I recently got caught up with The CW’s Arrow and, despite the network it’s on, it’s actually one of the best comic book/superhero shows I’ve seen. It creates it’s own universe but pulls fully from the DC canon for characters and plots. With the announcement of 5 new Marvel shows coming to Netflix and the generally mediocrity of Agents of SHIELD, here’s 5 things Marvel needs to learn from their competition.
- Actual comic characters: One of the main things that has disappointed week after week on SHIELD is the absolute lack of any recognizable characters from the Marvel universe. I don’t think anyone really expected Thor or Tony Stark to show up every week but there’s such a deep roster of heroes and villains that could be showing up that just aren’t and the least said about SHIELD’s big “Thor: The Dark World” crossover episode this past week, the better. All of the villains Coulson and his team have faced down are all incredibly generic that are like knock off Burn Notice villains. For comparision’s sake, in the third episode of SHIELD they brought in Gravitron or introduced the concept of Gravitron, who’s been around fighting the Avengers in the comics but is definitely a C maybe B list villain. In the third episode of Arrow, they brought in Deadshot and it’s instantly apparent that it is Deadshot, as he has his aiming eyepiece and wrist mounted guns. Deathstroke, China White, Shado, The League of Assassins, Firebug, Merlyn, Bronze Tiger and Count Vertigo are just a few of the actual DC characters that have showed up on Arrow.
- Stakes: SHIELD is supposed to be policing the world but it never feels like anything that Coulson’s team deals with has any ramifications. Everything feels incredibly isolated to the specific location the team heads to for whatever random powered being or artifact they are looking into. Probably helped by taking place entirely in Starling City, everything on Arrow seems to matter much more and you can feel the impact of things in later episodes of the show. When Oliver takes down Count Vertigo, you can tell that it has a significant effect on the amount of the drug on the streets. Also, what happens in the season finale of the first season of Arrow completely changes the dynamics of the show and the characters for season two, something that seems highly unlikely for SHIELD. If SHIELD were a candy, it would be cotton candy because it is easily one of the lightest and insignificant shows on right now.
- Interesting Characters: Besides Coulson, most of the characters on SHIELD are not that interesting, Grant is boring, Skye is annoying and Fitz-Simmons are kind of just generic comic relief nerds. May is the only other character that is kind of interesting only because of her mysterious past. None of the characters really have any great relationships or interactions. There’s obviously history between May and Coulson and Fitz-Simmons but it feels like they don’t talk to each other at all outside of missions. Arrow establishes history between the characters right from the start and uses it to build where the characters are now. I will admit that some of the usual CW soapiness gets into the relationship stuff, especially the love triangle between Laurel Lance, Oliver and Oliver’s best friend, Tommy Merlyn. As much as we all love Coulson, he’s kind of one note as a character, being the dry, bad ass veteran but Oliver is much more interesting, especially when you see him as the spoiled whiny kid shipwrecked on the island to the bad ass vigilante he currently is. There’s also the Bruce Wayne dual personality issue he has to deal with, as he must keep up his appearance as the billionaire playboy to hide the fact that he’s The Arrow. Oliver’s team of John Diggle and Felicity Smoak are also much more interesting than any of the SHIELD agents, with Felicity being the opposite of Skye in that she’s actually nerdy and awkward but also clearly a significantly better hacker.
- On-Going mystery: SHIELD really believes it’s “Tahiti/What happened to Coulson?” plot is one of the greatest mysteries ever. If you’re a Marvel fan, you should have a pretty good theory about what happened and if it plays out that way, it’s going to be ten time more frustrating that it took so long to get to a conclusion that most fans guessed in the first episode. (If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, Coulson is probably a Life Model Decoy robot that has all of Coulson’s memories implanted in it). There’s also the incredibly boring sub-plot of “What happened to Skye’s parents?” because everyone is so invested in her character right now. There’s now Hydra or AIM working against SHIELD, no supervillain plotting, no anything that lives up to what has been established in the Cinematic Universe. Arrow on the other hand sets up a season long arc involving a plot against the slums of Starling City, The Glades as well as an action packed and awesome flashback storyline involving Oliver working with Slade Wilson and martial artist Shado on the island he’s shipwrecked on to stop a group of mercenaries and the season two plot is even better with The League of Assassins, with possibly Rh’as Al Ghul, factoring in. Most of the other characters either factor into the main storyline or have their own subplot to deal with.
- Action: Arrow has probably a quarter of the budget of SHIELD, if we’re being generous and yet the world and action feels ten times better. It’s clear that Stephen Amell, who plays Oliver, went through tons of martial arts and archery training, as all of his fight scenes are great. Most of the fights due a great job of playing to the villain’s gimmick or strength so the China White/Bronze Tiger fights are much more focused on martial arts while the Deadshot fights are much more long range shooting duels. SHIELD feels like The A-Team where everyone manages to dive out of the way of bullets and no one will ever be killed because it’s supposed to be fun for the whole family. There’s been dark things that happen in the movie part of the Cinematic Universe, so it’s weird how antiseptic and safe all the action on the show is. It’s especially weird considering Arrow and SHIELD both air at 8 PM but Arrow is significantly darker and grittier.