During the Summer of 2012, the potential of comic book stories in other mediums was witnessed by the resounding success of The Avengers. Sure, there had been individual films and trilogies in the genre that were both financial and critical triumphs but nothing on this level with the ambition and storytelling of a shared universe. People were ready for more content featuring superheroes.
The following fall, before the DCEU began, a show on the CW premiered featuring a DC Comics billionaire playboy turned vigilante. Though he may not have the name recognition of Bruce Wayne, Oliver Queen resonated with audiences. The first episode of Arrow was the most watched show telecast for the network in three years.
Fans tuned in every week to learn the origin story of DC’s sharpshooting archer. The villain of the week format early on brought a deep roster of rogues into the mix while the overarching storyline built intrigue and kept everyone invested to see how Oliver would right the wrongs of his family.
Eventually, the world would expand incorporating more beloved DC characters and spinning off into multiple programs. The resulting universe would bear the titular hero’s name. For eight seasons, we’ve followed along Oliver’s journey including all the flashbacks and flashforwards that helped inform and shape his present day and future. With the series finale airing earlier this week, we take a retrospective look at Arrow including memorable moments and the show’s influence and overall legacy.
Nathan Simmons: I’m gonna get into spoiler territory here, so I figured I’d warn y’all right off the top. This is a show that has remained very near and dear to me in the years since it premiered. In fact, one of my first pieces of critical writing was an article discussing the advancements the show had made between its first and second seasons. While the website I wrote that for no longer exists, I still have a copy of that article on my computer. It was one of two pieces of sample writing that I sent to AIPT when I applied to be a writer on the site. In other words, Arrow is inextricably tied to my own nerdy origin story.
But enough about me. I think the most important thing to note about Arrow’s progression as a show (and eventual franchise-starter) is how it began as a reaction to a trend in superhero filmmaking. For better or worse, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy ushered in an era of “grounded” takes on super heroics. Sure, we were well into the MCU’s reign over the box office at the time Arrow made its debut, but the “Marvel formula” wasn’t entirely established. Movie executives were still looking to the Nolan films for inspiration, giving us the grim Amazing Spider-Man films and awkwardly impacting the production of movies that were never intended to be serious, like Punisher: War Zone.
The idea behind Arrow was to give us a realistic take on tights and fights. And for a little while, it was sustainable. But you can tell that was the only way this show could be sold: by pitching it as “Batman Begins on a TV budget.” We were getting characters like the Royal Flush Gang being reimagined as a family of bank robbers in hockey masks. But here’s the thing: even a “realistic” flick like Batman Begins ends with an experimental microwave turning Gotham’s water supply into fear gas. It was only a matter of time before the team making Arrow gave into their comics-loving instincts.
Even by the end of the first season, we were beginning to see Arrow’s wilder side, culminating in an actual earthquake machine being unleashed on the city. Arrow’s first season actually ends on a hell of a downer note, but it perfectly provided the right kind of scorched earth for the show it would become to rise from the ashes.
Within just the first half of season two, Slade Wilson was turned into a super soldier, the Flash was born, Brother Blood pitted Oliver against Solomon freaking Grundy, and the Black Canary made her first appearance on the scene. Dead characters were revealed to be alive and new characters discovered that they had hidden abilities they never expected. The show was embracing the most soap opera-esque parts of comic book storytelling, and the show was all the better for it.
By seasons three and four, the Suicide Squad had been formed, Star City was saved from nuclear destruction via time travel, John Constantine was performing seances to restore the souls of the dead, and Oliver shot Wildcat in the face with a GD boxing glove arrow.
Seasons five through seven brought Oliver into conflict with alien invasions, Nazis from parallel earths, a copycat murderer who knew all of his secrets, the Earth 2 doppelganger of his first love, and his vengeful and mysterious half-sister. The threats grew more personal, even as they became more cosmic.
By the final season, not only had the show progressed far beyond its unassuming roots, but it had brought along an entire line of new shows and heroes with it. While the writers and creators and crew members working behind the scenes deserve all the credit in the world, I do think there’s something to be said for the positive impact made by the man in the center of it all: Stephen Amell.
Over the years, Amell’s dedication to the craft of making this series – which extends to the punishingly difficult stunt work and training he’s done behind the scenes – has been a major ingredient in its success. But there’s something else, something more human to it all. He’s become something of a goodwill ambassador to the series. Think about every time Amell has done some kind of flashy promotional appearance in costume, or the genuine smile on his face when he interacts with fans. In the case of being on the actual show, one only needs to look at his willingness to share the screen with so many other talented performers. Over the years, Arrow became less of a solo act; it became an ensemble show.
In stark contrast to Oliver Queen’s unwillingness to open his circle of trust to accept new heroes, Amell has welcomed new characters to the fold, understanding as an actor and a fan how important these new relationships would be to Oliver’s character growth. Not many actors would be so happy to share the spotlight in the ways that he had, lifting up his fellow performers and continuing to help pave the way for a multiverse of other shows.
By the time Oliver made his final bow, sacrificing himself in a blaze of glory and literally birthing a universe in a symbolic parallel to the importance of his television series, it felt well-earned. Through all of the show’s ups and downs, the series never once lost its heart, it’s can-do spirit. Much like Oliver’s mission to save his city, Arrow succeeded in ways we could never have predicted.
The series ended with Tuesday night’s series finale, “Fadeout,” which played as a loving epilogue to the universe that sprang up from Arrow. It featured a bevy of guest stars from throughout the series’ history, further cementing the wide impact this show had on superhero media.
But perhaps the best final words on the subject come from the moving eulogy delivered by John Diggle, portrayed by the wonderful David Ramsey, whose character progression over eight seasons has rivaled that of the Green Arrow himself.
“The Oliver that I met eight years ago is not the one that we say goodbye to today,” Diggle says to the assembled heroes and friends. “…And he took all of us with him on that journey. He changed everything. Oliver brought heroes into the world. He inspired heroes. He inspired all of us here.”
Eight seasons is no simple feat for any television series. However, Arrow has crafted one hell of a legacy for itself over the course of its run. Though we get to see most of our favorite characters getting the fairytale endings they’ve earned — another rarity in longform television storytelling — the legend will live on.
Das vedanya, Oliver Queen. You did not fail your fans.
Comics culture is as relevant as ever reaching new audiences via mediums outside of floppies and graphic novels. Despite the popularity, just because something carries the DC name doesn’t automatically equate a hit. Constantine, Powerless, Gotham and Krypton have all come and gone while Arrow was on the air. The show’s eight seasons is a testament to its quality incorporating intriguing storylines, exciting action sequences and compelling characters.
In a time when the DCEU is becoming more loosely connected and focused on individual films, we’ll at least have the Arrowverse. It began when a young crime scene investigator named Barry Allen visited Star City to help on a case and has now grown to a universe currently spanning five other shows. That doesn’t include ones that have yet to air (Stargirl) or are in development (Superman & Lois).
A highlight of the past six season has always been the annual crossover events and the most recent “Crisis on Infinite Earths” showed Oliver at his finest. Even though there were surprising/Easter egg moments like the connections to Lucifier and the DCEU, it was ultimately about the man who started it all saving the universe through a heroic and noble sacrifice. He literally came back from the dead to do it.
It’s been a wild and crazy ride but we’ll continue to see Arrow’s influence and legacy continue on. Not only did it spur a shared superhero universe but it anchored an entire network. While the show has come to an end, hopefully it’s not the last we see of Stephen Amell’s character. The penultimate episode was a backdoor pilot for Green Arrow and the Canaries where the hero’s daughter, Mia, takes up the mantle. With the original show relying heavily on the flashback, who’s to say the elder Arrow can’t show up.