There has alway been a connection between comic books and professional wrestling. I can still remember the first time I saw a photo of Macho Man Randy Savage, glitter sequins flashing and veins threatening to straight explode out of this dude’s neck, and thinking I had seen one of Marvel’s costumed creations step directly off the page and into a squared circle. Comics and wrestling, two of the most misunderstood forms of entertainment there are, both rely on a shared need to go BIG: big characters, big colors, big scenarios and–most importantly–a big, big suspension of disbelief. But that’s what it’s about, those perfect moments where the panels line up just right, the page turn shocks just enough or the promo makes you wonder where the line between “real” and “fake” is, it’s in those suspended moments where comics and wrestling may be misunderstood, but absolute magic to those who understand.
All that is to say last night’s Arrow, titled “A Matter of Trust”, leaned hard into the wrestling and comic book connection, and the result was one of the best hours of Arrow I can remember in a long time. For one, resident villain-of-the-week Derek Sampson was played by Cody Rhodes, who wrestled in the WWE for year before some un-scripted bad blood forced Rhodes to part ways with the wrestling conglomerate. Before he left, Rhodes grappled under the name Stardust, ALSO the name of the super-drug in tonight’s episode, a persona he used to antagonize and eventually come face-to-face with Stephen Amell. That particular rivalry culminated with Amell proving he’s legitimately just Green Arrow in real life.
Even though episode writers Ben Sokolowsli amd Emilio Ortega Aldrich didn’t give Rhodes much to work with other than “be shirtless and kick ass”, nor could they decide when Sampson was impervious to pain and when he was straight up immortal (just because you can’t feel bullets doesn’t mean you “shrug them off”), this was still an undeniably fun episode. Half of this comes from the breezy “getting the team together” vibe that Arrow season five is shooting for, like those first 20 minutes of Suicide Squad where we thought it might be a good movie. The other half is a conflict even more potent than any super-powered drug-dealer could provide; namely, how godawful Oliver Queen is at “getting the team together.”
For this, Rick Gonzalez’s impulsive as hell Rene “Wild Dog” Ramirez is the perfect foil to Oliver. “Maybe rich boy mayor queen doesn’t know the streets so good,” Ramirez says, and there is, without a doubt, a seed of truth there. Oliver has, to put it lightly, seen some shit. You don’t go on a five year odyssey of torture and terror that starts with your father committing suicide in front of you on a life raft and not have it fundamentally change you. But it’s a real Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle situation here, where no matter what there will always be a kernel of Rich Asshole Oliver Queen inside the Green Arrow that blocks him from fully understanding Ramirez. Wild Dog doesn’t have the formal training Oliver does, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t prepared; he has the training that comes from poverty, from being hungry, from a life being told he is “less than.”
Which is why that episode-ending raid on Sampson’s drug operation by Team Arrow 2.0 is so damn satisfying. Comic book storytelling, especially CW comic book storytelling, is one of constant, occasionally (see: often) irrational conflict. It’s often frustrating, but holy hell is it cathartic when a good, old-fashioned team-up actually works. Why do you think the original Avengers is so markedly better than Age of Ultron? Why do you think Legends of Tomorrow even exists? Why do you think it just feels so right that Oliver, Rene and Evelyn Sharp are busy kicking twenty different kinds of henchman ass while Curtis is still giddy about his new mask? Because the beauty of the team-up is that it’s built on small character moments that, when combined, make those BIG moments seem even bigger.
Like, for a random example:
The unfortunate side-effect of all this is that any character not within the team’s orbit is starting to feel pretty unimportant. Thea, for one, despite Willa Holland never feeling more comfortable in the role, is basically treading the bow-less water outside of vigilantism. The same goes for John Diggle. I appreciate a good SHYAMALAN TWIST as much as anyone, but the eye-patch sporting ghost that was the return of Deadshot this week only served to bring up themes we already know. Diggle, you might have noticed, is not in the best of mindsets after murdering his younger brother in cold blood.
Although, this does make next week’s episode, which seems to be centered around breaking Diggle out of jail, that much more intriguing. Because on its surface, immediately bringing old, solid Dig into the mix after we JUST had the feel-good “we’re a team now!” moment is dangerously close to a return to status quo. But grief-hallucinating, self-imprisoning, possible-banana-bonkers mad Dig that doesn’t even want to be saved? That’s a match I could suspend all kinds of disbelief for.
- At first, I thought Floyd Lawton’s re-emergence was a result of The Flash‘s meddling with time, especially after hearing the “Previously on Arrow and The Flash” that precedes most cross-overs. But alas, no, Diggle is just going insane. Super bummer.
- I’m a huge fan of Rory’s role on the team, which is “slowly regretting the decision to join the team.” Although, and this is nothing against Emily Bett Rickards, pretty much no amount of holding back tears could adequately display how big a deal it is that Felicty nuked an entire town of people.
- More wrestling! Arrow reimagines Terry Sloan, DC’s original Mister Terrific, as Curtis’ favorite wrestler.
- Oliver’s reaction to wearing a hockey mask–“I think it’s cool”–almost, ALMOST makes me regret never seeing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. (A movie that, funny enough, also featured a professional wrestler playing a villain).