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The news that the CW’s Arrow performed surprisingly well in the ratings for the CW last night – earning its best weekday night viewing figures for three years – is just the capper on a slowly-emerging fact that seems somewhat nonsensical to comic book fans. Namely: Green Arrow seems to be really rather popular with mainstream audiences.
After all, it’s not as if Arrow is the character’s first success outside of comic books. Just in the last few years, he was essentially a second lead in the CW’s Smallville, with a section of that show’s fan base seemingly holding the opinion that he was a more interesting and charismatic frontman than Tom Welling’s Clark Kent, and also one of the more familiar guest-stars in the animated Batman: The Brave and The Bold series, just slightly below Aquaman in terms of likelihood to appear without notice. Clearly, everything’s coming up Oliver Queen these days, but what is it about Green Arrow that seems to click with audiences and creators alike?
It’s tempting to say that his down-to-earth qualities help. Not that he’s an everyman character – He is, depending on what incarnation you’re paying attention to, a millionaire businessman who is irresistible to the ladies to some degree or another, as well as a master archer and major Robin Hood fan – but he doesn’t have any super powers, which makes him far easier to empathize with that, say, the Man of Steel, the Flash or Green Lantern (Sorry, Ryan Reynolds). It also makes his adventures far easier to film, requiring few special effects – unless a trick arrow is in use, of course – beyond hiring someone who knows how to shoot a bow and arrow well, and we know how much producers like saving money on unnecessary effects shots.
Perhaps also helpful: He’s the Batman who smiles. Green Arrow – especially the versions from Smallville and Arrow, devoid of the comic book character’s politics and goatee – has enough of the Bruce Wayne appeal (Millionaire playboy with hidden heroic and moral side) to seem familiar to audiences, but not so much (No tragic parent deaths, no flying rodent fetish) to seem off-putingly so. Instead, he’s all the fun parts of Batman – Okay, maybe not the fun costume, but still – without the sturm-und-drang that we’ve all come to expect from that character.
And, of course, it helps that he shoots arrows. As the Doctor might put it, arrows are cool now, thanks to The Hunger Games‘ Katniss and Avengers‘ Hawkeye (who is, of course, just a cut-rate Green Arrow in many ways – Oh, pop cultural irony). Whether by accident or design, Arrow debuts after a summer that’s given us a Batman and a Hawkeye movie to help us get comfortable with the character in advance, without our even knowing it.
Now that Arrow has convinced people to check it out through all those factors, though, the hard part begins. It’s one thing for a show to have enough echoes of things we know we like so that we tune in the first time; the trick will be seeing if we come back for more. How will the show’s second episode perform, next Wednesday, and the episodes beyond that? Now that you’ve had a chance to check out Arrow, are you planning on sticking around to see what happens?