Halfway through the most recent episode of the CW’s “Arrow” I looked at my wife with disbelief and said “Holy crap, the Suicide Squad is on my television!” This wasn’t the first television version of the group. Fans of the Justice League Unlimited animated series will recall an episode featuring “Task Force X” and the group also made an appearance on Smallville, also on The CW network (which I have to admit to not seeing). I wasn’t much of a fan of Smalliville, but after 10 seasons, numerous awards and fairly consistent ratings (give or take a couple of seasons) it’s hard to call the show anything but a success. Arrow seems to hedge its bets on being able to pick up where Smallville left off. The formula is somewhat similar, with Arrow chronicling Oliver Queen’s journey toward becoming The Green Arrow. The show also mixes new characters – is John Diggle the next Chloe Sullivan?- with those from the Green Arrow canon as well as the greater DCU. So far, Arrow’s ratings seem to prove that the formula works, even without the blue-and-red boy scout (and, in this case, WITH costumes!). Which makes the inclusion of characters like the Suicide Squad even more interesting. I enjoy Arrow overall but I have to admit that it is very hit or miss (pardon the pun). For example, I’m fairly certain the CW has imposed a quota for shirtless scenes per episode, along with other gratuitous fan service, and it certainly won’t be winning any Bechdel awards. Thankfully, the ham-fisted “love triangle” or implausible “random workout” moments are often offset by flashbacks to Deathstroke Island. Based on the scores found at Rotten Tomatoes DC characters making the leap to the big screen have been a mixed bag. A few films based on Vertigo titles and/or Alan Moore books (V for Vendetta, Watchmen) have been mostly well received. However, very few of those can be considered “superhero” films, Watchmen being the lone exception, and combined they made less at the box office than Man of Steel. Movies like Green Lantern, Catwoman and even Jonah Hex are all a bit more mainstream comic properties and of those three, Green Lantern scored the highest on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 26% on the “Rotten Meter.” The less that is said about Catwoman and Jonah Hex, the better. In the same time period there were two Superman reboots (or a sequel and a reboot, depending on how you keep track), a Batman reboot and there will be ANOTHER Batman story coming as part of the Man of Steel sequel. In spite of the negative reactions towards Man of Steel it still managed to bring in $290 million and has a higher Rotten Tomatoes score than the Green Lantern movie. The box office numbers don’t lie, and copying a sound formula will almost never cost anyone their job. Therefore, I think a strong case could be made that Smallville played it safe. Superman has been a known quantity for almost six decades and even his bad movies make tons of money. The idea of following a young Clark Kent, the Middle America Everyman farm boy, on his own hero’s journey is as close to a sure thing as you’re likely to get in Hollywood. Unfortunately, Oliver Queen is NOT Clark Kent nor is Green Arrow nearly as well known. Compounding the issue with regards to television were the various hurdles imposed by Warner Brothers with regards to what characters were available. Any character whom Warner Brothers was using for a film franchise was reserved exclusively to the film division and off limits to the television network. Green Arrow while an active part of the last few seasons of Smallville, was essentially a way for the writers to use Batman without officially using Batman. In many ways, the same can be said of Arrow. It is impossible to deny that some of Arrow’s best moments aren’t plagiarizing Christopher Nolan. For most of the first season Arrow played very much the same tune as Batman Begins: A young man of extreme privilege experiences a traumatic life event This provides the motivation necessary to begin a journey to right a tragic wrong. He spends a significant period away from home where he acquires the skills necessary to embark on his mission. He returns home a changed man but relies on his “playboy” image as a way to disguise himself and protect those he loves from his mission of vengeance. The ominous presence of the young man’s mentor hangs over him like a shadow until such time that the mentor reappears in the man’s life as his foe. Slade Wilson, who is basically the evil analog of Batman, was a clever choice to echo the role of Ra’s Al Ghul in Batman Begins. Certainly if one Batman is good then two must be better! This Batman-lite formula can be traced through the other elements as well. Arrow’s version of Count Vertigo, a relatively laughable adversary with an inner-ear defect, become a more serious threat as a semi-convincing Joker* analog and the Huntress storyline was reminiscent of Bruce Wayne’s relationship with Selina Kyle. Felicity Smoak, a little known character usually associated with Firestorm, quickly became Arrow’s version of Barbara Gordon’s Oracle. Also, I’d be remiss if I left off Officer, formerly Detective, Lance acting in a very Jim Gordon-esque capacity. In many ways, Arrow was as close to Batman on television that a comic fan could get**. And as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Hence my disbelief when I saw the Suicide Squad on television. Granted, the seeds were planted quite some time ago but “Suicide Squad” took it a new direction. That episode not only brought in, at best, a group of C-List villains but it actually pushed the titular character into the background. While I’m sure this story will ultimately feed back into Oliver’s character development, for most of 45 minutes audiences were watching a story about John Diggle leading a suicide mission with expendable assets, both from a plot perspective and in the case that the audience might not see them again. This episode didn’t feel like there was a heavy corporate hand trying to sway the writers toward better known villains out of a concern for the bottom line. It also didn’t feel like it was a chance to shoehorn in some favorites to toss the proverbial bone to the fandom (eg. various episodes of Smallville, *cough* Absolute Justice). This goal of this episode seemed to be “tell an interesting story with characters from the Arrow universe.” It felt organic and internally consistent with the current storyline. I’m not saying that it was the finest 45 minutes of television I’ve ever seen, but I will argue that it was some of the most interesting, cohesive, storytelling I’ve seen from a DC/WB property in quite some time. And, perhaps most interesting, it was a story that didn’t feel like it was lifted in part, or whole, from Batman or Superman. Diggle, a character unique to the show, was the gateway into the story. The audience learned about Task Force X, ARGUS and Amanda Waller from Diggle’s perspective and history, as opposed to any presupposed foreknowledge of the characters. This trend looks to continue when the episode “Birds of Prey” airs, with the return of the Huntress and, possibly, putting Ollie’s story in the background as the female leads on the show take center stage. I can’t help but think that whatever the WB is doing with the television shows is working, while each new announcement regarding upcoming movies makes me cringe. The TV shows seem to be willing take a leaps of faith and build on the formulas that worked in the past, as opposed to simply rehashing the same storyad nauseam. On the horizon there’s Gotham,arguably another Batman-lite project, but stepping outside a bit to focus on Jim Gordon. Arrow has provided a launching point for the forthcoming Flash series, the second such show but one that seems to be willing to go in new directions. In a recent interview showrunner Marc Guggenheim even noted that he’d love to spin-off a Huntress series. I’m sure the larger WB Entertainment juggernaut is looking at what Marvel has done with The Avengers and Agents of SHIELD and wanting to capitalize on their properties in a similar fashion. Time will tell if Marvel is ultimately successful in those endeavors, but right now it seems that the gulf between what is going on in the “DCU Television” and the “DCU Movies” is so large it can’t be bridged with a Cosmic Treadmill. * Unfortunately, I think Seth Gabel’s interpretation of the Count turned into a second-rate Heath Ledger impersonation, but I’m not sure I can fault the story for that. ** That is assuming that they’re not watching Person of Interest from Jonathon Nolan, which was has been on since well before Gotham was announced. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related 2 Responses Cheering the Villain | Deth Paw December 11, 2014 […] mass audience (aside from their cartoon appearance) via Arrow on CW (which is the topic of my very first Psycho Drive-In article!). It has also been announced that, along with the full slate of DCU heroes, Suicide Squad is […] Log in to Reply Cheering the Villain - Comics Bulletin December 14, 2014 […] mass audience (aside from their cartoon appearance) via Arrow on CW (which is the topic of my very first Psycho Drive-In article!). It has also been announced that, along with the full slate of DCU heroes, Suicide Squad is […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.