Review: Arrow Vol. 1 trade paperback (DC Comics)

This might be one of those that works better in single issues than in a collection.

There are many things I like about DC Comics's weekly offering -- that indeed they're weekly, for one, and for another that they offer a different content option of new material every day (or they did; I thought I heard some of these were being cancelled and relaunched): Arrow, Smallville Season Eleven, Legends of the Dark Knight, Ame-Comi Girls, the Batman Beyond titles, and so on.

I also aesthetically like the horizontal "full screen" format of the books when reading them on a mobile device. It's not Thrillbent or Marvel Infinite, nor does it needs to be; rather it feels like a "traditional" comic book, but designed for digital, and enjoyed these very much when I've had a chance to sample them.

Digital issues #1-18 of the Arrow comics, based on the CW TV show, are newly collected in print this week. Unfortunately, these stories suffer some of the same shortcomings that the old Smallville comic did while the show was on the air, as did Star Trek: Next Generation and its spin-offs, the early X-Files comic, and so on -- there's only so much and not much more the comic can do to tell a story that doesn't risk conflicting week after week with the show.

[Review contains spoilers]

The stories emerge as terribly reductive, and more so from the vantage point of reading between seasons 1 and 2. That the villain China White saw her abusive father murdered and later became one of the killer's assassins changes my understanding of that character really not at all. In another chapter, Diggle feels rage when his military convoy is ambushed in Afghanistan, but ultimately spares an innocent girl's life; Diggle's actions are hardly surprising, nor too does this tell the reader anything new about him.

Two chapters are devoted to Huntress Helena Bertinelli's origin, depicting basically the same material as was revealed in the series. And I know I've read before this story where some eager young moviemakers try to film "the Hood," only that time around it starred Superman or Batman or enter your favorite hero here.

Possibly these stories had more resonance when read alongside the show as it aired; it's just as possible that these comics revealed Diggle's backstory, or Helena's, before the show did. I don't discount these stories even as just a nice diversion or refresher between show airings; read in a collection, however, they come off as simplistic and repetitive.

Despite that I like the digital aesthetic, I wonder if it's in part the weekly digital release that hampers these stories. All of them are "done in one," about 20 digital "slides" or 10 pages, which hardly leave much time for the story to start before it finishes. Whereas the Star Trek comics offered reasonably far-flung adventures, even if they still had to put things back the way they were in the end, the Arrow stories are flashbacks, or follow a formula of "Oliver chases a bad guy, the bad guy surprises Oliver in some way, Oliver prevails."

A two- or three-part story would have been welcome here, and surely the writers could find an Arrow-esque adventure for Oliver that wouldn't have conflicted with show continuity.

Those writers include, but aren't limited to, Arrow executive producers Andrew Kreisberg and Marc Guggenheim. To their credit, there is nothing inherently wrong with these stories -- all the characters' voices sound authentic, and there's some markedly good on-model depictions of the characters, which demonstrates a careful eye watching this product. I only wish the writers might've given the comics material more room to fly.

There's a number of artists here, too, all offering a reasonably similar, cohesive product, and with a muted moody color scheme throughout. Most notable, of course, are the couple issues drawn by long-time Green Arrow writer and artist Mike Grell. There's not much commonality between Grell's Green Arrow and Arrow apart from Grell's own style, but it is a nice touch to have Grell draw, for instance, one of the Huntress stories, as befits a character with some importance to the show.

My favorite of them all was probably Chapter 12, which begins with Oliver floating lifeless in the water and then flashes back to his infiltrating a ship delivering drugs. As Oliver stalks the criminals through the boat, he has visions of his own fateful boat trip, seeing both his father and Laurel Lance's sister Sara. The art often depicts the real interposed with the imaginary, and it's a rare piece that surprises and moves among all the rest.

The translation from digital to print is relatively flawless. If you study the pages, you can obviously see that these are two half pages stuck together and that the top and bottom halves of the pages never intersect, but there's some good use of gradient and shading here that offer the illusion of such. There are plenty of intercut panels within the top and bottom halves such that the panelwork doesn't seem stilted; I never felt I was reading something lesser, at least appearance-wise, because this material had been digital first.

I have been glad to see DC Comics with a successful TV show after Smallville, and I'm plenty excited for the new season of Arrow to begin. But the Arrow Vol. 1 collection is a poor substitute for the real thing, and only makes me more impatient for the second week of October to roll around.


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