In Defense of 'Arrow''s Oliver, Our Most Despised Superhero

He may be a bit stupid, but he's not a bad guy and certainly not a bad hero.

The CW

Take a quick look at the Reddit forum for the DC show Arrow, r/Arrow, and you might be surprised by what you see. Star-spangled red, white, and blue dominate the top and side banners, with a bespoke Stephen Amell (as his character Oliver Queen) looking stern. It’s an optimistic change from the forum’s binge-watch of Daredevil, but the top banner remains curious; a photoshop of Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, it boldly reads: “Make Arrow Great Again!”

Once the hottest (and only) DC show on the block, Arrow became the foundation for an entire TV universe, though it fell out of favor by peddling underwhelming plots and clumsily-written characters. This isn’t to deny or ignore the hard work put on by the show’s production team, but where there’s smoke there’s fire, and the last couple years, Arrow fans have been at a barbecue.

While fans direct most of their ire towards Oliver’s love interest Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards), there is a fair amount of frustration flung at Oliver himself. As the show’s (supposed) leading hero who fights crime under the guise Green Arrow, Oliver has been regularly burnt for making the dumbest of dumb decisions. Remember that time in Season 2 when he hastily made a woman he didn’t trust the temporary CEO of his family’s Fortune 500 company? Yeah. That was fun. And this past season Oliver was a freight train of that, be it running for mayor when you’re a vigilante to lying to his fiance about having a son. Way to put everyone in harm’s way, Ollie.

But Ollie shouldn’t be branded a failure. He’s still a hero worth rooting for.

It takes a certain person to become a vigilante

With decades of comic books, it’s easy to forget that what superheroes do is unlawful. That’s what made Alan Moore’s Watchmen revelatory: It showed human beings who feel compelled to dress up and fight crime are themselves messed up and anxious.

Maybe it’s because Arrow is a corporate TV show on a major cable network, but Oliver has never been portrayed as a messed up individual. Stupid, sure, but he’s rock solid as a human being. Yeah he’s wrecked with guilt and his frat boy party days made him unlikeable. But that was his journey into being forged into something greater.

The other DC heroes have become more than superheroes. Sara and Ray Palmer have hopped aboard a spaceship to become defenders of time, while the Flash and Supergirl have abilities no one else is capable of. For the most part, Oliver is just a dude who could compete on American Ninja Warrior instead of fight crime. That he chose to do the latter speaks wonders.

Everything he does comes from a genuine need to protect

I can’t help but laugh at the notion that Oliver thought it would be a good idea to run for mayor. That’s fucking hysterial. And now, going into Season 5, he actually IS the mayor of Star City, and it might actually be interesting to see him juggle those duties while training zeroes into heroes.

But the need to become mayor, to keep his family away from his superhero life as possible (Thea notwithstanding), to keep Diggle alive so he can get home to Sara, they all come from this hazy notion that Oliver is dedicated to guarding others. The other characters may resent him for that, but that’s an admirable and self-less trait.

Popular in this era of “peak TV” have been when characters admit their motivations that the audience didn’t expect. In the Breaking Bad series finale, Walter White, who became a meth kingpin to leave his family well off after the cancer takes him, admitted it was the thrill that kept him going. Tony Soprano, a New Jersey mobster in The Sopranos told his therapist he feels like he’s a “good guy” that lets him continue what he does guilt-free.

Those guys are of course anti-heroes, but as a billionaire heir Oliver never said becoming the Green Arrow was for kicks, or for some selfish pursuit. He genuinely cares about the people in his city, and however questionable his methods have been — never forget how Arrow started its first season as a superhero Dexter — dude’s trying.

In the real world I wouldn’t want him “trying” in any way, but in a TV show? It’s been, if nothing else, fun to watch.

He hasn’t messed up the timeline

Screw you, Barry Allen.

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