5 Ways to Improve Arrow Next Season

The finale of Arrow has aired, and the consensus view is that this whole season has been a mess. I certainly don’t disagree with that, and in fact I am probably harsher in my outlook than most people who are still watching. I think that current head writer Marc Guggenheim is simply a bad writer who seems to think that we should find the show to be awesome just because it depicts comic book characters.

Some of the ways to make the show better next season are pretty obvious: make the dialogue better, get a good villain portrayed by a strong actor, write character allegiances that actually make sense, and next time you say a character won’t forgive something, make sure they actually don’t forgive it when it actually happens. They are certainly necessary, but for this post, I’m going to concentrate on some of details that I think people are discussing a little less.

1. Give the women some independence and agency

This season was just a bad one for women. Sara was unceremoniously killed just to motivate the characters for the first half of the season (the fact that she’s coming back for Legends of Tomorrow may indicate that the writers realize how stupid that was). Thea was manipulated at every turn and then was also killed in order to force Oliver to join the League of Assassins (she got better, but she was still reduced to being a plot point). And Felicity’s primary function was to be a love interest for two of the characters. Before this season, all three of these characters had rich backstories and interesting motivations. In Marc Guggenheim’s hands, they became pawns to be moved around by the men.

Ironically, the most independent-minded woman this season was Laurel. I thought her motivations were really stupid and that Katie Cassidy was incapable of selling her as an action hero, but at least she was going her own way without being mind-controlled or told what to do.

2. Bring back the ridiculous cool archery

Remember in the pilot episode when Oliver threw a bunch of tennis balls in the air and then nailed them all to the wall with arrows before they hit the ground? Or how about that time he shot an RPG out of the air? Those moments have mostly disappeared this season, and that’s been to the show’s detriment. It’s Oliver’s defining characteristic. Yes, it’s unrealistic, but that concern sort of goes out the window in a world with the Flash and a pit of water that can resurrect the dead.

In the comics, Oliver Queen has been known to curve the flight of arrows, fire them backwards over his shoulder, and shoot an arrow right down the barrel of a gun. How awesome would it be to see that happening on your TV screen?

3. Stop with the secret keeping

It just doesn’t work. It always ends up making people look stupid. Cut it out.

4. Make the stakes smaller

In season 1, the eventual big threat was an earthquake machine which would destroy a big portion of the city. In season 2, the threat was an army of superpowered soldiers overrunning the place. In season 3, it was a biological weapon. At this point, I think the trope has been played out and has nowhere else to go (incidentally, this is the same criticism I have of the Marvel movies and why I’m strongly unenthusiastic about the upcoming Infinity War). There’s only so many times you can threaten Starling City with utter destruction before it just gets boring.

There are plenty of other ways to generate dramatic tension. You could put one of the character’s lives at risk by infecting them with some disease so that our heroes have to spend several episodes searching for the cure. We still haven’t resolved Detective Lance’s feelings about costumed vigilantes (and he did have some good points when he was allowed to articulate his opposition to them). And how about Oliver’s unknown baby? The revelation could do all kinds of interesting things to the character dynamics.

5. Have some fun

Arrow has always been on the darker side of TV shows, but this season has gone a little overboard. Remember when Felicity would babble too much and inappropriately say what she really thought? Or when Diggle complained about always being cast as the chauffeur during undercover operations? Remember that moment in Season 1 when Oliver and Felicity were in an elevator with a guy hitting on Felicity and Oliver deliberately spilled the guy’s papers in order to get rid of him? Now try to think of a similar moment from this season. The closest we’ve gotten is Nyssa being pleasantly surprised at how good milk shakes taste.

I’m not saying Arrow should be a comedy. But it did allow humor to show up sometimes, and behind-the-scenes videos have shown that all of the cast members are pretty funny people. Humans living in even the bleakest environments have nonetheless usually found something to laugh at. It’s how they survive. Relentless tragedy and grimness just gets monotonous after a while.

Supergirl: Hero or The Devil Wears Lycra?

Our first look at Supergirl is here, and the reaction seems to have been decidedly mixed. On the one hand you have people who think it looks like fun, the special effects are pretty good, and the lead seems very appealing. On the other hand, a lot of people are disappointed or even angry that the show seems to be a light rom-com. Take a look at the trailer below and see for yourself. Then follow me below the fold for my thoughts.

Continue reading Supergirl: Hero or The Devil Wears Lycra?

10 Questions for Arrow

  1. If the Canary jumps off the rooftop of a building with no way to save herself and the Arrow doesn’t manage to grab her hand in time to save her, does she become the Splat Canary?
  2. If police officers are chasing a deadly archer and they find him along with several other archers on a rooftop, why would they just let those other archers go?
  3. Along the same lines, why does Captain Lance trust the word of someone who kidnapped him and employs a bunch of really obvious archers who could be the copycat of the Arrow?
  4. Why is Oliver taking responsibility for Laurel’s decision not to tell her father about Sara’s death?
  5. Why did Laurel think it was a good idea to march three uncostumed, really obvious Arrow associates into police headquarters to see Oliver? And why didn’t Captain Lance arrest them?
  6. Did Shado never tell Oliver about her twin sister that entire time on the island?
  7. After Oliver learned his lesson about the power of telling the truth from Shado’s sister, why did he spend the next two years of his return to Starling City busily keeping every kind of secret imaginable?
  8. Are the police really going to believe that Roy Harper is the Arrow when he’s noticeably smaller and skinnier?
  9. Why does Thea keep disappearing at random throughout this episode? Doesn’t she at least want to visit her brother in lockup?
  10. What exactly was the point of the Ray Palmer storyline when all this other stuff was happening?

What You Should Know About iZombie

Tonight is the premiere of CW’s latest show based on a DC comic: iZombie. If you never heard of it and didn’t know that there was actually a comic book series, don’t feel bad. It wasn’t widely publicized and only ran for 28 issues. But to prepare for the pilot episode, I’ve read the entire series run. I’m not writing this as a review of the comics (but if you want one, you can start here). It’s more to give you my observations about the comics and how they might apply (or not) to the TV series. For starters…

There are more creatures than just zombies

The iZombie comic series contains a whole host of undead creatures besides zombies. There are also ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and at least one mummy. In keeping with the overall tone of the series, though, most of them just want to hang out, live their undead lives, and be left in peace. The comics often come across as a slice -of-life story until the main plot involving a dastardly villain trying to destroy the world kicks in.

It’s not clear if the TV series will include any of these other undead, but if it doesn’t, that would be a shame because…

Continue reading What You Should Know About iZombie

The Flash S01.E10 — Revenge of the Rogues

Not much really happened in this episode arc-wise. We had the establishment of the supervillain team, the Rogues. I’m guessing that at some point the metahumans that they have locked up at STAR Labs will escape and create a real headache for our team. Other than that, there wasn’t any progress made on finding the man who killed Barry’s mom or figuring out just who Wells is. And the Barry and Iris love story only advanced in the sense that they both acknowledged what happened and said they hoped things would be cool again some day. We did have Caitlin continuing to investigate her fiance’s reappearance and finding out about Project Firestorm. My favorite part of that storyline was the nice interaction between Barry and Caitlin as they talked about their feelings with each other. And Barry’s speed reading was kind of fun.

So mostly this was just about setting up the Rogues and having a fun romp. And that’s ok. Especially if they throw in an homage to this classic comic book cover in the bargain.

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In the comics, the Rogues were a bunch of superpowered villains mostly concerned with petty burglary. They certainly didn’t represent the same level of threat as most other villains. However, it’s clear that this show intends to take them seriously, and if they aren’t as terrifying as the Joker or as galaxy-threatening as Sinestro, they are still plenty murderous enough to require the Flash’s personal attention.

The science was especially hooey in this episode with Cisco talking about Heatwave’s gun being the opposite of Absolute Zero (there’s no such thing). And I’ve also never really figured out how exactly Captain Cold and Heatwave are such serious threats to the Flash. Yes, the cold gun is devastating if it actually hits Barry. But that’s a rather big if considering that he can move fast enough to evacuate an entire train full of people before it has finished crashing. Realistically, nobody has the reflexes to hit him with anything.

Meanwhile, Iris is moving out and Barry is moving in. What else really needs to be said about this? Scenes with Barry and Joe West are always heartfelt and sweet. I’m looking forward to watching them bicker over who has to wash the dishes.

The Pitfalls Facing Marvel’s Cinematic Civil War

Slate’s Jamelle Bouie writes that Marvel’s Civil War storyline was a paranoid rightwing fantasy and a mess. I agree with the second part, but as much as I admire Bouie’s writing in other areas, I disagree with the first. The Civil War storyline was not a paranoid fantasy on either side of the political spectrum. In fact, its problem was that it aspired to be a commentary on the real world while completely failing to connect to the real life issues we were dealing with. The Civil War storyline was still a terrible mess, though, and Marvel is going to have to reckon with those flaws if rumors of a planned cinematic adaptation are true.

A quick recap for those who didn’t read the original mini-series. The storyline kicks off when the Superhuman Registration Act is signed into law, requiring that all people in the United States with super powers must register with the government. The superheroes would essentially become government civil servants with no secret identities. The law gets an especially big boost when a battle between some heroes and villains goes horribly awry and results in the destruction of several city blocks and 600 civilian deaths including 60 children. The superhero community itself is divided in its reaction to the law. A pro-registration faction led by Iron Man argues that it is reasonable to ask superheroes to publicly identify themselves and be accountable for what they do. An anti-registration faction led by Captain America responds that secret identities are necessary to protect loved ones and that registration will become a tool of oppression.

So far so good, and when the series began in 2006, fans eagerly anticipated where it would lead. Unlike Jamelle Bouie, most comics fans of the time understood that the Civil War storyline was an allegory for the Patriot Act, not about gun control. Here was a superhero story relevant to our times.

Marvel’s Civil War was a great concept but still ended up as a mess because of terrible execution on two fronts. The first problem was that Mark Millar and other Marvel writers involved in the story attempted to strike a balance between the two sides and ultimately failed. Both sides of the Civil War were represented by well-intentioned heroes on both sides. The effect should have been to make readers think that both sides had legitimate points to make and that the issues raised by the Superhuman Registration Act were worth wrestling honestly with. Instead, the Pro-Registration side becomes Fascistic to a degree that is impossible to sympathize with. Like too many other comic book superhero stories, this one devolves into good guys (Anti-Registration) vs bad guys (Pro-Registration) punching each other senseless. Partway through the story, it seems that nearly everybody has forgotten that this all started because 600 innocent bystanders were killed by superhumans run amok. The Pro-Registration side didn’t have to be in the right, but they also didn’t have to be literally hunting down fellow superheroes and locking them up in prison camps.

The second problem with Civil War was that it ultimately failed to connect its storyline with the security state issues that Americans were facing in real life. Part of this is an inherent problem of the genre. Superheroes don’t exist in real life, and so the particulars of the Superhuman Registration Act don’t line up particularly well with our world. In real life, a law requiring certain people to register their identities and accept government monitoring would seem draconian. But that’s because nobody in real life has the inherent ability to unleash massive death and destruction, toppling buildings and darkening the skies. The moral calculus is different in the comics universe, and to make the story feel relevant to the reader, the writer must focus instead on the underlying ideas and principles rather than the particulars of the legislation. The Civil War should have been an examination of the core ideas that each character represents. Iron Man is a benevolent member of society’s elite. Captain America is a New Deal Democrat who fought fascism. Spider-Man believes with great power comes great responsibility. The Hulk represents the capacity for destruction when our baser urges overtake us. And so on and so forth. How would society align these different ideals? That would have been a great story, but it is not the one we got. Instead, Mark Millar turns it into another adventure tale of intrigue, espionage, and lots of explosions. I had the same criticism for Millar’s Red Son about Superman landing in communist Russia instead of Kansas.

There’s every reason to believe that when the Marvel Cinematic Universe takes on Civil War that it would find a way to be more even-handed and avoid character assassination. It would be a sad thing indeed if Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man was turned into an unthinking government stooge, but if only because the push back was so strong, I think Marvel will take the criticism to heart and do something about it. On the other hand, I have no confidence that Marvel will do anything to make the story feel relevant to anyone who isn’t a flying thunder god. Marvel comics have historically tackled a lot of social issues (the X-Men are famous for this), but the movies have gone further and further into the realm of fantasy escapism. Maybe they’ll surprise me but…well, the next Avengers is called Age of Ultron, after all.

Why DC Can’t Change the Race or Gender of Their Heroes Like Marvel

As of right now, Spider-Man of the Ultimate Universe is a black Hispanic, Captain America is going to be African-American, and Thor is a woman. One of these is a little silly, but more on that later. Right now, it’s worth noting that DC has no plans to change the race or gender of any of their Big 3 properties: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.

So what gives? Is DC stodgy and unable to change with the times? Could they even get away with the kinds of changes that Marvel has made?

Continue reading Why DC Can’t Change the Race or Gender of Their Heroes Like Marvel

The Only Way to Make Me Yawn about an Avengers Sequel

The title of the next Avengers movie is “Age of Ultron.” And upon learning this, America collectively said, “Who the hell is Ultron?” And so I would assert to you that the slow-motion collapse has begun.

One of the most irritating aspects of comic fandom is its tendency to indulge in self-referentialism as a prop for storytelling. I’m not the most avid of comic book readers, but I know more than most of the general public. To give you an idea, I am aware that Dick Grayson hasn’t been Robin for a long time, that Marvel’s Ultimatum mini-serie killed off nearly everyone, and that there are writers named Grant Morrison, Jeph Loeb, and Gail Simone. I didn’t immediately recognize that Age of Ultron is the name of a story arc, but that’s a matter of chance. Maybe I would have happened to know that.

On the other hand, why should I have to know anything in order to understand the title? Ok, some would argue that the title is a secret handshake for comics fans so that they know it’s being made by one of them. But why? They’re going to see the movie anyway. What would be so bad about Avengers 2? Certainly Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3 did just fine without the need for any subtitles. The last time we had a comic book movie with a subtitle referencing a character most in the audience probably don’t know was Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. I would imagine Marvel doesn’t want a repeat of THAT.

I understand that Marvel and Disney want to make money and that like all studios they do this by milking their cash cows dry in a very short-sighted manner. But I have a feeling that they are overestimating the love Americans have for their franchises. Who’s really excited for Thor 2? Or the new Captain America movie? Who was really excited for either of them the first time around? I know some really do like them, but do we really think those properties are tent poles? And moreover, Marvel has had a problem lately with really sucky villains. Red Skull? The purple guy at the end of Avengers? Ultron? Some of them may actually be very powerful, but that doesn’t make them good villains. It just makes them natural disasters who speak lines. Who can honestly argue that any villain in a Marvel movie lately can hold a candle to the Joker or Doctor Octopus?

I’m not going to go so far as to claim that Marvel’s movies are going to bomb. But every trend in movies eventually collapses under the weight of its own self-importance. And I think this year we’re seeing the point where the structure starts to buckle.