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Can the New Black Canary Fix Arrow’s Problems?

Arrow -- "Second Chances" -- Image AR511b_0007b.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Juliana Harkavy as Tina Boland and Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen -- Photo: Katie Yu/The CW -- © 2017 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Originally posted at A Latina’s Media Musings

Firstly, as an almost disclaimer of sorts, I’ve never been a fan of Arrow. Even in the show’s heyday of seasons one and two when it was praised and lauded as a great show and comic book adaptation. Though it bares moderate similarities to Green Arrow: Year One overall, it just wasn’t for me. However, I can look back on the show’s beginning seasons and see a clear pattern of character arcs that were leading to a greater picture. A picture that would create an adapted vision of the classic Green Arrow comics mythology.

Needless to say, that from season three onward, Arrow did not only continuously strive away from that proposed picture, but did so almost gleefully. It often felt at times that the show was more interested in using the brand names of “Green Arrow” and the original materials (or should I say Batman’s original materials) for the sake of hollowed out Easter eggs, than truly adapting them in interesting and creative ways. One of the best examples of this is the show’s depiction — and mishandling — of the Black Canary, aka Dinah Laurel Lance.

See I can handle change. When it comes to adaptations, you have to be able to handle some level of change and flexibility towards the source material.

I could handle Oliver being moody because he was suffering from PTSD. I could handle Mia Dearden being changed to Thea Queen because it was a play on the name, and they operated in a similar manner — Oliver’s little sister, whether foster or blood related. As much as I didn’t like Laurel’s origin as a lawyer (clearly more of an inspiration off Rachel in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight saga than Dinah Laurel Lance’s comic history), I did feel that Laurel embodied key aspects of her comic counterpart; namely, her compassion and strong sense of justice.

So while not particularly a fan of the changes, or the show itself, I could ultimately see where it was all going.

Oliver would eventually learn to live with both his failures as a vigilante, friend, and romantic partner. He would learn to cope — note: not “fix,” but cope — with his PTSD and rise up as a people’s champion, slowly coming to embody more of the fun and righteous characteristics of his comic counterpart. Thea would become Speedy, Roy would become Red Arrow, and Laurel would become the Black Canary. The writing was on the wall, but the point was in watching how everyone would get there.

I was ready for the long haul.

After all, I waited ten years to see Clark Kent put on the super suit (and though he technically never does it’s for a good cause so I can’t knock Tom Welling for that) and become the Man of Steel. I could easily wait the five it would take to see Oliver and crew become not only the true blue team of Green Arrow/Black Canary lore but become a family. One of the most important aspects of Green Arrow canon.

The family building in DC Comics is one of my favorite themes within the DC Universe.

Bruce Wayne (for all that Arrow tries to imitate) isn’t simply a loner in a bat-suit and cave, he’s also a family man. His greatest tragedy is that he lost his family once as a child (Martha and Thomas Wayne) and continues to lose members of the family he’s built as an adult. It may be a running joke that all Robins die at some point (which is nearly true), but it also adds to the overall near Greek tragic aspect of Bruce Wayne as a fictional character.

Bruce is a flawed man who either physically loses his family members to the violence he’s trying to defeat, or ends up pushing them away due to the inability to cope with his own personal issues. Batman isn’t interesting solely because he’s a guy without superpowers that everyone respects; rather, he’s interesting because he’s a layered character.

Part of those layers exist in the family he’s built around him. These layers similarly exist in the “Flash Fam” which can be traced back generations from Bart Allen, to Wally West, to Barry Allen, to Jay Garrick and all the other speedster children beyond and in between. Superman has the recent Johnathan Kent, Lois Lane, Kon-El, and Kara Zor-El to operate as his “Super Fam” and so on.

The point is, in Green Arrow/Black Canary’s comic mythology they do have a family built legacy of Mia Dearden, Roy Harper, Connor Hawke, Sin Lance, and recently Emiko Queen. The problem comes in that none of this exists anymore in the show. The concept of “family” has been lost in the shuffle of Batman villains, poorly done plotlines, dropped and rushed character arcs, and pointless romances.

Which is why season five of Arrow has felt like a soft reboot to the entire series. Introducing new comic characters, less for their relation to Green Arrow mythology and more to fill out ranks, and pull in comic fans in — what feels like — a desperate move to “feel” more like a comic book show.

If you uplift random characters with no real, tangible ties to the source material, while removing the characters who do have those ties, chances are you don’t have a very good adaptation on your hands.

There’s no real purpose for Mr. Terrific or Wild Dog to become permanent parts of the Green Arrow team. It makes some sense, at least, for Artemis to become a member of the team for her part in Young Justice (too bad they didn’t cast her correctly as she’s half-Vietnamese in said show), but now that she’s betrayed the team [spoiler], that alone negates the connection. It makes even less sense that Thea has taken such a backseat in terms of story this season and last, or that Laurel died in a flash-finish shocking plot device to motivate Oliver.

One problem with Arrow currently is there are too many characters on the show who 1.) simply don’t matter, 2.) have nothing to truly do with Green Arrow mythology, and 3.) have little emotional weight within the larger fabric of the story. Five seasons in and we’re introducing a third woman to become a Canary figure, ignoring the canon previously established on the show (Dinah Drake Lance already existed as Sara and Laurel’s mother), and having a slew of new characters come in with little time given to develop them in meaningful ways.

The picture Arrow currently has is a mish-mash of characters from different parts of DCU canon thrown into Arrow with little care or respect.

Here’s where I’d like to bring up Smallville. Because for all its faults (and there were plenty), Smallville was able to bring in greater aspects of the DCU in mostly smart ways.

See, Smallville always remembered that the core of the show’s story was about Clark Kent himself. There was a core cast that lasted from the beginning until the end: Clark Kent, Chloe Sullivan, and Martha Kent. The show was even able to make the older “adult” characters like Lionel Luthor, Martha Kent, and Johnathan Kent relevant to the major plot points of Clark’s story without losing them in the shuffle (as Arrow has done with Detective Lance and Malcolm Merlyn).

Smallville was also able to introduce well known characters such as Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman, and even its own version of Green Arrow in its earlier seasons without allowing them to overcome the story itself. These characters aren’t a part of the core Superman mythology, they are outer aspects that are a part of Superman’s future, but not Clark Kent’s story.

This is where Arrow fails: by removing characters integral to Green Arrow’s story and replacing them with outer figures mid-way through its series run.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with bringing in characters like Ray Palmer, Mr. Terrific, Wild Dog, Ragman, and others into the Arrow fold. However, they should be used to showcase the greater aspects of Oliver Queen’s world, not become parts of it shoehorned in without thought. The point of introducing characters like Aquaman or Cyborg on Smallville was three-fold: have fun Easter Eggs for comic book fans, provide Clark an outlook on superhumans outside of his “meteor mutants,” and show him a greater view of his universe. They were all used to show what Clark’s future could be and who he would eventually become.

This was a similar tactic the show used with Lois Lane. Though Chloe was very much a Lois Lane prototype early on, due to copyright issues at the time, when season four of Smallville rolled around, it finally introduced the official Lois Lane a majority of the audience knew. This was it. Lois Lane and Clark Kent were the endgame. No matter what other relationships Clark would have or did have in the show, ultimately Lois and Clark were destined for each other. Because that’s what happens in Superman.

But the show wasn’t about Superman, it was about Clark Kent becoming Superman. So Lois Lane came in and out of the show, slowly developing a fun and flirty friendship with Clark that in its final seasons developed into a romance. The show changed the origin of Clark Kent and Lois Lane — by introducing them to each other at a much younger age — but ultimately they didn’t enter a romantic relationship until they were both adults. Until Clark finally was ready to become Superman.

Smallville recognized the importance of Lois Lane as a part of the overall Superman narrative. Sure there were ups and downs regarding her storylines, but most fans can agree that Smallville — at the very least — acknowledged Lois Lane was an important, if not vital, part of the story of Superman.

This is where, once again, Arrow fails.

The show never seemed to fully understand the concept of the Black Canary. Dinah Laurel Lance is ultimately her own separate character apart from Green Arrow and Oliver Queen. The show should have worked harder to establish her as a separate character from the get-go instead of making her only a spurned lover Oliver cheated on. There were shades of the comics’ Dinah Lance in Arrow’s depiction, and there were clear signs of a narrative journey being taken towards her becoming the Black Canary.

However, it became clear by the time season three rolled around that the show lost interest. It forgot who the Black Canary was — more than a leather jacket, motorcycle-riding woman with a sharp tongue and a sonic cry — and why she was important. Laurel, as such, suffered as a character. Reduced to a rushed short term story arc, quickly pushed further and further aside, and lost more narrative relevance. Until finally the show decided to just up and kill the Black Canary, a long-term important character within the DC Universe and an important part of the overall narrative of Arrow itself.

While Laurel lost screentime, her overall presence was still relative to the story at hand. She existed as a central figure within the overall fabric of the narrative having ties and history with Oliver, Thea, Sara, Moira, Quentin, Diggle, and Tommy. Viewers could see this in Arrow’s 100th episode, which emphasized how central Laurel and Oliver once were to the show’s narrative.

Now there’s little reason for Quentin to even exist on the show given that his storyline is a circular tragedy of losing one daughter to gain another, only to lose another and end up in and out of rehab. Thea also lost a sister figure and her own screentime has gone down dramatically because of it. Oliver lost a close childhood friend, and a huge part of his past (namely the first two seasons) as well as his canonical comic long-term partner.

So the misstep is two-fold: the show purposely cast aside one of the long standing characters that originally had an on-going and solid arc to explore and develop, and an iconic comic book character. This isn’t such a problem that can be fixed with the insertion of a new character that happens to also have the name Dinah Drake. Which appears to be the most popular name in Star City.

The problem isn’t simply Dinah Drake being introduced in season five, Lois Lane wasn’t introduced till season four of Smallville, after all. The problem isn’t the timing, but rather the overall execution. The payoff of Smallville was finally seeing Clark Kent go from a rather shy, closed off young farmboy who was confused about his abilities, into a strong, confident adult who fully understood his place in the world and what he was meant to do. His relationship with Lois, and seeing Lois herself grow into an adapted version of her own iconic comic imagery, was part of that payoff.

There’s a huge lack of payoff regarding this third — or is it fourth since Evelyn posed as Black Canary for an episode? — Canary running around Star City. A cheapening of both an iconic character, and the show’s female characters. As if “Dinah/Black Canary” is an interchangeable figure that can be swapped out with any female character that has the name. Instead of a character that has been individually built from the ground up and over time.

Let’s go back to the picture created in season one and developed in season two. Oliver went from a killer with PTSD, then later stopped killing, began trying to deal with his mental illness, and building his team up. Note that his team were people he was connected to in other aspects of his life. Laurel was his childhood friend, love interest, and outside team member who handled legal aspects of his vigilante activities as well as on her way to becoming the Black Canary, Sara was his love interest, and also partner in understanding personal trauma, Roy was his sister’s romantic partner, and his pseudo young brother, Thea was his sister, Roy’s partner, and well on her way towards becoming a hero herself.

There were very clear endgames in mind for all of these characters. Oliver would become the Green Arrow, Thea would be Speedy, Roy was Arsenal, Laurel was the Black Canary, while Sara served as the adapted version of the comics’ original Canary, serving as an inspiration for Laurel to take up her mantle in the future. If Arrow had gone the Smallville route, Sara would have eventually left the show as her story was finished, and her purpose served moving on but still existing in the greater canon of the universe as a hero instead of twice-dead/revived victim.

This is, ultimately, my problem with the new Dinah Drake. Other than the fact that there is a pre-existing Dinah Drake Lance in Arrow canon, this Dinah Drake is a poor payoff for four seasons of pre-established development and investment. She is a name that rings hollow given the previously established canon within the show’s narrative and as an adapted figure.

The picture painted for Laurel was clear as day from the get go. Her name was Dinah Laurel Lance, her mother was Dinah Drake Lance, her sister acted as a modified version of Dinah Drake’s original Black Canary that would inspire and pass down the mantle to Laurel. Her character was originally compassionate, had a strong sense of justice, acted as the emotional anchor for Oliver, Thea, Lance, Sara and Moira, and had some level of basic fighting skill. The expectation given all this was that eventually the leather jacket, the motorcycle, the canary cry, and the growth of her fighting skills would come with time and development.

Instead of finishing this story with Laurel, she was killed in a shocking and ham-fisted manner to motivate and punish the male characters of the show. Then half-way through season five — after the controversy of her death — the audience is introduced to a brand new character who has all the would-be traits of their would-be classic comic counterpart.

The problem isn’t with the character of Tina-turned-name-drop; if this was the first time Dinah Drake Lance or Black Canary had been introduced, there would be less of a problem. Unfortunately, she’s not. She’s a band-aid on the situation. An attempt to right the wrongs the show did previously, without any real thought into the character in the comics or the previously established story that was built before it was dismantled. She is currently simply a collection of shallow character traits similar to the comic counterpart of the same name but without any true weight within the show. Viewers are simply expected to let go of the previously established canon and story of the show, the original picture, and accept a bunch of new characters five seasons in.

Dinah Drake is a half-done do-over that was never needed if the show had finished the story it started with Laurel. Are we to expect a new Speedy, Red Arrow, and Connor Hawke as well? Or are we stuck with these random replacements that have no connection or ties to Oliver Queen as a character or Green Arrow as an adaptation?

Since Smallville was previously brought up, I have to mention that Smallville pulled a similar stunt with a classic — but overall, less important — character.

Jimmy Olsen was introduced in season six of Smallville and was positioned as the Jimmy Olsen. He later became romantically involved and even married to Chloe. Seemed like a positive way to combine a classic Superman character with a new fan-favorite Smallville character. That is, until the show killed him off for dramatic shock value in season eight. And then revealed he had a twin– with the same name. Or rather, the original Jimmy was Henry James “Jimmy” Olsen, while his twin brother was named James “Jimmy” Bartholomew Olsen.

Needless to say, it was ridiculously convoluted and unnecessary. Fans were invested in the original Jimmy Olsen; not just for his namesake, but also for his place within the narrative of Smallville. Not some random out-of-blue twin with the same exact name to take to be a second “real” Jimmy Olsen.

Though Sara’s death was unnecessary, her part in the narrative was always to help Laurel become the Black Canary — as Dinah Drake aided in Dinah Laurel Lance’s journey in the comics. This new Dinah Drake is just a replacement the show wouldn’t need if it had stuck to the original purpose behind Laurel’s character in the first place.

None of this is to say the actress and character won’t be a net positive for the show. However, when I look back on its last four full seasons, she ends up showcasing how far the show has fallen. This is ironic considering her character — and Juliana Harkavy’s delivery overall — is a positive and nearly refreshing addition to the show itself. Not to mention the fact that Harkavy, who has Dominican, African, and Chinese heritage, provides the show with much needed representation as a heroic woman of color.

But the show has a terrible track record with female and POC characters to begin with. What’s to say when the writers get bored or feel like revisiting Olicity again, Tina/Dinah won’t end up under the knife like Laurel did? Slapping the name “Dinah Drake” on a character, and introducing some comic inspired traits — canary cry, leather jacket, moderate snarky attitude — does not a character make. Nor a well adapted one.

So no, I don’t feel that Tina/Dinah has fixed any of Arrow’s problems and instead has inadvertently highlighted them.

Of course, there’s still an entire season left to see what Tina/Dinah has in store for viewers. I sincerely wish the actress the best and that viewers continue to enjoy her performance. Also that her character doesn’t fall into the same pitfalls a majority of the other Arrow ladies have fallen into repeatedly.

As for me, I find myself completely disinterested in pursuing Arrow any further. The show has proven to care very little for comic book canon, to the point the writers almost seem to deplore it. Oliver is more a sullen, uninteresting Batman rip-off than anything like his comic counterpart — even in his darker stories. Any other relevant Green Arrow comic characters have disappeared, replaced now by randoms and two original creations. The story has given up on producing coherent overarching story arcs for any of its characters and dropped those it was building toward.

As a fan, Arrow doesn’t balance the two aspects of adapted material and original material well enough for me to remain invested. Arrow has taken its adapted material and thrown most of it out the window, while twisting anything left into ragged origami scraps. What’s left is a lump of original material that is, for myself, uninteresting, messy, and vapid.

If other viewers and fans still enjoy Arrow, then I’m sincerely glad for them. Media is meant to bring enjoyment to its audience. For myself, I find more enjoyment in other Green Arrow/Black Canary adapted appearances such as Young Justice, Injustice 2, and the Rebirth comics. All while eagerly awaiting their eventual appearances in future animated and live action film franchises.

Green Arrow/Black Canary: The Wedding Album

Arrow may be dead to me, but the Black Canary and Green Arrow sure aren’t.

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