Whether possessing innate superpowers or just overworked abs and some highly advanced technology, all comic book heroes are vigilantes. That’s their raison d'être: To see justice done in situations in which the ordinary forces of law and order, be it the police or an interplanetary army, cannot. Which makes the villains just as interesting, and often more telling, than the heroes themselves. When urban decay and inner-city violence are on our minds, we get Gotham’s master criminals. Should fears of nuclear war threaten the planet’s well-being, evildoers from another universe and/or dimension appear in the sky.
On “Arrow,” the CW’s new retelling of the DC Comics Green Arrow mythology airing on Wednesday night, the first guy to go down is a nefarious real estate mogul who has bilked millions from innocent homeowners. So that’s where we are, anxiety-wise — moguls are ruining our lives and, since the Securities and Exchange Commission doesn’t seem to be doing its job, we need a modern-day Robin Hood to put things right.
Loosely based on the character created by Mort Weisinger and George Papp, our hero is one Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), a billionaire playboy who found both conscience and purpose after a yachting accident left him stranded on a deserted island for five years. Now he’s back in Starling City, the town his father, who did not survive the accident, helped build.
As any fan of “Lost” can tell you, five years in an island can change a man, and Queen appears to have spent most of that time working through his own jungle-themed boot camp. He may not be faster than a speeding locomotive, but he’s pretty fast and he has developed no little skill with a bow and arrow, making him a poster boy (no doubt literally) for the Katniss Everdeen set. His mission: to right the wrongs committed by the men who rule Starling City.
Queen isn’t the only one who has changed. Though his best friend, Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell), may appear to be the same immature rake he once was, Queen’s former girlfriend, Laurel (Katie Cassidy), is now a scrappy legal aid attorney, and she’s less than pleased with Queen’s resurrection; in the moments before he was lost at sea, Queen had been canoodling with Laurel’s sister, who then drowned.
In a nod to “Hamlet,” Queen’s mother, Moira (Susanna Thompson), is now married to her former husband’s best friend and business partner, who does not appear thrilled seeing the young prince reinstated. Even Queen’s sister, Thea, played by Willa Holland and nicknamed Speedy (in a tip o’ the hat to the Green Arrow’s original companion), has mixed feelings about suddenly having a big brother hovering over her every ill-advised move.
Certainly someone is Very Unhappy — within a day of his reunion with his family, Queen is kidnapped by masked thugs who want to know what his father told him before he died. Enter Queen’s alter-ego, Arrow, who begins a personal citywide cleanse of greed, corruption, injustice, etc., etc.
It’s an altogether perfect superhero setup, and with executive producers Greg Berlanti (“Green Lantern”), Marc Guggenheim (“FlashForward”), Andrew Kreisberg (“Warehouse 13,” “The Vampire Diaries”) and David Nutter (“Smallville,” “Supernatural,” “Game of Thrones”), the quality of “Arrow” is not surprising.
Although darker in tone than most tellings of the Green Arrow tale (including the subplot on “Smallville”), it is the story of a hero, not an anti-. Smooth without being slick, textured but not self-indulgent, “Arrow” reminds us that the best stories we tell are both revelatory and a whole lot of fun to watch.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-PG-LV (may be unsuitable for young children with advisories for coarse language and violence)