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#NoLaurelNoArrow & The Quest for A Good Story

My name is Rod Thomas and for four years I was enamored with a T.V. show with only one goal: Tweet Live. Now I can fulfill my friends’ wish, to right Marc Guggenheim’s wrongs. To use the list of grievances comic book nerds have left me, to bring down the Olicity Trolls that are poisoning our fandom. To do this, I must become someone else. I must become something else.

 

GENERAL WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! 

For those who are unfamiliar, the CW’s Arrow is a tv show that was inspired by the stories of DC Comics’ Oliver Queen i.e., Green Arrow (2012-present). When DC Comics and Warner Brothers announced they were going to replace the Superman-related series Smallville (which lasted 10 seasons 2001-2011) with a weekly crime drama centering the Green Arrow, initially I was on the fence.Then, I started to borrow, buy, and read most of the Green Arrow’s important story arcs, like his team-up with Green Lantern (an absolute classic!), Green Arrow: Year One, Longbow Hunters, Hunters’ Moon. After experiencing the awesomeness of Kevin Smith’s directed episode of The Flash, “The Runaway Dinosaur,” I dusted off my Kindle copies of Smith’s Green Arrow run, “Quiver” volumes 1 & 2, and finished them in two sittings. I grew up as a kid admiring Batman on Batman: The Animated Series as well as the Tim Burton film version of Batman played by Michael Keaton. I absolutely infatuated with the idea that an ordinary person, well financed of course, but still without any powers could go toe-to-toe with powerful villains such as Man-Bat, Clayface, Killer Croc, and Red Klaw every week. Superman, Marvel’s X-Men were okay, they had powers and saved the day, but I as a lower-middle class A/B honor roll Black pre-teen, saw myself in Batman. He was always the smartest man in the room.

The one thing missing with Batman as I grew older was that Batman became sort of a Mary Sue, as DC Comics used him as some wish fulfilment for every nerd out there. His story lines were pretty dark, and focused more on just how terrible his opponents were. What if Batman made snarky jokes? What if he wore brighter colors and still had awesome sidekicks too? This is why I became a die hard Green Arrow fan. One example of the DC Comics portraying Oliver Queen as a Social Justice Warrior is in Andy Diggle’s Green Arrow: Year One, of which the CW’s Arrow (which I will address shortly) is supposed to be inspired by.

Andy Diggle’s Green Arrow Year One contains a few empowering images of women of Color. While Oliver is alone and stranded on an island, faced with danger and on the run from China White and her employees, Queen is rescued and depends on Taiana for protection and sustenance. After Oliver Queen joins Taiana’s revolution to overthrow China White and her drug empire, Taiana tells Oliver, “Thank you, we owe you our freedom.” Oliver replies, “You don’t owe me a thing sister. You freed yourselves. I was just along for the ride.” By participating in a freedom movement lead by Women of Color, Ollie gets to experience true liberation: joining the struggle of the marginated. The island changed Oliver Queen as he rejected the narrative of White Saviorism because he was more committed to justice than he was his own White privilege.

The first 2 seasons of CW’s Arrow brought so much joy and excitement. Every Wednesday for work, I would wear green and make sure to change my facebook status proclaiming my impatience for that night’s new episode of Arrow. There were the obvious references to Green Arrow: Year One as well as a unique synthesis of Christopher Nolan’s realistic tone in the Dark Knight Trilogy films with Green Arrow comic book lore. Oliver befriends John Diggle, an Operation Afghan Freedom veteran and Black man who resides in the impoverished part of Starling City, The Glades. As I note in a forthcoming essay on Arrow, Green Arrow and Race for an anthology the CW’s Arrow, the faces of the Glades in the Pilot are people of Color. The Glades is considered the wrong side of town that rich socialites such as Oliver Queen and Tommy Merlyn work purposefully to avoid. The season One episode, “Savior,” Oliver and Diggle discover that wealthy antagonist Malcolm Merlyn’s evil plan had something to do with leveling the Glades. Arrow season one is an allegory for social justice struggles versus gentrification, and season two deals with the aftermath.

These two seasons are not without their problematic moments. During the short stint that Helena Bertinelli a.k.a. Huntress works her way into Oliver’s life, police officers such as Detective Quentin Lance and his daughter lawyer Laurel, racially profile Chinese citizens as suspects in the murders actually committed by Helena. John Diggle, far from being a token black, became an anchor for Oliver, and for Blerds like myself, his success as a character allowed us to participate in Arrow’s stories. Diggle calls out Oliver Queen’s hypocrisy for wanting to be a “White Knight” to save the Glades by starting his new business in the neighborhood. It is Diggle who confronts Oliver about failing to take down Helena because she looks more like “Carly the T-Mobile girl” and less like a person of color like Diggle.

John Diggle is a Jiminy Cricket, Oliver’s budding racial consciousness who has an eye for the margins. Diggle’s role grew during Season two; he teams up with a Black woman of color, Amanda Waller and stops a terrorist by teaming up with the Suicide Squad in the season two episode, “Suicide Squad.” Arrow’s version of Shado, a former medical student from China rather than a Japanese mafia member, was featured in the flashbacks and her and Oliver’s relationship became important to his growth in an archer. Teaming up with Oliver and Slade Wilson (played by Manu Bennett who is Maori) presented the Original Team Arrow as a racially diverse collective with a Woman of Color as the leader. Representation is very important to story-telling. If one fails to have a diversity of cultures and mutuality between the sexes in one’s stories, that person experienced a failure of imagination. Story-telling allows us to transcend cultural limits, especially when it comes to race and gender. Stories grant us entrance into experiencing each other’s differences, and invite us to delight in them as well.

Fast forward through seasons Three and Four, and in May 2016, the CW’s Arrow’s ratings are plummeting week after week. What happened? First of all, there was a change of direction with writers Marc Guggenheim and Wendi Mericle being placed at the helm of Arrow as executive producers. There were rumors of promises of changes in tone, Arrow was gonna be funnier, closer to the Oliver Queen of the comics. Then, season three premiere, and they kill off Sarah Lance/ Black Canary, and the first half of season three is this big “Who Dunnit Mystery” ending with yet another “death”: Oliver’s. Arrow’s direction was considered, “bold” because who dared to kill off the titular character and protagonist midway during the third season of a hit show? No one, obviously. Meanwhile, Felicity Smoak in season 3 received more lines of dialogue, more unbearable scenes of her crying as John Diggle was relegated to being little more than being a prop in the background.

The story arcs for Arrow season 3 stalled; actors such as Willa Holland (Thea Queen/Speedy) and the writers and show runners placed the blame on Warner Brothers and DC Comics announcement of the Suicide Squad movie coming this August. The Suicide Squad was supposed to have a prominent role in season 3 and its finale. The producers were limited by the characters they could use, especially Deadshot and Amanda Waller. The use of the highly anticipated Suicide Squad film and the limits of the writers in my opinion is a sorry excuse. In fact, there is a plethora of superhero and supervillain teams from DC Comics mythology to choose from. A natural choice to be used as a substitute for Taskforce X would be The Rogues, who were featured separately on Arrow’s spinoff, The Flash. The producers were the ones who chose to make Komodo a one-off villain and have a depowered, very uninteresting version of Brick and who lasted in a three episode arc. The Green Arrow stories have the source material to provide a compelling narrative to tell for a 23-episode season. The writers and producers CHOSE not to use them. Marc Guggenheim. Wendy Mericle. You have failed this city!

I purposefully have avoided making the issues of the bad-story telling that Arrow has shown about the “shipper wars.” Marc Guggenheim and company have reduced this debate to simply that, it’s about whoever ships Felicity with Oliver versus whoever ships Oliver and Laurel. This is so far from the truth. Let’s go back to season One, shall we? The shocking death in the season finale, “Sacrifice,” was Oliver’s best friend, Tommy Merlyn. It came as a surprise because commenters noted how Tommy was growing a beard and was becoming a more morally ambiguous character, and probably being set up to replace his father as the Dark Archer. Was Tommy’s death depicted as necessary? No, it was not. It was an act of heroism to save his love interest and best friend, Laurel Lance. In season two, Moira Queen, Oliver’s mother dies at the hands of Deathstroke, and it’s a sacrifice to save Thea. In both instances, could all of the characters move forward without any of the deaths happening? Probably. Tommy perishing leads to Laurel struggling with and overcoming alcoholism while Oliver commits himself to not killing. The events of season four makes Tommy’s sacrificial act all for nothing. Oliver returns to murdering bad guys and thus failing to be a light for Star City. Laurel has a brief stint as Black Canary before she is stabbed to death with arrows by Damien Darkh. Not only is Laurel killed off, but her dying words are nothing but fan service, to appease the Olicity trolls who bully the show’s writers.

There has been a lot of written commentary on why Olicity as a relationship isn’t a healthy portrayal, it is not a display of mutuality but rather an unbalanced hierarchy where Oliver is not only the boss but he is also a lying jerk and Felicity isn’t bothered by it. These problems have been pointed out and I will link to them at the end of this piece. There’s one episode in season four that is entirely fan service for Olicity. Oliver and Felicity pose as a married couple in order to trap the Cupid, and a news broadcast refers to their relationship as “Olicity.” I could literally feel the face palms around the world as that scene happened. Quentin Lance somehow survives being a part of an evil terrorist organization with no consequences. Why? Because Olicity shippers on Tumblr pushed for him to have a relationship with Donna, Felicity’s mom. Centering one romantic couple + killing off a main character from the cast each season is not good story telling. It’s just lazy. Olicity scenes in seasons one and two were fun, they weren’t forced but once Olicity became the whole focus of the show, it went downhill. We see it in the lack of diversity, the silencing of Diggle, the erasure of Arrow’s social justice message from seasons 1 & 2, and in the dismissive attitude of Marc Guggenheim and his response to trends like #NoLaurelNoArrow.

Arrow’s show runners have framed this online debate as “the shipping wars.” I have worked to show that this is simply NOT the case. The #NoLaurelNoArrow online community has passionate fans of the Green Arrow comics, and at one point, CW’s Arrow. #NoLaurelNoArrow is an online protest whereby fans refuse to watch all new episodes of Arrow live and if they do watch, they will wait three days after the eps are made available online to impact ratings. That is called dedication. If you look at the numbers, #NoLaurelNoArrow has had a jolting effect as Arrow has dropped drastically in the ratings, with the showrunners making excuses such as, “oh it’s summer break” or “there was a Cubs’ baseball game on.” They seem to be in denial that there is much dissatisfaction from their targeted viewership. This is more than about killing off Laurel. This is about the disrespectful treatment of Amanda Waller, a top tier Black woman of color character because. #AmandaWallerDeservedBetter. This is about the gross way that Shado was offed from the show, for more of Oliver’s man-pain, because #ShadoDeservedBetter. The #NoLaurelNoArrow movement is MORE than just about Black Canary and Green Arrow being together as a couple, because that’s not the issue. This is about Green Arrow as a story that promotes social justice and inclusion, and Black Canary aiding in that struggle as a mutual partner. Finally, #NoLaurelNoArrow is an attempt to get the show runners’ attention, to save a once beloved primetime show. Though perhaps the best way to save a T.V. show is to pave the way for its cancellation while remembering the good story we once were a part of.

Relevant posts:

The CW’s Black Canary: How Arrow Failed an Actress and a Comic Book Legend– The Arrowverse.com

The Canary Still Criess: Black Canary Voted DC TV’s Best TV Hero– Movie Pilot

Arrow’s Laurel Lance Deserved Much More Than What She Got– The Mary Sue

Arrow: The Disturbing Trend of Fridging Female Characters– Yahoo.

*the featured image is a picture of Green Arrow, a man wearing green with a hat, raising his hand. Entitled “Green Arrow Oliver ‘Ollie’ Queen”. Provided by Creative Commons at Flickr. *

A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 2, Captain America

Check out the introduction for background on this series of posts!
Check out part 1: Green Lantern.

I’ll be honest. This character is unlikely to be my favorite. I have a pre-existing bias against Captain America. Its not that I don’t enjoy stories with Cap in them, and its not that I don’t see the good in him, but overall, I think the symbolism represented by his name and costume has been so abused, and continues to be abused with no end in sight, that the character inhabiting it becomes an anachronism at best, at worst, a prop that validates the worst about the USofA. Without further ado…

Who is Captain America?

Captain America’s alter ego is Steve Rogers, who came of age just before World War 2. The character is so tied to WW2 that the further real time gets away from that period of time, the more anachronistic Cap becomes. But here’s what happened. A scrawny kid (Rogers) tries to enlist in the military to go fight Hitler. He is deemed to unhealthy to enlist, but his courage impresses a scientist, Dr. Erskine, who signs Steve up for an experimental Super-Soldier program. Steve takes the Super Soldier Serum and becomes a… well, Super Soldier. But Erskine dies before anyone else can benefit from the serum. So Steve becomes the best soldier America can ask for, and punches Hitler in the face. At some point, his sidekick, Bucky, dies, and after a little while longer, Cap himself dissapears in icy waters, never to be found again…. except he is found, and thawed out in our current times, and becomes the hero America wants and needs. He dresses in a giant american flag, and along the way he acquired a mighty shield (all those who chose to oppose his shield must yield) which is unbreakable. Now, onto the criteria for judging:

Is this character heroic? Safe to say yes. While having no true superpowers, Captain America is known for always putting himself front and center when the danger happens. He is always the first to put himself in harms way in order to save someone else, and he does it all for the greater good, thinking very little about selfish desires in the process. (1 point)

Does this character represent the “powers” or fight against them? Cap represents the biggest power there is in our modern world. This is probably the biggest mark against Cap on my list. Captain America is a walking, talking poster child for America and its place in the world. Cap is always talking about American values as if they are somehow higher than those of the rest of the world, and depending on the era in which you read Cap, he has been downright snobbish, elitist, and exceptionalistic about America.  (0 points)

Does this character kill? Ummm… yeah. When Cap first hit the scene, he was all about the gun-slinging. Of course, he got dialed down quite a bit during the 60’s and 70’s, but he has made a fierce return to the world of militarism as of late. Also, particularly problematic for me, it is usually the case that Captain America uses guns when fighting some non-American threat. And while that may seem quite appropriate and apropos, given the nature of the character, I find that buoying of American exceptionalism problematic. But in short, Cap doesn’t like it, but does take human lives. (0 points)

Does this character have a spirituality? Yes. Cap is almost always portrayed a protestant Christian of sorts. He is depicted as in church every Sunday, and dislikes vulgarity and profanity in movies, and has been known to blush at overly racy discussion. Still, he is portrayed in a very stereotypical way for protestant Christians. Almost as if he is the token Christian in a mdeium that has largely moved away from any sort of real discussion about spirituality. (1 begrudging point)

Does this character have an interesting (and sustainable) story to inhabit? Yeah. Cap is a man out of his time. He is a living anachronism and him trying to live in a modern world with such a distant worldview can be very engaging. At the same time, this anachronism can be used to draw attention to and critique both our current time and the time from which Captain America comes, which often is given a pass as the “greatest generation.” (1 point)

Does this character have a supporting cast that isn’t just around to make them look good? Not really. Captain America does have a supporting cast, and they are fairly well known, but they aren’t given much time to shine. From Sharon/Peggy Carter to Falcon and/or Bucky, they have usually been used to show how awesome Cap is. That has changed much recently, especially with Bucky/Winter Soldier but not enough to say that Cap has a robust supporting cast. (0 points)

Does this character have a T-shirt I can buy in size XL? Yes. plenty. (1 bonus point)

Does this character represent, in broad terms, an outlook on life that I can support? Unfortunately not. Cap is a living, breathing embodiment of one country to the exclusion of all others. Of course, Cap would never say that out-loud, but American exceptionalism is front and center on every page. Also, no matter which American values Cap claims to represent, there has never been a time period in which America and her militaristic elements (which Cap represents) has been anything close to heroic, when you count her sins as well. Many will claim Cap represents what America should and can be, but without any proof that America CAN be those things, this rings hollow, and sounds like propaganda of peace layered over injustice.  (0 Points)

Are this characters powers (or lack thereof) interesting? Totally. Cap might not technically have any superpowers, but the super soldier serum coursing through his body make him peak human in every way. He represents the pinnacle of humanity on nearly every way that matters. Of course, that in and of itself is a not-so-subtle commentary about America’s place in the world, but without judging that at the moment, yes. Cap’s powers make him very interesting, both as he towers above mortals, as well as having to reach to play ball with the gods and monsters that inhabit the rest of his universe. (1 point)

Verdict: 4 out of 8 points

Tune in next time for a discussion of Wolverine….

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#Blerd Joy!: Black Folktalkes Being Made Into Comic Books!

English: "aunt jemima"

English: “aunt jemima” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes Please! Yes Yes Yes. Yes. and More Yes!!!!! Anyone read even marginally on folktales in the US would realize that Joel Chandler Harris, recorder of the tales of Brer Rabbit constructed Uncle Remus as the uneducated inarticulate black stereotypical male. It was this articulation that, while Harris was against lynching, he still passively accepted the white supremacist myth that blacks inability to learn English properly would make them basically extinct (a popular belief about blacks back then was that descendents of Africans were not meant to survive in the 20th century). The mythology behind Aunt Jemima (not the invention of JCH) is similar, the domesticated, asexual mother of a people on the brink of destruction.  Her agency is to comfort and to remain a passive object in the face of white supremacist domination.

One of the best ways to fight white supremacy is to attack the false myths that imprison the souls of People of color. Given the rise of comics that are inspired by the Grimm Brothers’ fairytales (as well as the tv shows we discussed last year), I love the idea that there a company writing Remus and Jemima as superheroes. It’s quite subversive. Re-imagining Aunt Jemima as someone with great cosmic abilities, and Remus as someone who can “manipulate reality in a person’s mind… The victim becomes trapped in an alternate reality.” is something I would love to buy. If this goes all the way and become a graphic novel. I am purchasing.

 

Yes. Please. Thank you Dawolu Jabari Anderson.

For more, see the link below:

Uncle Remus And Aunt Jemima Reimagined As Superheroes? Why Not?

 

Cropped image from the title page of Uncle Rem...

Cropped image from the title page of Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings: The Folk-Lore of the Old Plantation, by Joel Chandler Harris. Illustrations by Frederick S. Church and James H. Moser. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1881. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

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