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