laurel and Sara’s father, Detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) — that a mysterious man wearing a green hood came to their rescue and eliminated their captors. It soon becomes clear what Oliver’s true intentions are upon his return to Starling City: Use his newly-acquired skills in archery, gymnastics, and martial arts to protect his home from those who are using crime and corruption to become rich and powerful, no matter how many innocent lives they destroy in order to make that happen. With a list of those individuals given to him by his father before his death, Oliver adopts a new persona to protect his true identity while declaring war on all of them … one identified by his green hood, green tactical leather outfit, and his skillful use of a bow and arrows: The Hood, who will later be known as The Arrow before adopting his more permanent nickname: Green Arrow.
Much of the inspiration for Arrow came not just from the film Batman Begins, which took the same grounded approach to adapting The Caped Crusader seven years earlier, but also from two graphic novels: Green Arrow: Year One, which showed how Oliver Queen became Green Arrow after he is betrayed by his bodyguard, and marooned on a deserted island that is actually inhabited by a criminal organization run by drug queenpin China White; and Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters, about a fortysomething Green Arrow taking a back-to-basics approach in confronting a serial killer of sex workers, drug dealers, and a rival archer called Shado throughout the streets of Seattle. (Lost also deserves some credit as well for inspiring Arrow’s frequent usage of flashbacks that were used to explain Oliver’s time on Lian Yu, even if many of those flashbacks featured Amell having to wear wigs and fake beards that were so bad, they made him look as if he was on the set of a Tyler Perry movie.) During its first two seasons, there were no other superheroes, no superpowers, and minimal usage of trick arrows. (The boxing-glove arrow, for example, only appears once during the entire show’s run, and that doesn’t happen until Season 3.) Every situation was convincingly made to feel as if it was life and death, and that any wrong move made by Green Arrow during his war on crime could easily be his last. This made viewers feel the weight of his crusade, and how it affected both Oliver and his loved ones, physically and emotionally. Unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe after the release and monumental success of The Avengers, there wasn’t much bathos to be found, and though Arrow had plenty of humor, it wasn’t used to completely undercut the drama of what the characters dealt with in each episode.
However, it didn’t take long for Arrow to begin planting seeds that let viewers know there was a much bigger world outside of Star City. Like it or not, Green Arrow would soon be crossing paths with people from that world who would make his crusade, and his life in general, both better and worse. It starts with the Season 2 introduction of Central City Police Department forensics scientist Barry Allen (Grant Gustin). He arrives in the Emerald Archer’s backyard to help out with an investigation involving an assailant with superhuman strength, while also hoping that the case will provide some answers about the murder of his mother that will help him exonerate his father, who was wrongfully convicted of the crime. Barry soon proves himself to be a helpful ally to Green Arrow, and just as he arrives back home in Central City? A citywide catastrophe involving a partial accelerator results in Barry getting struck by lightning in the police department’s crime lab, ending up in a coma, and waking up nine months later as the Fastest Man Alive.
Arrow had plenty of terrific action sequences and impressive fight choreography that depicted Green Arrow’s war on crime. Combined with the supporting cast, these factors combined are what grabbed the attention of viewers and not only kept them tuning in every week, but also discussing the show with each other on social media.
Susannah Thompson as Moira Queen, whose love for her family won’t stop her from doing whatever it takes to keep her plans for Star City’s destruction from being discovered; Willa Holland as Thea, who decides to stop being a troublemaking wild child and join her brother in protecting the city; Caity Lotz as Sara Lance, who is revealed to have survived the shipwreck that stranded Oliver on Lian Yu, and using her own combat training to launch her own war on crime as The Canary; Paul Blackthorne as Quentin Lance, who despises Oliver for tearing his family apart and is not fond at all of Green Arrow’s existence but soon finds himself working with him after being reunited with Sara; Katie Cassidy as Laurel Lance, a fiercely devoted attorney who decides to follow in Sara’s footsteps and confront the criminal element outside of the courtroom as the Black Canary; Colton Haynes as Roy Harper, who leaves his life of crime behind and ends up becoming one of Green Arrow’s most trusted allies while also falling love with Thea; David Ramsey as John Diggle, who goes from being Oliver Queen’s bodyguard to his closest friend and partner in crimefighting (If you were looking forward to seeing him become the next Green Lantern? Sorry, but it’s not going to happen.); Emily Bett Rickards as Felicity Smoak, who has a tendency to babble and doesn’t always have the best social skills when talking to others, but is an unstoppable genius when it comes to her skills with computers and technology, and who eventually becomes the love of Oliver Queen’s life.
Of course, there’s Stephen Amell, as Oliver Queen, a.k.a. Green Arrow.
Long before his fingers ever touched a bow and arrow, and before he ever started working out on his salmon ladder, Oliver was a spoiled and inconsiderate jerk who didn’t really care about his own bad behavior, and who it might hurt. And after coming home from five years of fighting for survival on Lian Yu, Oliver is a changed man, who fully intends on honoring the memory of his father (and also that of his best friend) by placing all of Star City under his protection and being willing to take down anyone who threatens that. It’s not always easy, and it’s a mission that causes Oliver’s short fuse to go off more than it should, while also making him realize that his mission is not one that he can do all alone, and that he’s a much better hero when he has other heroes fighting alongside him.
Along with the main cast of Arrow, there were also plenty of guest stars, recurring actors, former main cast members, and future main cast members who graced the screen with their presence as both friends and foes: Colin Salmon as Walter Steele, Colin Donoghue as Tommy Merlyn, John Barrowman (Malcolm Merlyn), Kelly Hu (China White), Manu Bennett (Slade Wilson, a.k.a. Deathstroke), Alex Kingston (Dinah Lance), Jessica De Gouw as Helena Bertinelli, a.k.a.
The Crossbow Killer Huntress, Seth Gabel (The Count, and it’s obviously not the one you’re thinking of), Celina Jade (Shado), Michael Rowe (Deadshot), Michael Jai White (Bronze Tiger), Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Amanda Waller), Robert Knepper (Clock King), Kevin Alejandro (Brother Blood), Summer Glau (Isabel Rochev), Brandon Routh (Ray Palmer, a.k.a. The Atom), Matthew Nable (Ra’s al Ghul, and despite how talented Nable is in the role, the character is still played by a white man, which many fans still find very disappointing), Katrina Law (Nyssa al Ghul), Neal McDonough (Damien Dahrk), Austin Butler, Vinnie Jones, Marc Singer, Jeri Ryan, Rutina Wesley, Dolph Lundgren, Michael Emerson, Megalyn Echikunwoke (Mari McCabe, a.k.a. Vixen), Josh Segarra (Prometheus), Kirk Acevedo (Ricardo Diaz), Echo Kellum (Curtis Holt, a.k.a. Mister Terrific), Rick Gonzalez (Rene Ramirez, a.k.a. Wild Dog), Juliana Harkavy (Dinah Drake, a.k.a. Black Canary), Katherine McNamara (Mia Smoak-Queen, a.k.a. the future version of Green Arrow, and whose intended Arrow spin-off was passed over by The CW during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic), and many, many more.
There is, however, one guest star who deserves special mention, and that is Matt Ryan.
In 2014, Ryan made his first appearance as John Constantine in the NBC series Constantine, which was intended to be more like Hellblazer and portray a more faithful version of the character, compared to Keanu Reeves’ version. Unfortunately, the show was canceled after 13 episodes due to poor ratings. Constantine was never meant to be connected to Arrow, or any other DC television series on The CW. But thanks to Guggenheim expressing lots of interest in having Matt Ryan reprise the role of John Constantine for Arrow, a “one-time-only” deal was made that allowed this to happen, and soon enough, the character made his glorious return in the show’s fourth season.
There was some recent discussion about John Constantine appearing in his own television series once again, but this time on HBO Max. In one of far too many unfortunate and infuriating decisions being made in recent months because of the Warner Bros. Discovery merger, those plans have now been scrapped, and Bad Robot, J.J. Abrams’ production company that was bankrolling the series, is now searching for another place that would welcome John Constantine with open arms.
As much as there were things to like and enjoy about Arrow, there were also some things that made fans very unhappy with what was allowed to happen onscreen, and those fans weren’t that shy in letting their anger be known. For starters (and this was a very persistent complaint), there was the fact that this version of Oliver Queen/Green Arrow had very little in common with the comic-book version of Oliver Queen/Green Arrow. The comics version was more of a politically-minded rebel who was not shy about speaking his mind about social issues that mattered to him, while also using his archery skills to do what he could and hopefully make a difference. (Just imagine if John Oliver or George Carlin were street-fighting vigilantes who used a bow and arrow to punch up instead of being stand-up comics using a microphone, and that’s your comics version of Green Arrow.) Whereas the CW version of Green Arrow behaved way too much like he was Batman 2.0, in that he kept way too many secrets from his friends and colleagues, behaved hypocritically towards them, and instead of being charming and likable, he was mostly serious, angry and spent a lot of his time brooding. (Hence why Vulture critic Angelica Jade Bastién regularly refers to Stephen Amell as “Walmart Batman.”)
Then there’s Oliver’s relationship with Felicity, and the show treating it as the One True Pairing, despite the fact that Oliver’s partner/soulmate in the comics is Black Canary. Yet, because Felicity Smoak became the show’s breakout character thanks to Emily Bett Rickards’ performance, a lot of fans felt as if she was elevated to lead actress status, and that both Katie Cassidy and the character of Black Canary were forced to take a backseat, even to the point of the character being killed off unnecessarily, and replaced by an Earth-2 version of the same character.
Finally (well, there’s more, but this article is long enough already), there’s this breakup scene between Oliver and Felicity, who was hit by a stray bullet and ended up in a wheelchair as a result. Viewers were led to believe that she would be permanently paralyzed, or at least paralyzed for a very long period of time due to the supposed failure of a recent spinal implant, but … well, just see for yourself.
If “jumping the shark” was still a thing, this would be considered the “Jumping The Shark” moment for a lot of Arrow fans when they originally saw it.
None of that changes the fact that Arrow and its success inspired The CW to produce more shows with more DC characters. Thanks to Barry Allen’s introduction during Arrow’s second season, the first of those shows was none other than The Flash, which also starred Jesse L. Martin, Danielle Panabaker, Carlos Valdes, Tom Cavanagh, and Candice Patton as Iris West. (If you’ve been paying any attention, you know that Patton has deserved better when it comes to both the constant harassment she has dealt with from racist trolls on the Internet, to her own network not showing as much support to her as they could and should against those same trolls. A lot better.)
Followed by Supergirl, starring Melissa Benoist, Chyler Leigh, Mehcad Brooks, and David Harewood, and which premiered on CBS before moving over to The CW after its first season.
Then there was Legends of Tomorrow, which started off as a regular superhero show about a team of superheroes working together and fighting evil while traveling through space and time. At some point during the show’s run, the showrunners and writers threw a whole bunch of their remaining f-cks out of the nearest window, and made the show weird. Very weird.
How weird, you ask? I’ll answer with just one word:
2018 saw the premiere of Black Lightning, starring Cress Williams (Some television fans still call him “Scooter,” and other television fans still call him “Lavon”), James Remar, Nafessa Williams, China Anne McClain, and Jessica Adams.
Finally, after Black Lightning, there was Batwoman, starring Ruby Rose, who only appeared during Season 1 (and then spilled all of the tea as to why they left the show), and Javicia Leslie.
(If you’re about to say, “Wait a minute, what about Superman & Lois? That show is part of the Arrowverse, isn’t it?,” this is where I tell you that, according to the showrunners, it is not part of the Arrowverse, as they decided to keep it separate since Superman & Lois takes place on an alternate version of Earth.)
I’ve said more than once that when it comes to seeing comic books being adapted as movies and/or television shows, and in animation or in live-action, we are absolutely spoiled for choice. I think of that whenever I see tweets saying that (insert name of any comic book movie released in the last ten or twenty years here) is the worst comic book movie ever made. Whenever I see those tweets, I know that the person tweeting that is probably very young. Because they don’t know about or remember the direct-to-video version of Captain America, or the Roger Corman version of Fantastic Four, or the Spider-Man television show from the 1970s, or the FOX TV-movie Generation X, or The Incredible Hulk TV-movies, including the one that featured Daredevil, long before he was doing the Walk of Shame after hooking up with She-Hulk. Or even the She-Hulk movie that we almost got with Brigitte Nielsen in the lead role.
I know how easy it is for a lot of fans, especially those in DCEU Twitter, to look down on Arrow and on the rest of the Arrowverse, to look down on The CW in its entirety and talk plenty of sh-t about how much they suck, or about how cheap the visual effects in those shows look, and why these shows should be made on HBO Max instead, or how they’re just so damn tired of Greg Berlanti being the one who is calling the shots and adapting these characters for television. To be fair, some of those gripes aren’t entirely wrong, and they do have some merit to them. But there was also a time where we weren’t spoiled for choice when it came to seeing our favorite comic book characters brought to life in movies or on television, and fans were starving for consistently good food when it came to seeing their favorite characters on the big or small screen. Thanks to Arrow and to the rest of the Arrowverse, a lot of those fans found the consistency that they wanted.
Before we started getting used to three or four comic book movies being released in theaters every year, a lot of fans were tuning in to watch Arrow, The Flash, etc. every week because they had viewers hooked and live-tweeting every scene, and wanting to see what would happen next. (I could easily say that about a few other shows on The CW that don’t feature any superheroes at all, but I’m trying to wrap this up.) It’s largely because of these shows that there are now more fans of Green Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl, and just more fans of reading and collecting comics, period. Hence why whenever there’s another headline that has Ezra Miller’s name in it, and people are left wondering why their version of The Flash is still being scheduled to open in movie theaters in 2023, Grant Gustin’s name immediately begins trending on Twitter. A lot of people want his version of The Flash to replace Ezra Miller’s version in the DCEU, regardless of the fact that Gustin has been playing the Scarlet Speedster for almost a decade.
To forget or ignore what Smallville set in motion is bad enough. But no matter what issues you may have with Arrow, to ignore or belittle what it has also accomplished, and how it was able to do a damn good job of both entertaining and creating fans, is really not a bridge that’s worth crossing.
All eight seasons of Arrow are now streaming on Netflix.