We have all seen the discomfort comic book editors have with family. Spider-Man never was married after Joe Quesada did a deal with Mephisto and blamed Peter Parker for it. He said it was difficult to write good stories with a married Spider-Man. So having to beat the villain in time to do something for his Aunt May is good drama, having to beat the villain in time to do something for his wife and/or child isn’t?
Over in DC, Superman is no longer married to Lois Lane. In fact they are not romantically involved at all. Superman is dating Wonder Woman in DC’s million-dollar comic. However, he’s with Lois Lane in the billion-dollar movie. In the next episode, where Wonder Woman gets to piggy-back screen time, Superman may be tempted, but I’m betting he’ll stick with Lois. TV and movies like to tie things up neatly, and relationships don’t end unless something goes wrong (death) or somebody does wrong.
Let’s look at Green Arrow (GA) and his relationships in DC and in CW’s show, Arrow. And let’s start with GA’s original origin.
When DC’s GA started, he and Speedy were a team. Speedy was a Batmanesque addition to the team, one of many, no matter what Weisinger said years later. But GA wasn’t a slimmed down, law-abiding Robin Hood, as Weisinger claimed, either. Had that been true, Robin Hood would have inspired Robin and GA, which once again makes the “no Batman influence” claim more than a little suspect.
Green Arrow was imitated from the Green Archer, a novel made into a silent movie serial and later into a talkie movie serial which came out in 1940 (it’s on YouTube, if you’re interested) , DC’s GA started in November 1941. The timeline fits and the name is a dead giveaway. But where the plot of The Green Archer revolved around two brothers, DC’s GA was cut from a different cloth.
A year and a half after he started, DC’s GA got an origin. He was an expert on all aspects of Indian (Native American) culture, including archery but not including respect for other people’s property.
Oliver Queen goes to a mesa rumored to have a “gold mine” of artifacts that he can just take. He flies there, preceded by a waiter who overheard the euphemism and took it literally and the gang who believed him. When they get to “lost mesa” they discover Roy Harper and Quoag. Like all Native Americans, Quoag can’t speak anything better than broken English while Roy’s English is faultless. One wonders how long they were lost on that mesa after Roy’s dad crashed the plane there.
When stopping the crooks who shot Quoag dead, one of them says Oliver Queen shoots a “mean green arrow,” and another one says the kid “sure is speedy.” Naturally an accident of fate crushes all the crooks so Oliver Queen and Roy Harper agree to take the gold from the mine (otherwise Indians would get it) and start fighting crime with arrows, which Oliver calls weapons they can understand. (So, pulling the trigger is too complicated, or something.)
But DC’s GA and Speedy begin their careers together, both in terms of publishing and in the backstory. Oliver Queen and his ward, Roy Harper, are the only relationship the other has, they don’t even have a butler.
They do have associations with other costumed people who fight crime in DC’s third-string superhero group, the Seven Soldiers of Victory. The second-string group was the Justice Society of America. because anybody in that group who became a first-stringer didn’t bother with super groups, they just got their own titles. But Green Arrow did better than most, since he was one of the dozen superheroes who went from the forties boom to the sixties boom in an unbroken line of publication.
In the 1950s, Jack Kirby got hold of DC’s GA for eleven issues and changed it forever, almost. In his last piece, Green Arrow’s origin changed. Now he’s an idle playboy who falls overboard from his yacht, find his way to a deserted island, learns archery all by himself so he can hunt food, and then gets home by boarding a ship and stopping a mutiny.
Speedy is not in this origin. He comes later. This time he was raised by Brave Bow, who took on the task when Roy Harper’s father died saving him from a fire. Somehow, Child Protection is OK with that. In either origin, Roy Harper never once goes back to the man who raised him nor to the tribe he came from.
When the Justice League comes up, Oliver Queen is eventually inducted. It’s a step up from the Seven Soldiers, but in terms of relationships, it’s a step sideways. For some twenty-five-some-odd-years, Oliver’s fellow crime fighters did not even know his real name.
So for about 30 years, the only real see-you-during-downtime relationship Oliver Queen has is with Roy Harper. Then in 1969 DC’s GA suddenly overnight changes personality from “pasty rich white boy bland” to “obviously on crack socialist liberal progressive.” The idea was to make him more like Robin Hood, forgetting that Robin Hood is fighting to restore his royal title under Richard I. DC’s GA also lost his money to keep with the new gimmick.
And DC’s GA got a girlfriend. In the JLA-JSA team up, Black Canary’s husband Larry Lance makes his debut among the superhero types and dies right away. In the grave they show, he had been born in 1930. Black Canary’s original run was from 1947 to 1949, so Lance was only 17 when that started. No wonder he waited before marrying her. And, how old was she?
By 1970 she had to be at least 38. Never mind, comic books make adjustments real life cannot. Eventually they decided this Black Canary was the daughter of the original but she grew while in a comatose state and her mother’s memories were input into her. That is the sickest stage mother of all time, even worse than Silk Spectre in Watchmen. No wonder the story got retconned several times. And in all the plot devices, DC’s GA has the same phobia about commitment.
In any event, Black Canary lost her husband and was so upset about it that she moved from Earth-2 to Earth-1 and took up with the newly penniless archer almost immediately. Theirs would be a tempestuous relationship: on again, off again, married, not married, retconned to never married so they can do that scene again, and he dies.
But he did get a highly acclaimed poorly selling arc with Green Lantern that lasted only thirteen issues but is often cited as if it justifies the existence of comics all by itself. This time Arrow and Lantern are friends apparently based largely on both having Green as a first name. GL, contrary to all his other appearances to date, is now a brainless beat cop. Together GA and GL go through middle America in an old pickup truck and tear up the joint.
And it shows how hollow all DC’s GA’s relationships are. A billionaire loses billions and there is no friend who owes him a favor? Nobody to call on for a decent truck? For that matter, he was bilked of a huge sum through a company the embezzler “controlled.” How many accountants does Wayne Enterprises have? I mean, why isn’t the world’s greatest detective lending a hand?
No one? Not even Speedy? I know of no scene where Roy Harper calls Oliver Queen and says something like, “Ollie. I heard what happened. Anything I can do to help?”
This puts Roy Harper’s drug addiction in high relief. Is everything to flow to Roy? After all, he explains he took up drugs because Oliver left the eighteen-year-old behind as he went on the truck trip.
Oliver Queen also has several relationships that exist and don’t. He had a son, Connor Hawke, who took over when he died, but who faded into the background. Shado raped him and bore him another child, who is sometimes there and increasingly sometimes not. There was also a second Speedy. Mia Dearden was the second Speedy but she dribbled away into virtual nothingness.
These additional relationships don’t last long: Hal Jordan, Connor Hawke, Shado, Shado and Oliver’s son Robert, Mia Dearden. Like Black Canary, they come, they go, they leave little behind and they’re pulled out again when somebody needs a plot idea. No one else matters, no one but DC’s GA has an impact on his life that can’t be overturned in an instant. But let’s see a different version of Green Arrow, the one on CW’s Arrow.
Where DC’s GA didn’t even have a named parent for decades, the very opening scenes of CW’s GA series, Arrow, tell us about Robert Queen. The character, played by Jamey Sheridan, appeared in only 4 episodes. Yet What Robert Queen did and didn’t do has been a running theme in the show as Oliver Queen variously tries to live up his father, outgrow his father, and undo the damage his father did.
When CW’s GA gets back to Starling City, he returns to his mother, Moira Queen, played by Susanna Thompson and his sister, Thea. Oliver feels close to his family, and has something of a blindspot where they’re concerned. His father cheated on his mother, his mother cheated on his father, his mother lies to him, she is secretly complicit in an attempt to genocide the Glades (the slums of Starling City), and she shoots him. Enough drama for any DC’s GA comic.
At several points in the series, like when Moira is on trial, it would be easy for Oliver Queen to dump her. When she’d acquitted of the charge of murder, it would be easy to keep her out of the mix at Queen Industries. Despite the obvious PR disaster it entails, Oliver pulls her back in.
The plot lines of CW’s GA’s parents in the first two seasons of the show exceed the plot lines for family in the now 73 years of the comic. And we haven’t even gotten to his sister, yet.
Thea is Oliver’s younger sister, something he doesn’t have in the comic. Thea Queen is played by Willa Holland, and Thea’s so adorable you just know something horrible is going to happen to her. As her family falls apart around her she tries Vertigo and for five months she refused to see her mother in prison. So she’s already skirting around Roy Harper’s big plot arc.
She turns out to be half-sister to CW’s GA and daughter to Merlyn (the “other” archer in GA the mythos) so she’s likely to learn archery, herself. What they’ve established is Thea desperately wants to fit in, she wants the security of family, and Oliver nicknamed her Speedy.
It may not be coincidence that Thea rhymes with Mia. Thea Queen might be Speedy for CW’s GA.
That leaves one other family member. He exists in the comics but not in this form. Television changes Walter Steele from a Lucius Fox kind of executive into Oliver Queen’s step-father (played by Colin Salmon). The difference is significant. In Arrow, Walter Steele shows the passage of time. It reinforces idea that Oliver has been gone a long time. More important, he is an early warning of how corrupt things are, and gives up his wife because he refuses to be dishonest. It is rare for a corporate type to be put in that kin of light in television.
Walter Steele is also kidnapped by Malcolm Merlyn and Oliver has to get him free. When it looks like Oliver’s going to lose control of Queen Consolidated, Walter Steele arranges to purchase the last few shares to defend Oliver Queen’s position on the board.
Think about that for a minute. Why would he spend such a huge sum and put his own reputation on the line just to keep his dissolute, philandering son a guaranteed place upon the board? Maybe it’ll turn out to be greasepaint and a hoodie was not be enough to disguise his step-son. Walter will come back and probably tell Oliver he’s a good person who went through bad times.
Walter Steele on Arrow, as a step-father, can do things the mere employee Walter Steele in DC cannot. He can impart drama. He has a stake in events, so his self-imposed exile over a matter of principle can hang in the air until the character can be brought back for his next dramatic moment.
In addition to these close family members, CW’s GA has two other groupings of people he knows. There is Laurel Lance, his on-again-off-again girl friend. There was Tommy Merlyn, son of Malcolm Merlyn and killed by him. There is Laurel’s dad, former Detective Lance. There’s John Diggle and Felicity Smoak, his partners in crime fighting, and Roy Harper the wannabe who’s shagging his sister.
While Oliver was on the island for five years he knew Shado, an on-again-off-again love interest, and her father, Yao Fei. There was Slade Wilson, more commonly called Deathstroke the Terminator in the comics. There was also Sara Lance, Laurel’s sister, later to fall into the hands of Ras al Ghul’s people and become Mockingbird. Oliver was cheating on Laurel with Sara when the ship sank. I think Sara will die and people won’t know her codename was Mockingbird (did Marvel make a mistake with copyright?) and will consider her Black Canary I – look at the mask. But once again, this ties plot back to family and allows Arrow to pile on the implications of it all.
None of these people are, strictly, family. But CW’s GA has more family in actual family than DC’s GA has any kind of family at all: the friends on the island are more family than DC’s GA ever had: the friends in Starling City are more family than DC’s GA ever had in over 70 years.
But the fact is these latter two groups are not family, yet they offer some interesting parallels. John Diggle is the bodyguard, Slade Wilson is the anti-bodyguard. Both Laurel Lance and Shado are the love interest who has a martial art and a logical expertise (Laurel’s is law, Shado’s is philosophy – interesting since in the comics both are involved in a rape). Both have a father who is a rule keeper for the group (Detective Lance and Yao Fei).
TV and Hollywood make use of family and close friends in a way that comics do not. Yet, it shouldn’t be hard to notice that Superman and Batman, the most successful comic characters, have the largest families. The Fantastic Four are a family and without the family element it is not the same story. And in all these cases they outsell the also-rans like DC’s GA. CW’s GA is a hit and DC’s GA is unable to sustain much in the way of comics sales. The difference between the two characters who share a name and gimmick is that one has a cast of friends and family to whom he is loyal and the other uses people and throws them aside. Not much of a hero, really, but where DC’s GA ends CW’s GA starts. What CW did was weave family issues into the issues of saving a city, and thereby turn a marginal hero into a hit. And they seem to have had fun doing it.