TV & Film

'Arrow' On The CW: Executive Producers On Adapting The Comics And Creating Realistic Superheroes

The CW's "Arrow" is one of the most buzzed-about new series premiering this fall, and not just because the network is hoping it will help them recapture some of the comic-loving audience it lost with the end of "Smallville." Though people may scoff at the network for its soapier fare, like "Gossip Girl" and "90210," The CW has been steadily building a respectable stable of smart, action-packed fare, including "Supernatural" and "Nikita," with nary a stolen boyfriend or prom dress in sight.

"Arrow" looks to continue this trend, taking one of DC Comics' lesser-known heroes, Green Arrow, and giving him the "Batman Begins" treatment. For the uninitiated, Green Arrow (a.k.a. Oliver "Ollie" Queen) was initially designed as a thinly-veiled Batman knock-off in the '40s, a billionaire playboy complete with his own Arrow Cave, Arrowmobile and teenage sidekick, Speedy (Roy Harper). Instead of a utility belt, he boasted trick arrows, equipped with nets, explosives and grappling hooks.

But thanks to visionary writers such as Denny O'Neil, Mike Grell, Kevin Smith, Andy Diggle and Judd Winick (take note: some of those names will be important when you watch the show), the character was allowed to evolve into a distinct and outspoken hero in his own right, often teaming up with Green Lantern or his ongoing romantic partner, Black Canary (Dinah "Laurel" Lance) for adventures both fantastical and grounded. He was given a new origin story that saw him hone his archery skills and develop from a spoiled rich boy into a socially-conscious warrior while stranded on an island -- facets of his background that have been utilized for "Arrow," where Stephen Amell takes the titular role, and Katie Cassidy stars as Laurel.

The character of Oliver Queen may not have the name recognition of Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne, but he has a rich history that should provide ample material for multiple seasons of the CW drama (after all, he's been around for 70 years) and fans of the comics can rest assured that the creative minds behind the show are equally passionate about Green Arrow's history. I had the pleasure of sitting down with executive producers Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour a few weeks ago, and they were only too happy to indulge my nerdy comic book questions and further expand on what they hope to achieve with "Arrow," especially in regards to what they plan to incorporate from the comics.

Proceed with caution, there are light spoilers for the "Arrow" pilot and the comic books ahead.

Can you talk about what you're taking from the comic books? I've heard that Mike Grell's "Longbow Hunters" and Andy Diggle's "Year One" were great sources of inspiration for you?
Marc Guggenheim: Yeah, well "Longbow Hunters," it was seminal for several reasons. But what it really did was it grounded Green Arrow and Oliver Queen in a way that hadn’t been done in the comic books before. He was always with the boxing glove arrows and the Arrow Cave ... That was all well and good. But what "Longbow Hunters" did was it stripped Oliver Queen and the character down to his bare essence and introduced the idea of this primal hunter, and the hood [he wears]. That was sort of a seismic shift for the character that we’re working off of. With respect to "Year One," that is sort of the proof of concept for the notion of the series that every episode will flashback to the island. We can actually tell five years’ worth of story on the island.

For those people who have read "Year One," [that story] only takes place on the island. Only the very last page is he in the city. So, for us it was a demonstration that this instinct that we have that we could tell a story set only on the island, it was borne out. The tone of it, the grounded nature of it, the fact that he doesn’t put a hood on to be a superhero, he puts a hood on to keep from getting sunburned ... everything having a valid, real world reason behind it was a big part of what we took from "Year One."

Andrew Kreisberg: It was also the idea that in previous incarnations, the Green Arrow had been shipwrecked on an island. He was shipwrecked alone, like Tom Hanks in "Castaway." And he came back to civilization and said, "I know what it was like to be cold and hungry and now I see a lot of injustice in the city and that really bothers me." You know, "Year One" was really the first time anybody had suggested that he really became Green Arrow on that island, that he really went through what we always talk about as "The Crucible." He really was forced to become this hero on the island to save people and learned his code and his honor on the island through the violent encounters he had with these drug dealers. So, that was really an important thing for us. We’re sort of telling his origin story every single week. You’re seeing how this callow youth became this dark warrior, but you’re seeing them simultaneously. So, one is influencing the other.

Guggenheim: You get to contrast and draw thematic connections between the two storylines. 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. "

I know that you have China White [a South Pacific drug cartel leader from the "Year One" comic who will be played by Kelly Hu] in the second episode. Is that going to be purely on the island or are you going to somehow bring her into the present day?
Kreisberg: China White is in the present day story. For us, the DNA of the comic book is within the show. But what’s been fun for us is figuring out different ways for the people who are fans and the people who do know the comics, to surprise their expectations. That’s a really good example. I think if you’re a fan of the comic book you’re going to see the series and go, "Oh, obviously there’s an element of 'Year One' in this." Then they hear China White is going to be part of it. But, "Oh wait, that’s not exactly how I thought I was going to be seeing China White." So, if you’re not a fan, she’s just a really cool character and you get to see her. But if you are a fan, rather than spoon-feeding people what they think they should see, we’re really trying to make it as surprising and interesting for them as possible. If the comic book iteration of something doesn’t fit our version of telling an exciting story, the comic book is going to change, not the show.

That’s kind of related to Oliver's best friend, Tommy Merlyn as well -- because for comic book fans, that choice of surname ...
Guggenheim: Yes, that's very deliberate. There’s really nothing random on the show.

That’s what Stephen Amell told me when I spoke to him at Comic-Con. He was like, “If they’re dropping Easter eggs in, there’s a good chance that it’s all going to be paid off.”
Guggenheim: Yeah, that’s the other thing. We don’t throw a plate up in the air unless we know how we’re going to catch it. So, there’s no hatch on the island and we don’t know what’s underneath the hatch. So, everything that’s out there, we have a plan for. Then there’s some Easter eggs that are just fun. It’s like Deathstroke's mask ... That one we have a plan for. The example I always like to use just because it makes me giggle is, the Superman comics established Big Belly Burger. We’re bringing Big Belly Burger into the "Arrow" universe. Again, just elements of the comics that we can pull from just for fun for the fans. In the pilot, the police sketch is drawn by Mike Grell [who wrote "Longbow Hunters"]. This was also something that Greg [Berlanti] and I did in the "Green Lantern" movie. You know, Easter eggs behind the creative forces that are involved in the character. That’s fun too. So again, it’s all stuff that’s invisible to the casual viewer. But the fans hopefully will get a kick out of it.

Green Arrow's former sidekick, Roy Harper, is one of my favorite comic book characters. You introduced a few original characters in the show, one of which was Oliver's sister, Thea, who wasn't a part of the source material. In the pilot, we hear Oliver call her "Speedy," which was Roy's nickname as Green Arrow's sidekick. So I wondered whether that "Speedy" nickname was a nod to Roy's legacy, or whether there was a chance we could see him down the line?
Kreisberg: One does not obviate the other. I think we are fans of the comic and we are fans of the rich heritage and legacy of the comic. 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.

Guggenheim: It’s very interesting; 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. 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. The most gratifying thing that I hear is from a lot of women, quite frankly, going, "I did not expect to like this show, but I really liked it." The phrase I hear a lot is, "It’s not for me but I loved it." I’m like, well it is for you. There’s character and there’s heart and there’s emotion and then there’s a lot of soapy elements. It’s totally for you. But that’s not what people expect when the poster is a guy in a hood with a bow and arrow. That’s the appeal of the show.

Kreisberg: 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 book-y.

Guggenheim: [The cops] wouldn’t give him some cutesy nickname and they wouldn’t put a spotlight on the roof. That’s just not happening. In fact, one of the little things we’re doing -- and it’s actually not that little for us -- but no one calls him The Arrow. They’re calling him "The Hood Guy" or "Robin Hood" or "Hunger Games." Again, they’re acting realistically. Cops and the media don’t all get on the same page and have one big meeting and say, "OK, new superhero in town. What are we going to call him?" So, even Oliver does not say, "It is time for me to become The Arrow." He’ll go into action without the outfit. We don’t even really call it a costume. When we brought on Colleen Atwood to design the costume, the note we gave her was he should be able to walk down the street in this outfit. In episode three you’ll even see a new iteration of the outfit sort of along those lines.

Can you talk a little bit about Laurel’s progression as a character? I’d imagine you’re trying to keep the Black Canary superheroic stuff for further down the line?
Kreisberg: You won’t be seeing fishnets anytime soon. I think that Laurel’s progression as a character, some of it will be what fans are probably expecting. I think a lot of it is going to not be what they’re expecting. Again, you can see the DNA of that character in Laurel. But she’s also had a lot of different iterations in the comics over the years, so we’re sort of going our own route. I think one of the other things that’s important for us is we say that it took Oliver five years to go from being this callow youth to this dark warrior capable of doing all of these amazing things. For anyone else in our world to make the transition to their comic book character, they would have to go through a similar trial by fire. Because if they don’t, it sort of invalidates what Oliver had to go through. So, you won’t be seeing people getting pissed off in one episode and the next episode they’re going toe to toe with Oliver, whether it’s Laurel or Tommy or Thea. If any of these people do take that journey, it’ll be done with the same sort of care and thought that went into transforming Oliver.

"Arrow" premieres Wednesday, October 10 at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.

"The Scientist"


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