When Malcolm Merlyn stepped out of the shadows and into “Arrow” Season 1, the character arrived with a long history filled with violence and intrigue. And as it turns out, the show has barely scratched the surface of his past, even after following his story over four seasons.
That’s where star John and Carole Barrowman step in. The brother/sister writing duo has masterminded a backstory for the character John plays on screen in comic book form, with the help of penciler David Sampere, inker Juan Albarran and colorist Kyle Ritter. “Arrow: The Dark Archer” has unveiled a few highlights from Merlyn’s seedy past — including his connection to Nyssa al Ghul’s mother, his involvement in an occult group called the Hidden, and his true name. But even with all of that, the Barrowmans aren’t done yet.
In “The Dark Archer” #12, the Barrowman siblings bring this chapter of Merlyn’s life to a close, but — as they told CBR News — there’s much more yet to come. The siblings promise there’s plenty more backstory to explore, discuss whether or not any of their characters will appear on the show, reveal how they developed Merlyn’s background, and more.
CBR News: “Arrow” has touched on a few mystical elements, but “Dark Archer” makes a real deep dive into that corner of the DC Universe. Did the comic book format influence your decision to explore this aspect of Merlyn’s past, or was that something you always had in mind?
John Barrowman: I kind of always wanted to explore Merlyn’s past because it’s something that didn’t exist. There was a lack of history in his backstory, so I felt it was important to look into that. It was also the fact that we could create it. I went to Geoff Johns at DC and I said, “Look, my sister and I would love to do this,” and we just went for it. He said, “I’m glad you brought it forward. Let’s do it!” It’s awesome that we get to create that backstory, because it’s going to be the history of Malcolm Merlyn from this day forward. It’s like that iconic moment when Darth Vader says, “Luke, I am your father.” It’s just awesome!
Carole Barrowman: The other thing that was really intriguing to us was one nugget — one little detail we found that we really hooked onto — is that his name is Arthur King. It’s the only thing we found about Malcolm Merlyn when we did our research, and we thought, “That is just truly fabulous.” You know, Malcolm Merlyn, Arthur King — we have got to go along with that. The comic book allowed us to start out by saying, “My name is not Malcolm Merlyn.”
John Barrowman: My name is not Malcolm Merlyn.
Carole Barrowman: [Laughs] Like that! The name was a really cool little nugget for us to play with. And, as I said before, if you think about how the TV show starts — “My name is Oliver Queen,” and then he goes into his narrative voice — we started with sort of an ironic take on that. I think we both felt it let us capture Malcolm’s voice a little better. But we had so much fun figuring out who he really was — or is!
“Dark Archer” introduced Saracon and Lourdes, two prominent figures from Merlyn’s past with interesting histories and abilities. How did these characters develop during your planning process?
Carole Barrowman: Well, I really felt — and John did not disagree with this — that we should have a very strong female in it who wasn’t 20 or 24, who was a little closer to my age, perhaps. We thought that was really important. We also were really intrigued [by the idea of Lourdes], because you hear a lot in the show, “Who’s Nyssa’s mother? Who’s Nyssa’s mother?” and, “She was a concubine. She was a concubine.” You know, what does that really mean in that world? From the very beginning, we knew we wanted to create — you know, I just have to say, we’re going to post a video of us doing this interview —
John Barrowman: No, don’t tell her! You have to watch it!
Carole Barrowman: You have to watch this video! We feel like you’re a part of it, but we feel like you have to know that he’s doing outrageous things with masks from pop culture, and wigs. When you watch this, you will appreciate our answers even more. Anyway, that’s where Lourdes came from. We knew we wanted to play around with what her history was like, and then — given how she ends — it’s really sad!
John Barrowman: It is not sad.
Carole Barrowman: And Malcolm is just cold, coldhearted. I think we knew from the beginning that we wanted a character [Saracon] to have some powers that hadn’t been touched on before.
John Barrowman: Everyone [on the show] has powers that are learned and they hone in on those powers, like myself. I’m a magician, Oliver has learned how to be an archer. But no one really has any kind of supernatural kind of powers, so that’s why it was important to bring something else like that in. Because it also then widens the kind of horizons of what you can do with people.
Carole Barrowman: And also, John always liked “Doctor Doolittle.”
John Barrowman: [Singing] Because I can talk to the animals! Just imagine it — chatting to a chimp in chimpanzee!
We’ve seen quite a bit of Merlyn’s past over the past eleven installments. Will that continue in this final chapter?
Carole Barrowman: Hmmm. let’s see —
John Barrowman: Don’t give it away!
Carole Barrowman: No, no, no! I’m not going to give it away! How about we tease you by saying you get one more flashback, and in that flashback, you’re going to see something I think is going to put everything else you’ve known about Malcolm on the show in a little different perspective. It’s kind of cool! It’s also very sweet, but it’s kind of cool, and you’re not — [John’s] going, “Cut, cut, cut! Don’t say anything else!” — but you’re going to get one last reveal about his past.
In an earlier interview, you said Greg Berlanti suggested that the show could use some elements of your comic. Since “Arrow” Season 4 has wrapped and “Dark Archer” is winding down, can you give us any sort of update on that?
John Barrowman: It wasn’t just Greg! It was Andrew Kreisberg, also. They had mentioned that they might decide to do something with the show if we were cool with it and everybody agreed. Nothing has gone further with that, I think because of the many things they’re doing at the moment, with “Legends [of Tomorrow]” and “Arrow,” “Supergirl” now coming into the fold, and also “Flash.” I would love to see some things. What’s great is that we’ve given Malcolm a son, who is another character who could possibly appear, because the relationship between Malcolm and Thea has come to a resolution in so many aspects. I would love to see his son being brought into the fold.
â€¨Carole Barrowman: Yeah, that’s the other thing, actually, because there’s some movement in those last two chapters for Saracon’s powers to grow even more. Because of what was foreshadowed in the very first few chapters, he repeats the pattern in the last chapter. I’m dancing around the real thing!
Artist David Sampere has done an excellent job capturing John’s likeness on the page, even as his character undergoes torture and all manner of nasty things. What was your first, gut reaction to seeing those finished pages?
John Barrowman: Well, those finished pages — we were there in the process from the beginning of those pages. That’s one of the important things we specified when we got involved, that, if we’re going to do this, all of the Malcolm images have to have my likeness, because — I’m going to be blunt — I know that sells, and I wanted that to be in the comic book. But also, the fact is that weren’t just writing — Carole wasn’t just doing the physical work of writing. We were all involved in the drawing and approving them, and approving the colorization of them all, so the whole comic has had our stamp of approval, from the conception to when it’s put out digitally for everyone to read.
Carole Barrowman: I think we can’t say enough of our artistic team. They are so amazing, and they’re a pretty young crew with DC. They listen to our suggestions, and sometimes they would come back and say, “This panel would be better if we work the page this way.” We trusted each other’s instincts once we got going. We cannot say enough of how amazing they are.
As I was reading, I couldn’t help but notice shades of “Indiana Jones,” “Tomb Raider” and even “Batman.” Can you tell me a little about what inspired your interpretation of the character’s origin?
John Barrowman: We are complete nerds! And we love graphic novels and comic books and genre movies, any superhero stuff, so we figured we wanted to give that kind of feel to it because we know we’re fans of it. We know other fans will pick that up, and — if they do — they keep coming back and reading more. You said exactly what we wanted you to think when you were reading it, and that means we’ve done our job.
Carole Barrowman: It makes us very, very happy! I like Batman a lot.
John Barrowman: We’re not on the same side!
Merlyn may see himself as the hero of his own story, but he pulls some seriously dark stunts here. How did you approach this duality when you were mapping the story out?
John Barrowman: There’s no real morality!
Carole Barrowman: At least in this last series, we tried to give him the sense he’s comfortable in these shades of gray, but he’s very much a situationalist in terms of his ethics. He’s narcissistic and he’s coldhearted, but — if he think you’re loyal to him —
Both: He’s loyal to you!
Carole Barrowman: I think he makes some choices, like poor Lourdes — good grief!
John Barrowman: Nyssa didn’t know that Lourdes was her mother, so what’s the point in telling her? But who knows — later, he may use that at another point to manipulate her. Malcolm puts everything in the bank and he just waits.
Now that we’re one chapter away from the conclusion of “Dark Archer,” can you sum up the finale in three words?
John Barrowman: Pretty fuckin’ awesome!
Carole Barrowman: How about — well, this is just two words —
John Barrowman: Well, that’s not right! You need three words! How about coldly awesomely sweet?
Carole Barrowman: There’s a touch of real — it’s kind of a disturbing —
John Barrowman: It’s kind of like eating chocolate. You take a bite of it and you go, “Oh, my God! This is so delicious!” But then you go, “But that was my last piece and I don’t have any more.” Bitter. Sweet. Awesomeness.
Carole Barrowman: It’s the end of the day. It’s either too many words or not enough! [To John] You were good! You were better than I was.
John Barrowman, Carole Barrowman and David Sampere’s “Arrow: The Dark Archer” #12 is now on sale.
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