Look up in the sky! It's an actual bird. And there's an actual plane! And there's a hooded figure jumping from one rooftop to another! Seems plausible? That's because in the world of The CW's Arrow, everything — even Oliver Queen's trick arrows — is grounded in a reality unlike anything viewers have seen on a superhero series before.
Let's just start off by shooing the metaphorical elephant out of the room: Arrow is not the new Smallville. Sure, both Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) and Clark Kent are members of the Justice League, but the similarities between these shows end there. While Smallville focused on an alien on a path to becoming the world's savior, Arrow is set on a less epic scale, following the exploits of a wealthy playboy who was stranded on a deserted island for five years where he honed his archery skills to survive, birthing his alter ego, Arrow. Upon his return to civilization, Arrow will attempt to clean up Starling City while trying to get redemption for his (and his family's) mistakes.
Bringing a different superhero to life so soon after Smallville bid farewell to the same network hasn't been a challenge for executive producers Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg. In fact, they don't even see Arrow as a superhero. Through their eyes, this is a very different Oliver Queen from the one viewers saw on Smallville, especially since there will be no supervillains like General Zod or Brainiac running around.
But if there are no "superheroes" on Arrow, where does that leave the Justice League? To get the answer to that and many more burning questions, TVGuide.com sat down with Guggenheim and Kreisberg to talk all things Arrow, including how soon Dinah "Laurel" Lance (Katie Cassidy) will be stepping into those iconic Black Canary fishnets, which other comic-book characters may show up (Hint: Superman, no. Batman, maybe?) and more!
Why Green Arrow? Why choose him to follow in the footsteps of Superman on The CW?
Marc Guggenheim: Well, I think [executive producer] Greg [Berlanti] was the one who said, "Hey, how about Green Arrow?" I think his rationale, if we understand it correctly, was he's one of the untapped DC characters who's very iconic. He's a member of the Justice League. He obviously was on Smallville. But the nature of that character being a street-level hero really lends itself to television. It's a lot easier to do than Metamorpho or Superman, where it's visual effects and everything. It can be a very grounded story. We're always saying it's not a superhero show. It's a crime thriller, which is something you can't do with a more fantastical character.
The show will obviously draw comparisons to Smallville, but how do you keep Arrow grounded in reality?
Andrew Kreisberg: We don't think about the show as a superhero show. We think about it as a crime thriller and a crime drama and a family drama. The character of Oliver Queen that Justin Hartley played on Smallville was a reaction to Clark Kent and Superman, living in a fantastical world with fantastical characters. In our world, none of that exists. It's only Oliver Queen and his quest and his crusade. Just from that element of it, it's a very different take on the character. I mean it's the same sort of headlines, but the fine print is very, very different.
Unlike Batman and Superman, Green Arrow does not have that one rule saying he will not actually kill anyone. How do you keep him in check without turning him into the villain?
Guggenheim: Well, that's the essence of the show. That's the essence of Oliver's dilemma as the hero. The answer is explored in each episode, particularly as we get deeper into the series and he has more people to talk to and more people to react to what he's doing. We could explore all the different facets of what it means to be a hero, but also to be a killer and do the ends justify the means and what are the consequences of being judge, jury, and sometimes executioner?
Kreisberg: You're going to see where that mind-set comes from because of his experiences on the island. I think that in the same way that Batman has a moral code to not kill because he lost his parents, Oliver's origin story, he was put through a very different crucible. His take on what is right and what is wrong were shaped by the island. We had an exchange between Oliver and someone else where somebody says if you have all of this information on these villains, why don't you just go to the police? And Oliver says, "Because their laws aren't mine." He has a very strong moral code about good and evil and what's right and wrong. But how that [punishment] gets meted out is very different from any superhero that you've seen before.
Fans of Green Arrow will certainly be champing at the bit for you to open up the world. They want to see Arrow's sidekick Speedy and Black Canary. You also have the whole Justice League at your fingertips. In the beginning, I'm sure you want to keep it focused on Arrow, but are you guys already talking about expanding this world?
Guggenheim: Yes. We're definitely talking about it. I think you'll see it happen sooner than you probably expect. At the same time, we're always very mindful of the fact that it took five years on that island to turn Oliver into a superhero. If we instantaneously turn Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) into an expert archer or we instantaneously turn Laurel into the Black Canary, we're invalidating the premise of the show. We have to step very carefully through that.
Kreisberg: Even in these early episodes, we haven't started from a place of, "There's this DC comics character. It would be great to do an episode about it. What story could we tell?" What we've been doing is coming up with what's the best version of a story we could tell about Oliver. Once we have that figured out, then we go to the DC Comics playbook and say, "Is there somebody in the canon who we can bring in? We're not just bringing people in to bring them in. When we have them join the show or have them make an appearance it's for some larger purpose to service our characters. I think that will make their appearances more special as opposed to gimmicks for gimmicks' sake.
Smallville had some rights issues, like not being able to bring in Bruce Wayne because of the Batman trilogy. Are you coming across that right now?
Kreisberg: Not yet. DC Comics has been really supportive. I think that because our show takes place in a more grounded universe, there are a lot of characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern who just don't fit into our inception of the world that we've created for Arrow. There are a lot of other lesser-known characters who aren't as fantastical, who are more grounded in reality, that are beginning to transition into our part of the world view. We're excited to show those characters off.
Are you saying we'll never see Superman show up? Or is that something you don't want to set in stone?
Guggenheim: I cannot envision Superman being on the show. You never say never, but the world that we've established is just not a world where Superman's flying around.
Kreisberg: I mean this is a real world where the rules of physics apply. There are no aliens, there are no super-powered villains. One of the amazing things about Batman Begins and Chris Nolan's take on Batman was how he took a character like Ra's al Ghul, who in comic books is immortal and supernatural, and did a very realistic version of it with Liam Neeson. I think that there is room in our world to take some of the more fantastic characters in the DC universe and do them in a more realistic, relatable manner. We are looking to do that and we actually have plans for one character specifically.
Guggenheim: Arrow is not the only avenue to get DC characters on television. The guys at DC Entertainment, they have a lot of tricks up their sleeve. I know it may seem like we're the only game in town so let's get all the DC characters in here. But we're really not the only game in town. Just like it would be strange if Green Lantern showed up in a Chris Nolan Batman movie, it would be strange if it happened here. Lord knows, I'd love to do a Ryan Reynolds cameo because of our involvement with the Green Lantern movie.
You've given Oliver a sister, Thea (Willa Holland), which he didn't have in the comics. You also had Oliver call her "Speedy" in the pilot. Sure, you don't want to turn her too quickly, but you obviously put that in the pilot for a reason.
Guggenheim: My favorite moment in the original script, which Andrew wrote, that didn't make it into the pilot is when she's in the room with [her friend] and they're crushing up the pills. The original stage direction was she reaches over to the shelf and grabs a junior archery championship trophy to crush the pills. I'm like "Why didn't we do that? We never should have taken that out!" I don't know how this will come off but I'll just say it: I think half the fun of the show is seeing characters from the DC universe coming and the other half of the show is the anticipation and the wonder of how and when and if it's going to happen. You can't have one without the other, I think.
Kreisberg: The DC comic fans see that and it fulfills something inside of them. But at the same time, we're hoping that the show has a broader audience. We designed it to please both fans and non-fans alike. So, if you're not a fan, that line just kind of blows past.
You're pulling from Year One by Andy Diggle and Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell for Arrow, but in the pilot, we also see that Oliver has a list of people, like Revenge's Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp), he wants to get revenge on.
Kreisberg: Our pitch for the show was it's The Dark Knight meets Lost meets Revenge. So, there's definitely a little bit of that aspect to it.
How does he balance his list while trying to save Starling City?
Kreisberg: One of the things we talk about is that the list, in some ways, is very selfish because he's trying to right his family's wrongs. There's an element of vengeance, an element of retribution that is fueling him in the initial foray into being this Arrow character. One of the things that the series at large is going to explore is the subtle pivot from this dark avenger into more of a beacon light and somebody who's more of a hero. I don't think that's something that Oliver, in the early stages of the show, looks at himself and says, "I'm a hero" or "I'm a symbol of hope." He's just focused on taking out these people that have done wrong. It'll be one of the interesting things, I think, for the audience.
Arrow premieres Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 9/8c on The CW. Will you be watching? Which DC characters do you hope will pop up?