When it launched two years ago, The CW's "Arrow" was the first in a new wave of superhero TV shows. And as the lead DC Entertainment property out the gate, the show also started the practice of canonical digital tie-ins.
Last week, "Arrow's" comic incarnation returned after a year hiatus with "Arrow Season 2.5" -- the new digital-first serial meant to bridge the gap between last spring's season finale and the third season premiere on October 8. Co-written by executive producer Marc Guggenheim & "Arrow" staffer Keto Shimizu and drawn by Joe Bennett, the digital-first "Season 2.5" makes some changes from the previous "Arrow" comics while tying more tightly to the incoming TV episodes.
CBR News spoke with Guggenheim about what brought the series back to digital comics, how a long-term plan has expanded his vision for the series, what absent "Arrow" villains will make surprising returns and how it all leads to Season 3 and beyond.
CBR News: Marc, the last time we saw "Arrow" comics in the digital-first format was back in Season 1. I know that in between then and now, there were a lot of big revelations on the show. Did the comics get put on hold for a creative reason, or something else?
Marc Guggenheim: That's a great question, and I actually don't know the answer. [Laughs] This was basically DC's call to make, and my understanding is that we had finished what I call Volume 1 -- though since there are two trade paperbacks, I guess it's Volumes 1 and 2 -- and we were waiting to see what the commercial response was and whether there was any demand [for more]. As it turns out, the trade paperbacks sold very, very well, and I guess that convinced DC that there was a big appetite for more "Arrow" tie-in comics.
But our goal with this season was to do things a little bit differently and hopefully take what we learned doing Volume 1 and apply those lessons to an even more tightly integrated comics story. That meant we changed a few things. One of those, obviously, is that we were providing the bridge between Season 2 and Season 3 of the show. That provides a great degree of tie-ins. But the biggest change really here is that we're telling one continuous story where as the previous comic was more of an anthology. And part of that continuing story is all about having one continuous art team in Joe Bennett and Jack Jadson. So we're sort of doing this again but completely differently.
So why make those changes? What did the shift in storytelling bring to the table that excited you?
DC had basically said to me, "What do you want to do?" and I had to go off and think about it. It was really important to me that the story be "important," for lack of a better term. I didn't want to tell a story that you absolutely had read in order to enjoy Season 3, but at the same time I wanted to make it a story that felt like you couldn't necessarily ignore it. If I'd set the story in Season 1, it'd feel less tied in to the series proper than what I wanted to go for. And when I lit upon the idea of telling the story between Seasons 2 and 3, because we always look to the real life time gap between broadcast seasons it felt like the natural thing to do. Then I just had to ask myself what was the stuff I wanted to see. And that was all about seeing what became of Oliver and company after the events of Season 2, episode 23.
There seems to be some connective tissue to build there as well. Yes, Roy is in mortal danger at the end of issue #1 of the digital series, and we know he'll survive there to make it back to the show, but we also don't know how he changes to the new costume that will make it to air and so on. What are some of the ideas you're interested in tackling on that front?
It's going to be linked in very tightly. There's a little bit of an art form to it. The goal is to end "Season 2.5" basically five minutes before Season 3 begins. They'll flow seamlessly together. At the same time, Season 3 was written to stand on its own feet. The comic is bonus material in a way. It's for people who want to make a deeper dive into the story of "Arrow." So for example, yes, people who have seen trailers for Season 3 know that Roy gets essentially his Arsenal costume. The comic will explain why and how that happened. Other people will have noticed in the previews that Lance is up and about and walking after having collapsed while bleeding from the mouth at the end of Season 2. The comic will pick up with him in the hospital, and we'll see his recovery. There's a lot of backstory from Season 3 that will get explicated and explored in the comics.
Speaking of Season 3, we've been told at Comic-Con and other places that Team Arrow will be starting the year in a pretty stable, happy place. So is this the story of the team being built up, or is there some terrible fate that they're all avoiding talking about on the show that it explores?
Well, certainly Chapter 1 ended with things not going too well for Roy. [Laughs] But it's a build. It's the story of things going better to line up with Season 3, but the other thing that "Season 2.5" does is establish the theme of identity that is the raison d'etre of Season 3. I've kind of taken that idea from the show and applied it to "Season 2.5" so there's even a thematic connection between the two.
Looking at who can appear, we know there are a ton of guest stars from the DCU coming to the show from Ray Palmer to Ra's al Ghul. Is there anyone from the comics that maybe wouldn't work on the show that you could see using in the comic?
That's something we've explored over the years, and it's something I really learned from Volume 1 of the comic, but there's really no character that we can't do on the show that we could do in the comic. Anyone we could pull off in the comic, we could also do on the show. That's not to say that the comic series won't introduce some new characters. But because of the particular way this story works out, I'm more interested in both revisiting familiar faces like Slade Wilson as well as laying the foundation to introduce character in the comics who play off events in the series such as Vertigo.
All that said, "Season 2.5" is structured like one of our regular seasons, and that's why I sort of began Chapter 1 with what we call a cold open, which is just a big action sequence. I wanted the comic to narratively feel like the show itself. And the two villains of this piece are Brother Blood -- who people that watched the show will know that Sebastian Blood was killed off in the penultimate episode by Isabel Rochev, making a little mystery there -- as well as a new character I created specifically for the comic named Caleb Green. And Caleb has a very interesting back story that connects with Oliver Queen's family.
As you said, this season will have Joe Bennet on art from the start on through, and you've got a larger story arc planned. After having experience doing these digital comics a while, how will the setup you have now expand what you can do with comics on that platform?
First of all, Joe is amazing. He drew the Superman digital comic that I wrote last year, and I think he's one of the top talents in the business. He's an amazing artist, and he's particularly great with action.
And in terms of learning the digital format, it's funny. Once we launched "Arrow," I took a backseat in terms of my comics work. I was doing the "Arrow" digital comic and a few other digital comics for DC, but apart from that I took a break from comics because "Arrow" was filling up so much of my time. In that little hiatus, I ended up learning a lot more about... just how to write comics, quite frankly. I hope that the readers feel the work I'm doing now in X-Men at Marvel and the working I'm doing on "Arrow Season 2.5" reflect a very deliberate change in pacing and structure for me. I'm using the sequential nature of the medium to drive story forward, and that is definitely reflected in the action and in the way panels set up and pay off one another. I never want to tell readers, "This is what it is," but as I write both "X-Men" and "Arrow" I feel myself applying these disciplines I've gleaned over the past couple of years just studying the form. So it's not just the digital format, but it's the whole writing experience.
"Arrow Season 2.5" will alternate digital release on Mondays with "Flash Season 0" showing up on the weeks you're off. That book is written by your fellow producer Andrew Kreisberg. As these worlds expand on TV and off, do you guys have a dedicated person to help keep all the world straight, and is there a little bit of friendly competition between the two serials in the digital space?
As far as the continuity is concerned, it would be great if we had one dedicated person who was able to track it all. We sort of don't have that one singular person. It's more of a "it takes a village" approach. [Laughs]
And as far as competition between "Arrow" and "The Flash," we don't really feel any. We've always subscribed to the theory that a rising tide lifts all boats, and that doesn't just go for "Arrow" and Flash;" it goes for all the comic book shows that are on the air now. There's certainly a bunch of new ones coming this fall. What's nice is that it seems like the marketplace can sustain all these comic-related properties, and I think that includes the comic tie-ins as well. It's not a zero-sum game where we're taking market share away from each other.
As we said, issue #1 of the serial ended in dire straights for Roy. Where do you pick up the story from there?
Well, it picks up very directly where Roy has not only been shot, but he's now flying out of a plane without a parachute. And the Arrow will be following suit. That's the kind of sequence where... well, we could do it on the show if we wanted, but I don't think with our time and budget it would look particularly good. So we very deliberately haven't written that into the show, even as we're really trying to push our production value. We just don't want to push beyond the scope of what would look good.
Just because we can do something with visual effects doesn't mean we should. I put "throwing people out of planes" into that category. But that's what's fun about jumping into this sequence in the comic, and in addition we get to throw a brand-new arrow into the mix. So it's all really fun.
"Arrow Season 2.5" #1 is on sale now digitally from DC Comics. The print edition arrives October 8, the same day as the Season 3 premiere.