A veteran of the stage, screen, and geek convention circuit, John Barrowman — best known Jack Harkness from Torchwood — has taken a stab at the comic book page, co-writing an unexplored chapter in the life of his villainous Malcolm Merlyn, from the DC TV series Arrow.
“The fans I know wanted it because I do different comic cons. Those are the questions that they ask,” Barrowman told Inverse about pitching The Dark Archer to DC. “I spoke to Geoff Johns. [My sister] Carole and I wanted to tackle it. All they said was it has to work in tandem with the TV show.”
In The Dark Archer, the digital comic now available as a paperback volume, John and his sister, author Carole E. Barrowman, explore Malcolm’s history for the first time when he’s held prisoner in between the third and fourth seasons of Arrow. “It’s stuff that could actually be put on the screen if they decided to do a nice Malcolm Merlyn or Dark Archer spin-off, it would be awesome,” he added.
In The Dark Archer, Malcolm — real name Arthur King — is captured by a secret sect of soldiers and scholars known as the Hidden, an organization Malcolm was a member of during before he joined the League of Assassins.
Malcolm is forced to confess to Saracon, his son with fellow Hidden follower Lourdes, a new character original to The Dark Archer who has yet to appear in the series, if ever. Armed with the ability to talk to animals, the Barrowmans hope their contributions make their way to live-action sometime soon.
“Those are the times where our imaginations just fly,” Carole told Inverse. “I personally would like to see Saracon show up again. One of the things we work hard to build into this comic was the supernatural. We really make that an essential part of our story, and to have Saracon, a character that’s got this superhuman power, I think it would be cool to bring them back.”
Though the Barrowmans had to work within certain continuity confines, they were not given red tape from the producers. While John jokes the producers hadn’t read it, the creative siblings were excited anyway to contribute to Arrow’s expansive sandbox with wrinkles the writer’s hadn’t thought of. “We had to go back and look at Malcolm,” explained John, “He showed up and we never knew where he came from, where his money came, who was in his past. We wanted to touch on it.”
One of the unique challenges in focusing a comic on a villain is ensuring that character is sympathetic, at least enough to hook readers. It’s comic books after all, they have to go back to scheming and plotting. Barrowman agreed, but he more than anyone knows what’s up in the head of Malcolm.
“There was a couple of times in the show where I had a bit of an argument with the director. I wanted to do something where, [I could] turn away from the camera or let a tear drip from my eye, and I was told, ‘No, don’t,’ and I’m like, ‘No, do.’ Because having played in this genre a lot and knowing the fans, people like complex heroes. Of course we all like the good guy, but everybody wants a little bit of an angst.”
Thus was the element to The Dark Archer. “I think the fact you saw inside Malcolm’s soul, those little moments of heart however deep it may be, he does have a little bit of compassion. He’s very loyal, he is somebody that you would, even though he’s a bad guy, you’d want on your side. Also, the fact that Oliver continues to return to him for advice. So it’s almost again like the father figure.”
When Barrowman took on the role of Malcolm Merlyn at the start of Arrow, Barrowman says he knew he’d be somebody the fans would love to hate. Knowing that helped propel his and Carole’s The Dark Archer. “He didn’t always make mistakes, so we went back to show that he, in a way, was a heroic person himself, it’s just that he may have gotten derailed or gone down the wrong path. But Malcolm sees himself as a hero and I think that’s what people connect to.”
“It’s very rare that one incident changes a person,” says Carole. “It’s usually a bunch of small things, some big things, that really effect your character. We wanted to give Malcolm complexities that suggest he’s always had some good. [But] he is a bastard in this.” Carole refers to a spoiler at the end of The Dark Archer that ultimately sums up Malcolm’s ruthlessness: A character sees the woman who is actually her mother dead in the tomb. When she asks Malcolm about her, he simply says: “No one you need to know.”
“How horrible is that?” Carole asks.
“That’s the thing,” John adds, “Malcolm takes all that in and then at some point he’s got information he can fire out at people that put him in a controlling position.”
I asked John Barrowman, who has played Malcolm for the last four years and is signed on to play the role in The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and even Supergirl, if that is why Malcolm ultimately belongs in the Dark Archer’s shoes.
“Exactly,” he said with a grin.
The Dark Archer is available now from DC Comics.