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CW - Arrow: The Core Symbolism of Superhero




The trailer for CW's Arrow is pretty good. The production team cut its teeth on Smallville, so that is not a surprise. Still, the meta-narrative of Arrow, based on DC Comics Green Arrow is a very interesting choice with a big election looming in 2012. As any (some? a few?) fan of comic books knows, the Silver Age story of Oliver Queen/Green Arrow started out as a Batman replica (instead of a Batcave, you have an Arrow cave...you get the idea). The character did not inspire a rabid following:-)

All that changed in the 1970s when writer Denny O'Neil rebooted the character and paired him with Green Lantern. The legendary Green Arrow/Green Lantern run featured a Green Arrow re-imagined as a socially conscious activist who challenged Green Lantern's simplistic "law and order" worldview. Since that transformation, Green Arrow has kept a focus on challenging authority and fighting for the "have nots" in society.

In an era of uncertainty a hero out to take down corrupt elements will likely find some traction. Like so many things involving superheroes, the core symbolism of the show draws on long standing U.S. beliefs.  The belief that it a "few bad apples" causing problems versus broader structural inequality tends to underpin fictional heroic narratives. In superhero comics this idea is hyper-realized. If the hero (in this case our good looking billionaire on a redemptive mission)  can get rid of the bad men, then the city and its residents will be free to make their fortunes.  While other culture may question the inherent assumption of opportunity linked to capitalism, our experience in the United States has always values the opportunity to try to improve oneself. While corrupt individual "gaming" the system is wrong, an aggressive effort on the part of the government to equalize the system is also seen as bad.  Given the competing ideas, it no surprise that politicians struggle over questions of regulation versus free market. Luckily, in comic books the heroes can always find the bad people and stop them.

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