“Arrow” star John Barrowman, who plays Malcom Merlyn on the hit CW series, and his sister, novelist Carole Barrowman, love to text back and forth while watching their favorite TV shows. They geek out together during epic moments, whether the exchange is cross-country, cross-continent or across the pond. And now, as co-writers of DC Comics’ new “Arrow: The Dark Archer” series, the siblings get to do more than just text about the events of “Arrow.”
The 12-chapter digital first series, illustrated by Daniel Sampere, debuted this week on comiXology and the Barrowmans spoke with CBR News about making the oft-wicked Malcom Merlyn the hero of “Dark Archer.” The writing team also revealed that some unexpected new characters will make their Arrowverse debuts and teased at least one of the show’s producers is game for bringing them to life on “Arrow” should the opportunity arise.
While the Barrowmans wouldn’t confirm if Malcolm’s deceased wife Rebecca or son Tommy would figure into the series, they confirmed readers will learn more about Merlyn Global Group, the company responsible for destroying the Glades neighborhood of Star City at the end of “Arrow’s” first season.
CBR News: While it’s been said that everyone is necessarily the hero of their own life story, I must ask: Is Malcolm a hero in “Arrow: Dark Archer”?
John Barrowman: Part of the reason of why we wanted to do this, and when I approached [DC’s Chief Creative Officer] Geoff Johns about Carole and I taking on this project, I believe that Malcolm is the hero of his story. I believe that Malcolm is the misunderstood hero of Star City. I believe that he is someone who has pushed aside at times because if you look at it, Oliver and others do the exact same thing as Malcolm does but Malcolm just seems to get the bad rap about it. I said to Carole, “We’ve got to look at Malcolm as I do, as the hero.” He may not go about things the way that everyone else would want him to but [in this series] we go back and see where those elements to his personality began not only with the League [of Assassins] but also in his business life. So yes, to answer your question, he is the hero of his own story — and proud if it.
Carole Barrowman: And really, characters with a little bit of moral ambiguity are way more fun and interesting to write. [Laughs]
This new series is set between “Arrow” Seasons 3 and 4, and that’s when the relationship between Malcolm and Thea Queen really starts to take shape. I know we’re looking back at Malcolm’s past in this series but will the relationship between Malcolm and his biological daughter also be explored in “The Dark Archer”?
Carole Barrowman: It’s set between Season 3 and 4 for some artistic reasons, which you’ll see when we get into it and that’s all I can say about that because John is going to yell at me if I say too much about any specific characters. [Laughs]
John Barrowman: I don’t want her to give away character beats because I am a fan of the genre and Carole is a fan of the genre and we love to watch TV shows at the same and text each other while watching and go: “DID YOU SEE THAT?” I don’t want to spoil anything so with the comic book, let’s just say that characters from the show will cross paths and new characters will also appear that will be absolute jaw-drops for the reader.
Do you mean not necessarily new characters but classic DCU characters that are new to the Arrowverse?
Carole Barrowman: [These are] new characters to the continuity of “Arrow.” When John and I did our outlines for [Executive Producers] Marc [Guggenheim], Andrew [Kreisberg] and Geoff Johns, they were absolutely fine with these characters that we have imagined. They fit into the canon but they are original to John and I and to this comic.
John Barrowman: When we decided we were going to do this, I had a meeting with Andrew and Greg [Berlanti] and I told them that we had an idea to create some new characters. And Andrew, off the cuff said, “If we like them, maybe we can put them on one of the TV shows.”
Carole Barrowman: [Singing] Which would be awesome.
Wow. It’s just that easy. [Laughs]
John Barrowman: No. [Laughs] I’ve just been doing this for 35 years.
Rebecca, Malcolm’s wife, is deceased on the show. Again, I know you don’t want to spoil too much but in terms of timelines, will we see his past married life and maybe the birth of Tommy in the comic book series?
Carole Barrowman: We are honoring those characters and their pasts but Malcolm is traveling further back than those moments in his life.
Most famously, the Merlyn Global Group is known for causing earthquakes, but I’m not sure I know what business they were actually in. What was Malcolm’s business known for it when it wasn’t causing earthquakes?
Carole Barrowman: We’ll see some of that in the comic right away.
John Barrowman: That’s part of what we want to do with the comic. We wanted to provide a better understanding of what Merlyn Global Group was doing and explore that a little bit because none of that really exists in the canon. There are little snippets of Merlyn’s background and history in the DC Universe but there is not a lot.
Carole Barrowman: We found two things and we really worked them in and fleshed them out. We’ve really run with them creatively.
Did you go back and read any of Merlyn’s classic comic book appearances for more content?
Carole Barrowman: Yes, we did.
John Barrowman: I have the first comic that Merlyn made his first appearance. And I have all of his other appearances too. And we have read and re-read those but we didn’t want to rehash all of that. We wanted to reboot. We wanted to add. We wanted to create. And make it a bigger world than what it really is.
The thing for me that’s been so awesome, and I think I speak for Carole too as she is a big fan of the show and I’m her brother [Laughs], is that we’ve watched Merlyn grow with the fanbase as a love-hate character that people absolutely want to see and hear more of. And now we’re getting to do a digital series that will later be collected and we’ll be able to have a book on our shelves that as fans we’ll be able to enjoy for years to come. And that’s what this is all about. Doing it for the fans.
Carole Barrowman: And I hope, and I have used this word before, that we have honored the context of the character and his world with this particular story.
With this being a digital comic, did you have to do anything differently than previous projects to create “Arrow: Dark Archer”?
Carole Barrowman: The big difference was the number of pages available. When John and I were done with the overall outline, I write each chapter as a TV script and I send it to John. He provides his input and then sends it back to me with his changes and that’s when I start to think about pages and panels. On a basic level, you tend to have a lot more panels that are smaller in a digital book. There aren’t a lot of big splash pages, partly because when you are reading a digitally, you can zoom in. That also means that details are super important.
John Barrowman: Details are majorly important. And Carole and I are also very much into Easter egg drops. And that’s what so important about the details. If you are watching the show on television or if you are watching a movie, the camera tells you the detail, whereas what’s great about a digital comic — as Carole just mentioned — readers can zoom in and zoom out and see more of the detail by choosing what they want to look at themselves, which is the beauty of digital media rather than print.
Carole Barrowman: And also [illustrator] Daniel Sampere is awesome. Right down to the fact that he’s got John’s cleft chin down perfectly for Merlyn. [Laughs]
John Barrowman: It’s so exciting to see the colored pages come back. It’s so amazing. It just pops.
You sound very passionate about this project. Is this a limited series or an ongoing?
Carole Barrowman: We do have an end date. We’re doing 12 chapters. And this is a self-contained story but I think John and I are game to keep writing Malcolm if the series is well received.
John Barrowman: I’m game to do the first 12. And then I want to go off and do different times and different periods for Malcolm. And I also want to see where certain characters in this series take us. Maybe we can explore things with different characters in the Arrowverse too. And there is also the initial project that I went to Geoff Johns with that spurred into this one. Maybe we can look into that again and start something completely new.
Carole Barrowman: I also want to add that one thing the “Arrow” TV show does really well is that there are a lot of really cool, really smart women heroes and I think we translated that to this book too.
Can you tell us anything about what you originally went to Geoff Johns with?
John Barrowman: I am not going to tell you because if I tell you, you’ll say. And I don’t want you to say. [Laughs] It’s a team. We took one team and combined it with a different person. And the ironic part is that when I put the outline and the drawings down in front of Geoff and his team, he said: “We were just looking at one of these characters a couple of weeks ago.” He was thrilled that I walked in the door with this idea.
Carole Barrowman: And also [penciller] Daniel Sampere is awesome. Right down to the fact that he’s got John’s cleft chin down perfectly for Merlyn. [Laughs]
“Arrow: Dark Archer” Chapter 1 is available now on comiXology.