Thursday, October 18, 2018

Throwback Thursday: Arrow: The Dark Archer #1 Review (2016)

All the World Loves an Arrogant Prick

Written By: John Barrowman and Carol E. Barrowman
Art By: Daniel Sampere, Juan Albarran, Kyle Ritter
Letters By: The Unknown Letterer
Cover Price: $0.99
Release Date: January 13, 2016

*Non Spoilers and Score At The Bottom*

If you’re like me, you had a terrible holiday season. Yes, it was nice to see friends and family, I enjoyed giving and getting gifts and eating lavish feasts with my loved ones. But Arrow was on hiatus the whole time, left on a pretty dire cliffhanger that would be considered cruelty had I not elected to watch the show of my own free will. Well, John “Malcolm Merlyn” Barrowman and his sister Carole have helped to ease the pain of withdrawals, and while Arrow returns only a week from today, I still welcome the digital dosage. Eric was going to review this comic, but he took the tablet into the bathroom for three hours and all he was able to talk about afterward is the cover shown above. So it’s left to me to review this Arrow tidbit, and you’ll find I have if you read on!

Explain It!:

So here’s the thing about Malcolm Merlyn: I fucking hate Malcolm Merlyn. It’s a testament to how well Barrowman plays the character on Arrow that I can’t stand his smug, chiseled face. I hate how arrogant he is, I hate that he always seems to have the upper hand, I even hate how he can just emerge from the shadows in the Arrowcave with a team of ninjas whenever he likes, even though I secretly love it. When Thea says mean shit to Malcolm and you can tell it hurts him, I smile inside, because Malcolm Merlyn is a self-serving dick and I’m supposed to hate him. If I sympathized with him, I’d be Patrick Bateman from American Psycho.

So despite my hatred for Malcolm Merlyn, I’m always on the look out for any sliver of background information about him, because the stuff we know doesn’t add up to him becoming supreme ninja overlord magician of the League of Assassins. Dark Archer takes place between seasons three and four of Arrow, so he’s taken the mantle of R’as Al Ghul but he hasn’t dipped Sara in the Lazarus Pit yet. Oh yeah, it should go without saying: spoilers ahead, behind, above and below. And if you aren’t watching Arrow, none of what follows will make a lot of sense to you.

Malcom Merlyn is chained by the wrists to the floor of a watery cave, a jagged piece of something jutting from the center of his bleeding heart. He’s surrounded by a bunch of intricately-carved pillars and the ground is suspiciously flat for a cave; we learn a little later on it was a temple to the Gods, a sacrificial altar for people of a great, but unstated civilization. A shadowy figure is prancing around, interrogating him about his name, meanwhile Merlyn is being the goddamned prick he always is, making jokes and acting aloof. The shadowy figure seems to know Malcolm well and tells him he will never be found—not even by his League of Assassins or Oliver “Green Arrow” Queen. Then we cut to Nanda Parbat, a week ago, where Malcolm is flexing his R’as Al Ghul powers to make people kneel before him. Nyssa, the, uh, previous R’as’ daughter, tells Malcolm she’s still not over the fact that he mind-controlled his own daughter Thea to kill Nyssa’s girlfriend, but Malcolm tells her there’s plenty of other fish in the sea and leaves her in charge of the League while he fucks off to Corto Maltese.

Back in the damp cave, known as the Sea of Souls, shadowy figure continues to taunt Merlyn and tell him how royally screwed he is. Shadowy Figure insists on getting what they want, though we don’t find out what that is, so Malcolm peels off his resume of calamities he’s survived over the last three seasons of Arrow. Shadowy Figure casually mentions that it’s monsoon season, so whether he takes a fast death by blade or a slow death by drowning, he’s gonna die. Cut to the day before, on Corto Maltese, a woman who is apparently Nyssa’s mother is hanging out with her half-brother, Saracon, fighting over whether or not to send a package. I say: if you’re really worried, wrap it with coffee grounds. Saracon tells his mother that she’s got to be bold, and then cuts off his pinky finger for some reason. I guess that’s one way to make a statement.

The next morning, Malcolm is on a motorcycle cruising on a narrow, cliffside path known as “Death Road,” presumably named after Barnaby Q. Death, inventor of the Wozzle Wheel. Merlyn is zipping along at top speed, being followed by a mail plane. He then tests the bike’s stealth capabilities, which reduces the motorcycle’s roar to a purr, and he even gets a holographic heads up display that would make Tony Stark blush. Malcolm’s assistant Rainie is talking to him via Bluetooth, to see how everything is going. After Malcolm’s positive review, she asks if he’ll set the scientists in his lab free to see their families, but the bike still needs pinstriping and a bad-ass skull painted on the gas tank, so no dice there. While zooming silently along, Merlyn neglects to see a dude walking his llama on Death Road and crashes into them, totaling his cool motorcycle. He lopes into his Corto Maltese compound on the back of a llama, looking uncharacteristically remorseful, but still feeling positive about his new tech. The mail arrives just then, and it’s a fairly innocuous package sealed with a wax seal. This makes Merlyn flip out and he tells Rainie to lock down the compound—but it’s too late. Arrows rain down from somewhere, killing the mailwoman and blowing up the mail plane, and even killing that poor llama that already survived a motorcycle accident today! We wrap up with Merlyn back in the cave, this presumably being the result of a full-scale archer attack this morning, and he’s about to reveal his real name…

I enjoyed this comic quite a lot, as a fan of Arrow it was cool to see a side story explaining just what the heck happened when he assumed the role of R’as Al Ghul against the wishes of his rival Nyssa. I’m glad to see that the Barrowmans haven’t tried to make Malcolm a sympathetic character, because he’s an asshole and we’re not supposed to like him. The art is okay—some rough panels here and there, but overall it does a good enough job and at times, like on the last page, it shines through. I am definitely intrigued by this multi-faceted mystery, as well as learning Malcolm Merlyn’s true name!

Bits and Pieces:

Fans of the television series Arrow would do well to check this book out, it’s well-written and the characterization of Malcolm Merlyn is spot-on. Whether or not this will give us any insight into stuff happening on the show, I can’t say, but even by itself Dark Archer is a fun read and the first issue left a lot of tantalizing threads for us to follow. I’d say that if you’re not watching Arrow, then you can skip this book, unless you’re Eric Shea in which case 99 cents is a small price to pay for such a riveting cover photo.


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