The Legacy of Arrow As DC’s Most Important Property in the New Golden Age of Superheroes

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BY January 29, 2020

With the series finale of Arrow now behind us, we can begin to think about the legacy of this little show that built an entire universe. Producers on the series have said that, when they started, their plans didn’t go beyond Arrow. They looked to make a grounded, gritty series about a vigilante whose only superpower is making a bow and arrows somehow deadlier than automatic rifles. Yet, this doesn’t feel entirely true. In the first season, Jessica De Gouw played Helena Bertinelli. This could have just been an Easter egg for comics fans, but instead she eventually suited up as the Huntress. When this happened two things became immediately clear. First, Arrow could potentially build a larger universe inspired by the comics that served as its source material. The second was that the Arrow would be this world’s Batman.

The legacy left behind by Arrow is one of success, even though all the spin-offs it inspired are tonally different series. The Flash is as hopeful and bright as Arrow was dark and (at times) cynical. Supergirl is about fighting evil in the daylight, while (at least in the Arrowverse) Oliver Queen was the night. Legends of Tomorrow was a refuge for great characters the main shows didn’t know what to do with. (And it’s also so silly it’s the purest comic book show on TV right now.) Batwoman may take the place of the dark, brooding series on the CW, but Arrow did it the best. Because the storytellers, cast, and crew took the show so seriously, they delivered cinematic action, dramatic gravitas, all while staying true to the inherently strange comic book setting.

Still, the legacy Arrow leaves behind goes beyond its spinoffs, profits, and brand-building. It’s a rare story executed by talented people.

The Legacy of Arrow and the Arrowverse Compared to the DCEU

Arrow Legacy Flash Ezra Miller Grant Gustin Image via Instagram

Arrow premiered in 2012, at a time when fans wondered how Warner Bros. would follow Christopher Nolan’s Batman with Zach Snyder’s take on Superman. Man of Steel started pre-production in 2010 and suffered a delay. All the attention was on this movie and whether or not DC would try to match the shared Marvel Cinematic Universe. In a way, this was perfect, because it allowed Arrow to exist without intense scrutiny. One key difference between film and television production is time. TV shows are produced on an insanely tight schedule. By the time Man of Steel hit theaters, Arrow producers were already working on the second season. Ironically, the Arrowverse seemed to have the luxury of time (or at least patience) that the films did not have to build out their universe.

Spinning off Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen character for The Flash wasn’t really the start of the Arrowverse success. Rather, it was the first “crossover” later in the season. “Flash vs. Arrow” and “The Brave and the Bold” (two separate stories, by the way), showed that Arrow and Flash could just pop up in each other’s shows. Emily Bett Rickards’ Felicity crossed over in an earlier episode, which also helped. Seeing the two lead heroes interact ultimately sold the idea. As the seasons unfolded, adding more characters and spinoffs, the Arrowverse felt more connected than the movie side and, arguably, even the MCU.

They would name-drop other shows’ characters. The events in the other series would be referenced, usually to explain why during some crisis Oliver or Barry didn’t call on their friend for help. Despite all the ways it could go wrong, it actually made the universe feel seamless.

Why Arrow Succeeded and How, Even Without a Spinoff, the Show’s Legacy Is Intact

Arrow Legacy Green Arrow and the Canaries Image via CW

To be clear, we are not trashing the DCEU. It’s just that Arrow was a lower-stakes game that paid off with a huge reward. It’s all but certain that the tv shows don’t bring in the kind of profits that movies do. Yet, while the movie side of the house undergoes course-correction after course-correction, the Arrowverse shot forward like a perfectly-aimed boxing glove arrow. The key factor here, I think, is that while they took the characters seriously, they didn’t take themselves too seriously. Arrow especially leaned into the emotional drama and tortured lives of heroes. Yet, they still allowed themselves to veer into the ridiculous territory that comic books have to occupy. Small things, like David Ramsey’s Diggle throwing up every time Barry Allen used super-speed on him broke that tension. These small moments of acknowledgement that their world was ludicrous, made it feel even more real.

When looking back at the legacy Arrow leaves behind, one has to look at how they dealt with their stumbles as well as their successes. Some season story arcs didn’t land with fans like they wanted. Other times, comic book die-hards grew angry at the way the characters’ relationships evolved. Instead of bending to that pressure, Arrow’s storytellers and cast stayed true to their vision of the series. At the same time, they didn’t ignore their fans either. They acknowledged when things may not have been as successful as they’d hoped. And they always promised to try harder and do better.

No matter what happens with the future of the Arrowverse, there is no denying that Arrow achieved more than anyone ever expected of it. From telling great comic book stories to building a universe, Arrow carved out a permanent niche in pop culture.

The Real Legacy of Arrow Will Be in the Minds of the Kids Who Loved It

Arrow Legacy Green Arrow and the Canaries Cosplay Image by Pikawil via Wikimedia Commons

As mentioned, the legacy of Arrow may not necessarily amount to billions of dollars for parent company Warner Bros. At least, not in the short-term. In the long term? Well, Arrow and the Arrowverse may be the key to the longevity of DC characters in the future. For now, the DCEU seems to have found its footing. At the very least, they are focusing on making great movies and not worrying too much about crossover. And they don’t have to. For DC fans, there is no better shared universe for their heroes than the Arrowverse. An entire generation of kids and young adults will see these actors and the definitive versions of these characters for them. Stephen Amell’s Green Arrow will be immortal, like your favorite Superman or Batman.

Audiences cared about these characters, and the stories they told felt just as resonant as any crime drama. Which is why the legacy of Arrow will be a whole bunch of new comics fans. So many people just tuned into the show because, like other teen-focused series on CW, a good-looking cast told a thrilling story. But because the storytellers and cast are comic book fans, they helped show those new fans that the world of comics is also for them.

What is the legacy of Arrow for you? Share your feelings about the series in the comments below.

Featured image via CW

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Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.

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