Thursday, 3 January 2013

On "Arrow" #2 & "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic" #1

It's a more-than familiar tale in its broadest outlines, but it's told with energy, invention and conviction. The community has been insidiously corrupted, its citizens reduced to the status of dead-eyed zombies, and only a tiny cadre of valiant souls can perceive the threatening evil for what it is. Dearly-loved friends and family have been taken hostage, the few safe refuges are surrounded by furious, menacing antagonists, allies and weapons have been desperately collected together, and there's even mention of ninjas as the thoroughly compelling first chapter comes to a close.


But enough, for the moment, of writer Katie Cook and artist Andy Price's splendid My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic #1. First, let's deal with DC's successful attempt to reduce the dullardathon that's The CW's Arrow to even more facile levels of bolted-together-from-cliche storytelling. Ironically, Green Arrow's comicbook adventures have often featured both a conspicuously liberal agenda and the highest quality of writing and art. By contrast, the TV show has wallowed in dull-minded spectacle informed by the brutal, simplistic myths of frontier justice, seasoned only with a saccharine fix of lowest grade soap featuring glamorously beautiful actors struggling to bring the most wooden of stereotypes to life. But even the tacky glamour of all those beguilingly gym-toned, taut-abbed actors playing at being impossibly rich and implausibly troubled dissipates on the comic-book page, where many of the artists involved struggle to represent recognisable likenesses, let alone physical allure. Similarly, the hyper-kinetic indulgences of the TV series where it comes to action set- pieces - all jump-cuts and slow-mo in carefully over-shadowed sets - aren't available to the comic take on the property, meaning that what's at least mind-wipingly distracting at first on the screen is here just two-a-penny super-heroics. Without that befuddling froth of sex and violence, what have the creators of DC's Arrow brought to the mix in order to ensure that the comic book excels in its own right?


The answer, sadly, is nothing at all. As you can see from the opening page of Wendy Mericle and Sergio Sandaval's "Fathoms", the experience of reading Arrow - whether in a digital or printed form -  is often as flat and alienating as can be. As with so many of today's comic books, an attempt appears to be being made to replicate the experience of watching television. And so, there's our all-too-familiar friend the horizontal panel being used to present the most literal, straight-forward narrative that's imaginable. Why anyone would feel any kind of interest in the above sequence, for example, is difficult to imagine. On the screen, and passing at a rate of knots, it might serve as a mildly diverting scene-setter. But here, it's a waste of space, lacking pace, fascination, action or emotion. For the reader who's already avidly consumed the TV series, there may be some flicker of recognition at the events in play, but even there, it's a great deal of space that's consumed by very little of any consequence at all. In short, the reader's being treated as an idiot, who's presumed to be so easily satisfied that they'll swallow the thinnest of fare.

Similarly, plots whose fundamental weaknesses might have been partially obscured by the Sturm und Drang of Arrow on TV here immediately reveal themselves to be at best hackneyed and at worst quite overwhelmingly stupid-minded. From the first category - if we're being charitable - comes Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg and Mike Grell's "Moscow", in which our hero just jets over to the Russian capital and heroically shuts down a sex slave ring simply through being exceedingly bold and courageous. Quite where his ability to speak and understand fluent Russian under extreme duress comes from is unexplained, as is his astonishing knowledge of how to get around Moscow with nothing but a rope-arrow and a bow. At best, a cack-handed homage to thriller strips such as Modesty Blaise, it does at least succeed in containing not a single moment of the slightest individuality beyond Mike Grell's ever-idiosyncratic artwork. Indeed, "Moscow" is embarrassingly shameless in its lack of ambition, seeming as it does to suggest a belief that the audience will pretty much swallow anything that it's given so long as its been industrially premasticated before being sold to them. As such, the closing caption, which ends with a particularly unrousing declaration that " ... as long as there's evil in the world, my role will be to fight it", sums up exactly how smugly cynical and lazy the script is.

But even its complacency pales before the unalloyed imbecility of the same writers' work on "Diggle". In it, the reader is presented with the supposedly heartwarming tale of Sergeant Diggle's service in Afghanistan, in which he's shown ignoring the most basic aspects of his responsibilities and causing the deaths of at least five vehicles-worth of his fellow Green Berets. Of course, this is sold not as less of a crime against his comrades, and more of an ultimately inspiring drama designed to counter-intuitively fire up our pity and respect for the man who so needlessly caused this disaster in the first place. And just so we don't pay attention to the substance rather than the sentiment of what we're being shown, we're also offered Diggle's solo, uber-macho massacre of a troop of Taliban, who have, we're told, "No humanity!" at all. (Diggle, who's obviously saturated with the quality, kills them all while bearing the apparently redeeming burden of "rage" at his own mistake.) It's a sequence which is apparently designed to fire up our blokeish admiration while obscuring as best as can be achieved the fact that there'd have been no combat at all if not for the idiot Sergeant himself. As unpleasant as it's utterly unbelievable, as manipulative as it's mindless, it can be bought as a 0.99c download from Comixology, and I can only encourage you to enjoy its parade of nittwitnessness, contrivance and ethical vacuity.

Producing a worthwhile comicbook tie-in of a TV show is of course no easy matter, requiring as it does the ability not just to grasp what makes the original product appealing, but the skill and good judgement to adapt it to a quite different medium. IDW's reprinting of last year's My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic #1 shows exactly how the trick can be played. Rather than falling back on the short-cuts of genre banalities and a less-is-less evocation of the source material, Cook and Price have enthusiastically embraced the opportunities of the comic while - unlike Arrow - working to entrance the neophyte reader as much as the died-in-the-wool fan. The result is nothing other than an unqualified triumph, and I speak as a reader who not only lacks any previous experience of the franchise, but who instinctively blenches at the slightest mention of the likes of "cuti-points" and "Ponyville". But here, the audience is presented with storytelling which delights in offering much more than a shallow suggestion of mood tacked onto to the slimmest of plots. Cook and Price delight in making sure that the world they present has depth as well as action, character as well as plot-contrivances, wit in addition to witticisms. and their panels always contain layers of information and emotion rather than single, naked plot-beats.

As such, Ponyville is alive with detail which suggests that, should we able to step into each frame, the world depicted there would continue on and on off-panel. (To see just one millimetre beyond the bounds of Arrow's borderlines would, it's hard not to suspect, only reveal otherwise-empty studios and a skeleton crew with their minds on being somewhere else.) The careful, gleeful aspects of world-building which Cook and Price's use to bring their sets of kitchens and battle-grounds, libraries and street-scenes alive never distract from the plot, but they do constantly ground events in an society and an environment which always seems fascinating, and, therefore, well worth being concerned about.  From the imperiously disinterested sight in the background of the lion Mr Mc-Bitey Pants at the tale's beginning to the undeniably creepiness of the emergence of the evil duplicates at its climax, MLP:FIS #1 carries even the cynical observer along with the authority of its creators' skill and conviction.

Unlike the hermetically-sealed Arrow, which refers only to itself and to the least taxing of genre conventions, The Return Of Queen Chrysalis is considerably strengthened by its creators' determination to reach out to and adapt aspects of the broader pop culture. And so, there's more than a slight suggestion of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and even Aliens in the scenes of abduction and replacement, while there's walk-ons from the likes of the Blues Brothers and Magnum PI and even the appropriation of Ben Grimm's well-worn battle-cry. (*1) Harnessing the mechanics of their sturdily-built quest plot to an invigorating range of broader influences gives the work a series of jump-on-here snares for the more unfamiliar, if not actively cynical, reader, while also adding a unique value to the comic-book adventures of a property that's typically presented as a cartoon. In short, what's been lost in the jump from TV to the page has been compensated for by an attention to the strengths of the comic book form.

I may not know my Cheerlee from my Celestia, or understand anything of how such disturbingly overcute horses could have constructed an advanced culture without opposable thumbs. But I do know enough to recommend that unless Arrow makes an appearance in My Little Pony, the horses' solo appearances are a far, far better bet for your time and money when it comes to heroic, action/adventure comics.

*1:- Though the "g" has been returned to its place at the end of "cloberrin'".



  1. Love the opening switcharoo to the post, I may go so far as calling that brilliant. You've made an excellent choice as far as series to juxtapose- and my brother is already a fan of the My Little Pony series (honestly, I think it's pretty good too) so I'll be informing him of the positive review of the book

    1. Hello Isaac:- Thank you :) It just struck me when reading the two comics that there was far more darkness in MLP than might have been expected, and I wanted to find a way to accentuate that.

      Though not at the expense of its many other positive qualities, I hope ...

  2. I thought the My Little Pony comics was fine, but not this bit with interest -
    'their panels always contain layers of information and emotion rather than single, naked plot-beats'
    Reading issue one with my daughter I found I had to explain an awful lot of what was happening and the only time this enhanced the reading experienced was when looking at fun details. Most of the time it felt a little confusing to my daughter, and I could understand why. Despite both of us enjoying the dialogue, plot, characters and art I was a little disappointed that she found it easier to follow a prose story than a comic... at least in this case. To be fair I do need to look at it again with a more critical eye to see if my initial feelings have any validity, especially as we both still liked the comic, which seems a pretty key point!

    1. Hello Paul:- Well, I can't challenge your experience with your daughter! I guess we're both describing our different views of the same elephant, as it were. I think there's a great deal to be said about reporting from the frontline where children are reading comics. (Actually, there's a terrific site to be organised by someone if they could get enough contributors onside to speak about how a range of nippers responded to the same comics.)

      As for me, I promise you that I'm not speaking from any conviction that my experience matches anyone elses of any age beyond my own :)

    2. I think I'd like to do that very site if only I had the time.
      Genuinely don't know if I'd have personally found the art/storytelling tricky if I hadn't had to explain it to my daughter, so perhaps it's just a case of comic literacy.
      But this seemed like a comic that should be appealing to her age range so it would make sense if it was a bit more accessible... and not to sound like an annoying bias parent, her reading is good, honest!
      Luckily my little girl has recently got into Adventure Time and I'm hoping she'll like the comics. Content-wise they might go over her head, but I think the storytelling is great. I also picked up some Duck Tales cartoons as an entry point into the storytelling perfection of Carl Barks!

    3. Hello Paul:- I'm desperate not to appear to be appear to be presuming to analyze you and your daughter's experience. But if I can speak in general rather than specific terms, I do think there's a terrible problem with comic literacy. The idea that comics are a naturally inclusive medium is, as far as I can see, rubbish. Adults who are extremely literate can struggle not just with the language of comics, but with the mindset and effort that's involved in making sense of them. Certainly I've never found any correlation between how literate folks are and how much sense they can extract from the page. In fact, I now look at the storytelling used on TV21's major strips, for example, and I find myself amazed and grateful that that was what I cut my teeth on when I was three or four. Thrown in at the deep end - and some of those strips posed considerable challenges for a nipper - was extremely good for me.

      Still on the general front; I wonder what the target audience, if any, of IDW's MLP was. It shipped 90 000 copies on first pressing, so it was obviously thought of as being interesting to a broad audience, but that doesn't, of course, mean that it was being targeted or not to a younger niche. My feeling is that book is pitched at a very broad audience indeed, with aspects of it capable of reaching even an adult audience which finds them ponies a problem.

      I wish I could assure you that the Adventure Comic would please your daughter. I can tell you that the comics themselves are cracking. I've enjoyed them very much.

      As for Duck Tales ... sigh. I only have to turn my head to see two lovely Fantagraphics collections of Barks' tales. Always an inspiration :)

    4. Oh, I agree with your points about comic literacy, so no problem there. It's annoying that some people see comics as an easy gateway to 'proper' reading, and one of the reasons I'd annoyingly (and patronizingly!) check my wife had picked up on certain visual aspects of a comic to make sure she got the full experience.... and received rightly withering looks for my efforts! I'll not list the ways in which comics require a literate reader for fear of one of those withering looks I mentioned! But, the great thing about comics is the density of information and story that can be communicated at whatever level the reader chooses to read, as guided by an expert artist.
      MLP was pretty much my daughter's first introduction to reading comics (other than flicking through some other titles of interest), and so I wonder if it was the best introduction. My own feeling is that it is for a broad readership but one already a little comic literate. We'll be picking up issue 2 tomorrow and I'll be sure to report how that goes when we read it.
      I have the Adventure Time issues and love them, so I'm hoping my little girl will take to them. What I really wish is that Disney would do a comic tie in with the excellent Gravity Falls as I've no doubt she'd devour them!
      I suspect we have the same Duck Tales books on the shelf, but I'm playing sneaky and will wave the two Gemstone books that collect Bark stories that were adapted into Duck Tales episodes under my daughter's nose. Truth is, she loves to read, and she loves animation, but I don't think she's hooked on comics yet... but I'll keep trying!

    5. "Adults who are extremely literate can struggle not just with the language of comics, but with the mindset and effort that's involved in making sense of them. Certainly I've never found any correlation between how literate folks are and how much sense they can extract from the page."

      I've tried to give my mother a few comics, and it seems that any comic that tries to do anything more complicated than having simple horizontal row-based layouts will render them unreadable to her. She enjoyed Maus and she said she remembers enjoying Asterix when she was taking French classes, but I tried to get her to read Fables and she couldn't get through it. I asked her what she didn't like about it and she said "I don't know, I couldn't read it and gave up a few pages in." So, as silly as it sounds, some people /are/ comic-illiterate.

      Also, I loved the review. The darkness of the MLP comic doesn't come to any surprise to me as I've seen a bit of the cartoon and the 2-part season finales tend to be a bit more dark and thrilling compared to the rest of the series, and the comic brings back the villain from one of those episodes.

    6. Hello Paul:- And I'm with you about that "comics as a gateway to 'proper' reading" argument too. It is more than possible to get a body interested in reading through comics. Yet many folks - in the past in particular - learned to read through books and comics both. (ie me!)And of course, some folks - such as the Splendid Wife -come to comics after a lifetime of book-reading. It's a far more complicated business, as you intimate, than the comics-first-books-second argument states.

      The density of information, and the variety of methods to - if I may - encode it, are of course central to the pleasure of comics, and one of the frustrations of so many super-books - Arrow included - is the choice of creators and editors to go for the least demanding degree of content possible. A wealth of information need not be excluding, if the creators know their job. By the same token, an absence of desnity and depth needn't make a book open to a wider audience; it can just as easily bore the pants and still confuse the neophyte.

      "My own feeling is that it is for a broad readership but one already a little comic literate."

      I suspect anything as transparent as you seem to be implying would be limited in its appeal to the youngest of readers. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but probably not profitable for IDW, who are already paying out for the license before the profits arrive. There did used to be comics which were directed towards the very young. Memory tells me, for example, that there was a junior partner to the Eagle called Swift, and TV21 had a lead-in title whose name escapes me, although Stephen Baxter wrote a fascinating article about it in Fanderson not so long ago. If the big corporate guns of the comics industry ever becomes truly dedicated to serving its own interest, it'll subsidise top-notch low-price product aimed at developing the habit of comics reading and buying amongst the very young indeed.

      Good luck in making a comics fan of your daughter! There's so much good stuff she'll miss out if you don't :)

      Ag, Gravity Falls. More welcome homework!

    7. Hello Joe:- I hope you catch my reply here. It's the nearest to your comment that Blogger will allow me.

      I think your mum is the rule rather the exception. I was always amazed at how rare the skills of reading comics had disappeared among my students even in the late 80s and early 90s, and that was a situation which had only worsened by the time the profession and I went our seperate post-Millennium ways. And it's not simply the visual conventions which are a problem, of course, but the conventions of genre which put to use too.

      Thanks for the kind words. I've been watching a few MLP shows since I wrote the above. I find I'm a fan of the comic far, far more than the series. I will, however, be keeping my eye out for the screen appearances of Queen Chrysalis.

    8. You are probably right about limiting the appeal to younger readers. That leads to some big topics about the industry, so I'll just say that the notion of a MYP comic that would struggle if aimed at young girls is a strange, but real, issue.
      Good look in tracking down Gravity Falls and I hope you enjoy it - Mabel's a star!

    9. Hello Paul:- That's a paradox, isn't it, if it's true. A MYP comic which can't be targeted at the audience you'd imagine would most welcome it. Hopefully that will come. What better property to snare a new generation of readers, and for a medium which is slowly cranking up the number and quality of work for audiences beyond the perpetually blokeish.

      (Am finding out about this Gravity Falls business even as I type :) )

  3. So anyway, this show is about this rich blonde model - well, they look like a model, anyway - who goes it alone at first but is later joined by their military-trained chauffeur - uses their secret identity and this list of names in a book given to them by their dead father in order to enact revenge for his death but also to punish the guilty who've taken advantage of their position in society, so our model type takes them down and redistributes their wealth to help the less advantaged members of said society (not that we actually see them very much unless they're being servants or service industry people), and along the way maybe deals with their little sister's wild lifestyle and drug habit while also flashing back to their five years of ninja training on a mysterious island or that time they stopped off in Moscow to intervene in the sex slavery trade, but it's a small social circle in this show so they're always crossing paths with the ex they left behind before their transformative hero's journey stuff who can now never, ever know the truth about the lead's secret double life, even if that means stepping aside to let their best friend and their love interest become a couple...

    But enough about the CW's Revenge, let's talk about Arrow.

    Such fun, Colin - I see why you did it! Arrow is the most awful kind of tosh, but I think most know that already as a common positive offered in its favor is that it is "not as awful as Smallville" - much as a touch of Syphilis is better than having your leg torn off - but the comic was thus flawed before its creation as a knock-off of a knock-off (Revenge - at the unashamed admittance of it's creators - is an update of the Count of Monte Christo), though technically even before it was a knock-off of a knock-off, it was a knock-off of a knock-off by being spun off from the Green Arrow character appearing in Smallville, so it's not quite a knock-off of a knock-off of a knock-off, it's more a knock-off of two different knock-offs, a well-diluted effort even before writers and artists get within ten feet of the thing. Could it ever have turned out well, Colin?

    1. Hello Brigonos - and touche, turtle, though now I'm going to have to find out just what CW's Revenge is! Oh, the burdens of the responsibilities of research ... Although the idea of an appropriation of the Count Of Monte Christo is interesting in itself, given what you've said :)

      "a knock-off of two different knock-offs"

      And quite deliberately so, I fear. There's a cynicism and a determination to get the ratings no matter what with Arrow which leaves it feeling as fascinating in its hucksterism as its shameful in its lack of content. Once more, all our old friends there; the righteous vengeance, the useless state, the absence of the voices of anyone but the privileged and a few of their trusted confidants. I watch it with no little horror and copies of the O'Neill/Adams, Elliot S! Maggin, ALan Brennert and Joe Staton, JLU cartoon take, and Mike W Barr/von Edeen GA's close at hand.

    2. It's not entirely whorish in its ratings-chasing, Colin, otherwise it would have the male leads cop off with each other like the primary audience of gay men and teenage girls wish would happen. It's the only reason most of them keep tuning in, presumably unaware of how conservative genre telly tends to be about these things, though fair play Arrow has Captain Jack in it - and soon Crixus and his impressive wang from Sparticus will be making an appearance as Deathstroke. I tell you, between that casting and all the (plot related) shirt-off scenes, they may shy away from actual man on man action but Arrow's creators sure are taking no chances on losing their gay audience anytime soon.

      Revenge is... a trashy pleasure. Screaming glitz-camp of the Dynasty ilk with Madeline Stowe as a scheming patriarch, it's love or hate stuff, but trash. Pure trash.

    3. Hello Brigonos:- There's no doubt that the fetishisation of one particular form of male objectivisation has been put to work in Arrow. It's so blatant that I can't recall it ever being discussed, though I will admit, I'm not actively hunting down commentary on Arrow. What I find particularly ... puzzling, shall we say, is the way that poor Arrow's scarred and yet perfectly gym-sculpted body is used as an object of veneration as well as an obvious badge of machismo. There's a mix of self-pity and uber-masculinity in Arrow, in which the excessive suffering of the "hero" is used to justify whatever torture and murder he chooses to dish out. At which point, a whole host of unpleasant associations start to come to mind, and rather than think about how exploitative the whole process is, I'll focus on something peaceful and calming instead. Considering the lilies rather than the six-packs, as it were ...

  4. And now, Colin is ONE OF US.

    One of my favourite bits of MLP #1 is when Chrysalis' message orb turns up - the ponies in panel 1 aren't reacting to something off-panel, they're reacting to panel 2 and Spike is leaning on the panel border. (The same trick is played when they notice the changeling's HQ, everyone is clearly looking at the panel the HQ is in rather than 'where it is' relative to them) I can't remember the last time I saw that.

    - Charles RB

    1. Hello Charles:- Well, MLP hasn't won me over as a franchise. I can't say the cartoon - or what I've seen of it recently - is to my taste, and my taste doesn't actually run to an endless run of cutie-point hunting horses. BUT ...

      ... the comic's really good, isn't it? And I don't mean to suggest that the cartoon isn't good too; I just struggle with it in terms of my own taste. Which means that the comic actually has to have some considerable virtues in terms of its storytelling, because it's more than overcoming my own tastes.

      And that's particularly so given that this is a comic which is rich - though not alienatingly thick with - in continuity. Not in the sense of super-book self-obsession, but there is a large cast, the obvious presence of a considerable backstory, and so on. Yet it swings as a story.

      So I suppose that I'm actually more ONE OF US than not, and with no little respect either :)

  5. Having stumbled across this while looking for reviews of the MLP comic, I must say I really enjoyed it. As a firm MLP fan who has very little knowledge of the world of comic books in general, I find it particularly interesting to see reviews written from pretty much the opposite viewpoint. This comic has been received *very* favourably by the fandom as a whole, but it's nice to know that "outsiders" agree.

    I did wonder how accessible the comic would be, actually, since it is (as you touch on) absolutely stuffed with references, both to the show and to popular fandom memes and suchlike. There are probably 20 or so just in that full-page Ponyville scene. Especially since I'm not well up in the language of comics, so to speak, I think I might have been a little confused by it all. That might just be me, though!

    "Cutie marks" aren't points, incidentally: they're the symbols adult ponies have on their flanks, and getting your cutie mark is the most significant rite of passage in any pony's growing up. (Hence the fillies' obsession with getting theirs.) And the lack of opposable thumbs? Surely the presence of unicorns solves that one. Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology, after all...

    1. Hello Logan:- Given how little I know of the MLP franchise, it's always helpful to speak to someone who does know what they're talking about. I'm lucky to have had the chance to exchange words with a few MLP fans here, and I can't think of a better mark of a tie-in's quality than it generates positive reviews from - as you put it :) - insiders and outsiders alike.

      You're not the only one to be a touch confused at moments in the books. PaulHD and his daughter - as the comments above testify - had a few problems themselves. That I didn't notice them doesn't mean that they're not there. Yet they, as with you, did enjoy the comic as a whole.

      Thank you for the background. I do particularly like the idea of a culture of horses and unicorns working together to get round the problem of the missing thumb :)

    2. re cutie marks - those two ponies in the bottom left on pg3? Pony versions of the creators.

      So based on the cutie mark, Andy price's special talent is drawing Batman!

      - Charles RB

    3. Hello Charles:- I believe the young folks call such things "Easter Eggs" :)

      I will admit, I'll be struggling not to buy the collected edition of the series when it's out in May. You were, as just about always, right.

  6. "I speak as a reader who not only lacks any previous experience of the franchise" - oh you have to watch it. It's just great fun, very sweet but also deeply weird.

    Pinkie Pie would be sectioned if she wasn't a talking horse.

    1. Hello Emmet:- OK, back to YouTube. I may have caught a couple of less typical, less enjoyable episodes, and I as always have faith in your judgement :)

  7. In the interest of full confession, I rather enjoyed the early seasons of SMALLVILLE. Superman has always worked well on TV, because episodic action suits him. He is well-defined and largely unchanging. That is a nearly perfect protagonist for an action-adventure series. When SMALLVILLE was using its freak-of-week format with a side teen soap opera, it was perfectly enjoyable.

    Sadly, the attempts to introduce the broader DCU and an over-arching mythology were not well conceived.

    Similarly, Oliver Queen is a very good potential protagonist. His liberal politics, over-confidence, hot temper and promiscuity are all well established. They contrast well as traits and give the feeling of a full human being. A revenge narrative seems like a decent set up for an episodic adventure series. Unfortunately, the producers decided to expunge all of Ollie's personality aside from his womanizing. The resulting series is brutally generic.

    1. Hello Dean:- I too thought there was a considerable potential to the early Smallville episodes, though as time past it seemed to me to be marked by a desperation to secure another season at whatever costs were necessary. The basic set-up of a young Clark Kent who's living with the Kents in rural Smallville remains a brilliant one. Only the dullards in the comicbook industry who are responsible for the party line could manage to make it one which "can't" be made to work. A terrible shame. I picked up a copy of DC's Greatest Superboy stories TPB last week. To read it is to be reminded what a terrific premise for a strip the classic Superboy is.

      You've certainly put your finger on much of why Arrow is such an unpleasant and dull show. As I said at the beginning of the piece - by which I mean "Yes!I agree!" - Oliver Queen has always been at his best when portrayed as a radical. (Green Arrow could be an interesting character even when his alter ego really had no character at all, prior to Adams and O'Neill. Kirby's Arrow strips are absurd and personality-free, but a real hoot all the same!) "Arrow" is a deeply reactionary show, which reduces Ollie to just another grim and noble vigilante.

      Of course, they've also stripped Oliver of his sense of humour, willingness to openly confront authority and .... Well, the list goes on. But in the place of those qualities, we do have that taut and shiny stomach of the lead actor. When it comes to gym-work, plastic surgery, and dodgy politics, Arrow is a world-leading product.

    2. Thanks (as always) for your kind words.

      With regard to SMALLVILLE, I think it was a perfect example of the too many episodes hypothesis, which I first saw floated by Bill Simmons. Premium cable and BBC shows have much shorter runs of episodes than American broadcast TV. SMALLVILLE was putting out 22 episodes per seasons, every season, for ten years. In contrast, DR. WHO delivers 13-14 episodes per season. GAME OF THRONES delivers 10. THE WALKING DEAD launched with a 6 episode season. As a result, the top writer(s) on the show are responsible for a larger percentage of the show's output, which gives the show a more personal imprint. Plus, fewer (if any) weak ideas escape the writer's room. Finally, the season long plots move much, much more quickly by necessity and are able to resolve themselves more naturally in every way. I would hold the top 8-10 episodes of the early SMALLVILLE seasons up with anything in the genre. The weaknesses of the show were the poorer episodes that they cranked out to fill the schedule and the interminable subplots (e.g. the extremely slow burn of the Lana-Clark romance).

      It also provided a nice solution to the Superboy problem. I get that having a costumed hero flying over Smallville and then moving to Metropolis at exactly the same time as Clark Kent is problematic. However, trading the costume for a flannel shirt effectively removes the problem. The extreme doubleness of the Clark/Superman identities has never worked in long-form fiction aimed at anything other then young children. George Reeves played Clark and Superman as very similar people. Even Christopher Reeve toned down the geek act later Superman movies.

      Finally, the pre-O'Neil/Adams Green Arrow is not a character that I have deep knowledge about. He seemed to be a cut-rate Batman with a less ponderous motivation. His distinguishing trait was his homosexuality, since Speedy has the gayest origin of the Golden Age (and that is saying something). Batman and Robin are more frequently sniggered about, but Oliver Queen and Roy Harper were shown as much closer in age and much more a domesticated couple. Dick Grayson was mostly a son to Bruce Wayne. On the other hand, Ollie and Roy never seemed to be anything other then domestic partners. O'Neil and Adams had Black Canary rather neatly displace Roy in both roles.

      All told, I have no idea why The CW chose Green Arrow to adapt. There is literally nothing that makes him unique, or distinctive, that seemed to appeal to them. They literally erased it all and started over. Worse, they have started over with the broad outlines of the Nolan Batman. Diggle replaces Alfred, but with necessary diversity and bad-assery. His father replaces Thomas Wayne. Laurel Lance replaces Rachel Dawes. I liked the Nolan films, but I have no desire to see them again except longer and dumber.

    3. Hello Dean:- I've will say, you've made me want to check out the TV listings and find a channel that's showing the early Smallville series.

      It's odd, but in Britain we tend to envy the show-runner/writer's room set-up that US TV series have. Of course, that's based on the very best shows, with the likes of the West Wing coming to mind. To play Devil's Advocate, the problem with shorter-run series such as those you've mentioned is that they can suffer from a lack of diversity in style and subject matter. Just as the longer series can lose their focus, so the shorter ones can have just too much of one. If the viewer is faced with a Doctor Who series where the showrunner's imprint isn't to their taste, they may well long for the ups and downs of a far longer season.

      But putting my red cloak away, I too would tend towards shows with a more personal imprint. To have a 24 episode series with a terrific writer overseeing everything - if not writing it, of course - is the ideal. How few programmes ever hit those heights?

      I'm going to have to suggest that you get studying the Adams/O'Neill GL/GA issues in greater detail. What once seemed catastrophically "relevant" now seems, by comparison with the mass of modern-era super-books, once more radical and, if somewhat stiff, principled.

      As for Oliver Queen's sexuality; though I'd have not the slightest with a gay Ollie, or a bi-Ollie, or an anything Ollie who was still recognisably himself, I have to say that GL/GA was marinaded in the lust he and Dinah Lance had for each other. As for what Ollie and Roy's relationship before that .... I await a story by someone with the sensitivity and smarts of a Simone or Cornell which fills us in :)

      I can think of a few reasons why CW might opt for GA. If reduced in the way he's been, he is Batman-lite, or at least, Batman-lite'n'grim. His super-powers are also relatively easy and cheap to put to use. Plus the wealth of his early appearances is easy to use to appeal to American's love for riches and the high life. For a people who found statehood through expelling an aristocracy, your media certainly does have a taste for dwelling on your own upper classes, and with a lack of censure which can at times seem puzzling to the outsider.

    4. Bear in mind that my endorsement of SMALLVILLE is not a blanket one. My argument is closer to the notion that there is very good show buried in there under a lot of subpar filler. If you'd like to know what specific episodes I mean, then feel free to visit my largely defunct blog (

      I think that the proper number of episodes varies from show-to-show. Episodic procedurals, sitcoms and purer soaps sustain more episodes very easily. However, one central character means added episodes require returning to the same well more often. SMALLVILLE drank certain wells utterly dry very quickly.

      I have read and adored O'Neil/Adams, but has been a long time ago. Ollie and Dinah has a remarkably frank and open attraction for another by the standards of the time. The politics were actually a pretty good springboard for superhero stories. I have mislaid my ancient TPB, but I would love to dig back into them.

      It is amazing that neither Simone, nor Cornell, have touched Green Arrow.

      You are probably right about the appeal of Green Arrow as source material. I will never understand the class system of my home country.

    5. Hello Dean:- I didn't know you'd written about Smallville. Result! I shall be seeking the advice of a younger Mr H on my Smallville viewing habits.

      You know, it struck me when I was suggesting you look at GL/GA that I hadn't read them myself in any depth recently. I've gone back to sequences, read pages, lifted panels for my Tumblr - but I feel somewhat ashamed at my blatant hypocrisy and will be taking out some garishly-printed Baxter reprints tonight. Perhaps my opinion will prove to be quite wrong.

      I believe that Gail Simone did write something of GA when and if it was relevant to Black Canary's adventures in Birds Of Prey. If I recall - and forgive me if I'm wrong - she felt that the marriage between GA and BC was a wrong turning for each, but that never leaked through into her stories. Of course.

      The class system of your nation is a remarkable thing, not least because of a longstanding, popular and thankfully ever-declining belief that class in any traditional form doesn't apply to the Republic at all.

      But then, noting the possibility of problems with your system hardly means I'm suggesting that my own nation is in fine shape when it comes to matters of stratification. I fear nothing could be closer to the truth.