As The CW’s Arrowverse proceeds to expand season by season, heroes continuously come and go. Over the last five years, several of these heroes have received in-depth exploration that has seen their character arcs venture to the highest of highs and lowest of lows. Some storylines of the character-driven variety are far more intriguing than others, often expounding upon the intricate inner-workings of individual characters or their respective relationships. With four shows, each bearing the weight of considerably large casts, the balancing act of simultaneously managing meaningful stories for all heroes is inarguably no simple task.
It’s no secret that avid fans, and lapsed ones, remain divisive in regards to the manner in which some characters are written and/or developed. Coincidentally, the topic is bound to incite further discussion once the Arrowverse returns this fall for all new seasons of Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow. As such, we will examine a few of the heroes who thrive in the superhero franchise, as well as those that did not, or have yet to, quite hit the mark. Given the number that have come and gone, the following selections are of those that have made a lasting impression, and also excludes original characters.
15. RIGHT: GREEN ARROW
To say that controversy continues to circulate Stephen Amell’s portrayal of the Green Arrow is grossly understated. However, Star City’s vigilante makes the list because of the liberties Arrow’s taken in developing its lead. Yes, he’s a Batman clone in green with a bow…as he was initially designed. The difference is the show has doubled down on the Bat-characteristics, in some instances for the better, and in others for the worse. But it works; the Arrowverse could not function half as well without him to ground it in place.
Furthermore, the intriguing complexities pivotal to Amell’s iteration wouldn’t be as dynamic with a comic accurate characterization (i.e., the season five exploration of Oliver’s enjoyment of killing). Would we like happy-go-lucky Ollie, equipped with his signature goatee? Yes. Is he necessary considering happy-go-lucky Barry (mostly) and Kara? No, and that’s fine.
14. WRONG: SPEEDY
Trained by her biological father and assassin extraordinaire, Malcolm Merlyn, Thea replacing Roy Harper in the field as Speedy seemed a perfect fit initially. She worked reasonably well with Team Arrow, yet even in her early days as a vigilante something felt off. Her heart was clearly not in it. It’s difficult to discern whether the blame falls on her rushed rise to heroism, or if the character’s two plus seasons of development leading to vigilantism ill-prepared her for the jump.
Following a dip in the Lazarus Pit and a bout with blood lust, Thea eventually walked away from it all — until returning to fight aliens, and then hanging up her hood again. While Thea, independent of Team Arrow, continues to find herself, we hope that if she adopts her Speedy persona again, she does so with a passion that was often lacking.
13. RIGHT: THE ATOM
Ray Palmer made his Arrowverse debut in Arrow’s third season, taking over Queen Consolidated and providing a beacon of hope for the then twice tragedy-stricken Starling City. The character was hardly a popular one, as his arrival was one of many indicators that the show was trying to usher in a new era of the franchise alongside The Flash’s first season. Thus, Ray was often his best when getting to share his scientific curiosity with the likes of Cisco Ramon.
On Legends of Tomorrow Ray’s tenure as The Atom thrives. His suit’s ability to shrink/grow is utilized in a myriad of ways, ranging from cute (riding on a car in the ’40s) to brutal (being used as a bullet in the Wild West). Character development is kind to him, too; his bromance with Mick has demonstrated it’s okay to be the boy scout of the group.
12. WRONG: HUNTRESS
The liberties Arrow took in developing Helena Bertinelli, aka Huntress, particularly in making her a divisively anti-heroic/villainous character, are worthy of applause. Her introduction in season one elevated the already good show to superior heights as audiences watched a woman get her hands just as dirty as her titular male counterpart. When she was good, she tried hard to maintain it before ultimately succumbing to rage. When bad, the Huntress was nearly unstoppable.
So where exactly did Arrow go wrong? Her heroic arc deserved further exploration. Consider the impact of Helena embracing heroism for a lengthy period of time, and returning to her immoral devices had she been given as much attention as Sara Lance in season two. Helena’s brief season five reappearance only adds salt to the tender wound.
11. RIGHT: THE FLASH
Barry Allen is one of the more complex characters in the Arrowverse, if not the most complex. Fundamentally, few heroes better represent absolute good; however, Barry is known to act selfishly from time to time. Therein lies the intricate nature of his character. He’s a flawed hero, the best kind of hero some would argue, and he, similar to flawed heroes before him such as Odysseus, is more than willing to admit as much when necessary.
What often gets in the way of The Flash’s heroism being explored in full is the absence of villains who are as psychologically complex as him, villains capable of challenging him beyond the prowess of a Speedster. Savitar scratched such an itch, but the focus, as always, was angled predominantly at speed and power. Season four’s big bad, The Thinker, may change this, forcing Barry’s character to adapt in a myriad of ways.
10. WRONG: BLACK CANARY (LAUREL LANCE)
Like several other heroes who have been deemed incorrectly translated to the Arrowverse, Laurel’s tenure as Black Canary is primarily disappointing because of severely lacking character development. By the time she’d taken the mantle of Black Canary to honor Sara, Laurel had finally come into her own. She’d gotten control of her substance abuse troubles, returned to law as a successful Assistant District Attorney, and her relationships with friends and family were stronger than ever.
The mistake is that the aforementioned growth was not reflected in her Black Canary persona. Towards the end of her life even she realized she was a better asset to Team Arrow’s mission while in the court room, and what a powerful turn of events that would’ve been. Sadly, Laurel’s time as a masked hero seems to have been treated as the Arrowverse’s obligation to source material, instead of a commitment to character.
9. RIGHT: SUPERMAN
Fans were vocally wary of Supergirl officially introducing the Man of Steel as a character in the show’s second season. The casting of Tyler Hoechlin, while not controversial, raised a few eyebrows and The CW’s first reveal of him in the suit did little to allay concerns. However, set photos quickly turned the tide, and soon interest was undeniably piqued. Fast forward to his debut on screen, he instantly became the Superman everyone was craving and then some.
Influenced by Christopher Reeve’s Clark Kent/Superman, Hoechlin’s is inviting, quirky and irrevocably honor-bound. As if the incredible portrayal itself wasn’t enough, the tense history between he and Martian Manhunter is fascinating to see be recalled. There’s still plenty to learn about this Superman, but we expect the experience to be one worth watching.
8. WRONG: RIP HUNTER
Captain Rip Hunter is a more interesting villain than he is a hero, at least as far as Legends first two seasons are concerned. The character’s season one arc offered little more than a selfish and ineffective leader. However, fault doesn’t solely rest on him; the former Time Master was likely unprepared to manage a disorderly team of misfits. Aside from an adoration of Jonah Hex, Rip’s heroic disposition is only ever of any fascination when it comes to his understanding of time travel.
Rip spent a fair portion of season two as a villain, indoctrinated to work with the Legion of Doom. In this role, he is the Legends’ perfect formidable foe, knowing their strengths and weakness and exploiting them accordingly. It’s a shame his heroism isn’t always up to par.
7. RIGHT: KID FLASH
If there is anyone in the Arrowverse who enjoys being a superhero more than The Flash, it’s Wally West as Kid Flash. Through much of Wally’s early appearances in season two, he struggled in his search for peace and happiness. Development on that particular front crossed over into The Flash’s third run, but was slowly eclipsed by his new found abilities and being officially deemed Kid Flash.
He backtalks criminals with witty one-liners, relishes in the fame his cowled persona receives amongst Central City citizens, and anticipates any and every challenge. This Wally couldn’t be a better Kid Flash. Much like his mentor, Barry Allen, as well as comic and animated iterations, the character isn’t without flaws such as hot-headedness. As an Arrowverse hero, Kid Flash is able to stand with the best of them.
6. WRONG: ARSENAL
Roy Harper’s character arc in season one and two was a mixture of interesting character development with little character growth. An aggressive hothead at all stages of his heroism, Arsenal’s penchant for flying off at the handle was often a burden to the team. However, this issue was sometimes offset by his being a quick study, reluctantly learning whatever combat tips and tricks the Arrow had to offer.
Similar to Helena Bertinelli as the Huntress, despite being an active member of Team Arrow and getting plenty of screen time, Roy Harper never received the in-depth exploration he deserved. Hopefully, he will return in a prodigal son sort of role, having grown from his independent exploits elsewhere. There’s always room for everyone’s favorite Green Arrow sidekick.
5. RIGHT: SUPERGIRL
Supergirl wields a combination of attributes that makes for what is essentially the perfect hero. Yes, she’s selfless and valiant beyond measure, but she is also incredibly flawed. Similar to Grant Gustin’s portrayal of the Scarlet Speedster, Melissa Benoist’s Supergirl wears her heart on her sleeve. One of the Arrowverse’s most moving moments is when Supergirl awakens from her Red Kryptonite induced craze, and cries as memories of the terror she incited emerge. It’s a poignant scene, one rarely depicted in superhero television/film.
The character, much like her cousin, embodies hope and, as Cat Grant says, “[inspires] us to be our best selves.” This is especially evident in how National City responds to her actions, offering critique when necessary and extolling her just as readily. Green Arrow leads the pack, sure, but the Girl of Steel is the epitome of heroism in the Arrowverse.
4. WRONG: ARTEMIS
Artemis’ introduction to the Arrowverse was fascinating by virtue of her fervent desire to avenge the death of her parents, while also honoring her hero, Laurel’s Black Canary. For a while, that’s exactly what she did. Eventually, though, misguided and ulterior motives corrupted her heroic inclinations. Thus, her story became a revenge tale; it would have been an incredible plot device, too, if it wasn’t for her contradictory behavior ultimately leading to the very destruction she purportedly intended to thwart. Most disappointing was her failure to acknowledge such contradictions.
The rest of the team especially felt the hurt of Evelyn’s betrayal, as they were also caught in the crossfire of her hatred for Green Arrow. Essentially, her motivations appeared underdeveloped, her character unrefined. If permitted the opportunity to redeem herself, she will have a long road to travel to regain the good will of both Team Arrow and the audience.
3. RIGHT: VIXEN
Originally introduced as an animated hero on CW Seed, Mari McCabe’s Vixen, played by Megalyn Echikunwoke (pictured right), is a creative young woman imbued with a desire to learn about her African heritage. The advent of her superpowers, courtesy of the Tantu Totem, heightened her interest, while encouraging her fight against injustice.
Legends of Tomorrow’s second season expands her and her family’s story, as it debuted Mari’s grandmother, Amaya Jiwe, played by Maisie Richardson-Sellers. Amaya’s persistent fight for justice as a member of the JSA is unsurprisingly similar to her granddaughter’s. The beauty of both iterations is the combination of Vixen’s temper and compassion, depicted in comics and animation, being equally represented character traits. And Vixen’s complexities don’t stop there, her animal powers and the special effects behind them, are impressive as well.
2. WRONG: GUARDIAN
An effort seemingly meant to offer James Olsen more to do on Supergirl wound up giving his character less of an opportunity to be properly serviced. Nearly every aspect of James’ transition to his vigilante persona, Guardian, felt hurried and largely out of place. Where did his sudden feeling of helplessness as a self-proclaimed sidekick come from? Why was Alex, who could probably identify with such helplessness, not receive more intricate involvement in this plot thread early on?
While in action at night, with Winn offering help via comms, Guardian was fun to watch. But beyond his nightly escapades and the flimsy keep-it-secret-from-Supergirl narrative, Guardian’s heroism sat on the back-burner for much of season two. It’s difficult to discern whether James will continue in the role; if so, hopefully more time will be spent fleshing out both sides of the character.
1. RIGHT: MARTIAN MANHUNTER
Few other heroes in the Arrowverse adhere to their comic book counterparts as well as Martian Manhunter. From the glorious reveal of his identity as a Martian in Supergirl’s first season to the moving plot structured around his relationship with M’gann M’orzz, J’onn’s character remains an integral part of The CW’s superhero slate.
The honor-bound head of the DEO has also been fundamental in Kara’s growth, acting as a mentor and father figure. This aspect of his characterization is particularly admirable when considering his heartbreaking backstory on Mars, which has also been aptly translated to the Arrowverse. Because his transformations are expensive, we unfortunately don’t get to see too much of him in action. But when he bears his true Martian form or disguises himself as others, it’s quite a sight to behold.
What are your thoughts on the Arrowverse’s heroes? Sound off in the comments!
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