Tonight, the show returns at 8:00 Eastern and Pacific with “Burned” — an episode that introduces DC villain Firefly into the mix while expanding on the revelations from the mid-season finale. In the last episode of 2012, it was revealed that the “Dark Archer” who’s been battling Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen from the shadows was in truth Malcolm Merlyn (played by fan favorite John Barrowman), the father of Ollie’s best friend Tommy.
That storyline will continue to heat up this week as Firefly enters in the form of Garfield Lyons (Andrew Dunbar). To get a peek at how all these elements come together, CBR News spoke with executive producer and writer Andrew Kreisberg. Below, the former “Green Arrow” comics scribe details how they producers continue to adapt DC characters to fit their world, explains how Malcolm Merlyn’s plans will impact Oliver Queen’s life as a vigilante and shares what additional secrets appear in DC’s weekly digital “Arrow” comic.
CBR News: “Arrow” started ramping up a lot of its long term storylines before the holiday hiatus, and it pulled the rug out from under characters and viewers with the reveal of Malcolm Merlyn as the Dark Archer. This is a plan you must have had in place for a while, but it’s also something that fits the “Arrow” mold of taking a DC Comics character and re-imagining them to fit the show’s tone. What did you see in the father/son relationship that worked for your version of Merlyn?
Andrew Kreisberg: I wish I could say that every single aspect of it was pre-planned from the get-go. Some of it was discovered along the way, and some of it was planned from the very beginning. Marc [Guggenheim], Greg [Berlanti] and I are huge comic book fans, and we wanted to entertain ourselves as much as anybody else. There’s a whole subset of the audience who has no idea who Merlyn is or no idea who Roy Harper is, and they’re just enjoying the show on its own terms. But we do think it’s important to make the show as exciting and as enjoyable for comic fans as well.
From the beginning of the show, we’d set Tommy up for this kind of Anakin Skywalker/Lex Luthor from “Smallville” dynamic where he’s friends with Ollie and one day they’ll be enemies. So the notion of flipping that on its head and going, “Oh, the villain of the season is Merlyn because that’s who his greatest nemesis is in Tommy’s father” was something we got really excited about. Again, we felt like for the comic book audience it would simultaneously up their expectations for the show but then also satisfy Green Arrow fans. If you’re a fan, what you really wanted was to see Ollie take on his most famous adversary.
How does this shift effect how the show is constructed? I feel like the first set of episodes had a more episodic feel a lot of the time as Ollie was tasked with crossing a new name off his father’s list each week. Now that we’ve got a Big Bad in the show, will that give way to more long form, serialized storytelling?
Yeah. We always looked at the first nine episodes as putting the pieces on the board. With episode ten, we get to really play, now. Every episode will still have its own contained story. In episode ten, he’s up against our version of the Batman villain Firefly. In eleven, Ben Browder will play Ted Gaynor who is a figure from Dig’s past. We have an episode coming up with Count Vertigo. But in all those episodes, the Malcolm Merlyn/Dark Archer conspiracy involving Moira continues to push into the Arrow stories. There’s an evolution from just crossing names off the list to the Arrow himself being drawn into the greater crime of the city, and there’s also this looming threat of Malcolm and Moira that’s threatening to overtake the city.
Let’s use the Firefly appearance this week to talk about the way you approach DC characters in “Arrow.” We’ve already seen the likes of the Royal Flush Gang and Deadshot on the show, but it seems you always try to make the characters fit the world you’ve built. In what ways is Firefly indicative of the rules you’ve set for adapting these characters?
I think the rule we’ve set — and it’s not a hard and fast rule — is that we try to create a villain for Oliver to face that either challenges him physically or emotionally. We say, “It’s the perfect villain for him to face this week because of X, Y and Z.” When we were designing episode ten, Olliver is six weeks removed from “Year’s End.” He’s healed physically, but he really took it on the chin in that last episode. So now he’s facing a crisis of confidence. We thought it was interesting for him to go up against a villain who himself was “damaged” and did not get over it. There’s sort of a dark mirror aspect to the hero and the villain. So after we came up with that hook, we went to the DC sandbox and said, “Oh, we could use Firefly.” I think that process of starting with what kind of character or person could we put up against the Arrow that best serves the story or the season and then retrofit the DC Comics aspect onto it has served us very well. I think sometimes when you’re just sitting around giddily trying to throw in more comic book characters, then it just becomes a gimmick as opposed to something that really fits.
We saw a clip from this episode get released online that focused on Ollie’s being shaken by his encounter with the Dark Archer. Is that crisis of confidence the arc you’ll be focusing on across the second half of the season?
Yeah. I think that one of the things you’re going to be seeing over the course of this season and over the course of the series really is Oliver going from being the Arrow to Green Arrow. When he came back, he had a very specific sense of what justice was. Justice was, “I cross a name off my list, and I’ve done my job.” His experiences both fighting the Dark Archer and then all the new stuff that will crop up over the course of this season make him have to look at his role as a vigilante. He’ll have to become a hero in very different terms. What you’ll see as the season progresses is less of a focus on the list and more of a drive to stop the Dark Archer and also to really fulfill the promise of what it means to be a hero beyond the narrow scope of the list provided by his father.
Yesterday, CBR ran a preview of the latest DC digital comic which ties into the series. It seems like everyone writing on the show has been involved in creating the comic as well. What can you say about how this high speed train chase ties into what we’ll see on TV this week, and overall what’s it like having that additional outlet for the staff to tell stories with?
It’s been funny. Marc, Greg and I have all written for comics. It’s one of our loves, and it’s been great to dive into the comics as well as the show. But we’ve also got people on our staff who’ve been dying to get into comics. This is doubly thrilling for them. Then we’ve also got people who have never read a comic outside of maybe an Archie. So as we’ve been learning how to write this TV series, we’ve also been simultaneously teaching people how to write comic books.
What’s been really fun for the comic is that every episode of the TV show is never long enough. There’s always stuff you have to cut because we always have too many ideas. Having the digital comic allows us to expand on ideas that weren’t able to make it into the scripts or even more fun sometimes do something that’s just too big for TV. We could never have a runaway train or send Oliver and Dig to Moscow on a television budget, but when you’re working in comics you’re only as limited as you are by your imagination. Having that digital comic allows us to both go deeper into our world but also expand it. I think my favorite comic so far was being able to see China White’s origin. Up to this point on the show, she’s been a bit of a cypher, and the comic allowed us to get into who she is.
“Arrow” returns tonight to The CW at 8:00 Eastern and Pacific.