Writing Inspiration: The Villains of ARROW


Nerd alert! I love a good villain. I’ve written my take on villains by making an example of the bad guy from my first book, GIFTED. I like thinking about where they went bad, what circumstances led them to their current paths, and how much fight they can give in a scene. Lately I’ve been inspired by certain characters – especially three particular villains – from the TV show ARROW. (Warning: There could be potential spoilers here. If you plan to watch this show and don’t want to know anything, go read this nerdy entertainment post about The Dark Knight on Morality vs. Chaos.)

arrowNow, I don’t know anything about characters or stories in the Green Arrow comics, but I think I prefer it this way. I suppose one of my favorite parts about the show is that it’s as close to reality as a comic book adaptation can be – consider it the TV version of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Starling City has been overtaken by thugs and criminals in Oliver Queen’s absence, but they don’t have mind-melting powers. There’s a superhero factor, sure, but nothing so outrageous as to suggest magical powers, alien or otherwise. Oliver Queen’s superpowers, besides the bow and arrow and fight skills, are extreme abs and ninja-fast speed – but it’s believable. I appreciate the realism it brings, which is why I like the villains so much – they have to be over the top and vicious, but still a realistic foe. They’re the exact shade of bad guy I love to write (magic powers or not).

You know the ones – they’re a bit eccentric but violent, constantly on the edge of a murderous rage. People are nervous around him because it could go either way. He’s calm when he needs to be, just enough to make someone feel hope of escape, only for the villain to stab them lovingly in the right spot, killing them for somehow insulting his intelligence.


ARROW had this type of man on in this week’s episode “Betrayal” – he went by the name of Cyrus Vanch (played by David Anders), and I wish they’d given him more screen time. I loved his deranged opener, which included killing his lawyer with one elegant knife move before going to make himself lunch. He’s aggressive with what he wants, unapologetic for his crimes and prepared to do more. He has lots of goons with guns working for him, but he wants the bigwigs to pay attention. The hooded vigilante is in the way of his rise to power. His solution? Vanch kidnaps Laurel to get to Oliver, who comes to save the day. While we watch the Hood kill his men, Vance tells Laurel why the Hood will fail – he even takes count of how many arrows the Hood has (24) and accounts for that, has a man ready inside to capture Oliver. He was smart enough to think ahead, but didn’t expect a partner as the Hood typically works alone. A surprise appearance keeps them all alive and while I wish the capture had gone down more dramatically, I’m hoping it leaves a way to bring Vanch back for revenge against Laurel and the Hood. You just know he’ll come at them with everything he’s got.


In “Vertigo” Oliver goes after the Count (played by Seth Gabel), a drug dealer of the worst kind, selling a drug he’s tested on homeless people, that kills the users (56 died to make it perfect), and will spread through Starling City. Seth Gabel said in an interview he used Heath Ledger’s Joker for inspiration and I think that’s easy to see – and admire, because he’s not copying it, but they both carry that flair of crazy. Gabel plays it with that same bit of confidence, the willingness to embrace chaos and make the most of it. They both like to do the dirty work themselves, thrive on watching their enemies fail. The Count doesn’t fear the police or anyone else who might threaten him – he can think on his feet. His special talents include being quick enough to jab you with the vertigo drug. The Count’s entrance is memorable – when one of his goons gets cornered by “The Hood” and lives, he’s taken to the drug kingpin. He pleads with the Count that he didn’t tell him anything. “Of course you didn’t,” the Count replies. “You don’t know anything to tell.” Just when the thug believes he’ll get out alive, the Count stabs him with his special concoction of vertigo, which makes his brain go wonky and makes him believe he’s in awful pain. The Count hands him a gun and gives him a choice: the thug can shoot and kill the Count…or he can shoot himself, thus ending the misery. The Count steps back, prepared to take a bullet, but obviously knows from experience that the victim will off himself. The smile that crosses his face as the flash, bang! goes off? Pure, delicious villainy.

Year's EnAnd then there’s this guy: the Dark Archer, from “Year’s End.” (This is a serious spoiler, so go elsewhere if you don’t want to know.) The Dark Archer is just as good at archery and hand-to-hand combat as Oliver Queen, if not better. Their fight scene was easily the best one of the season, if only because we finally see Oliver fail at getting his bad guy – not only does he not get him, but he gets seriously hurt and has to run in order to survive. Not even Oliver Queen’s magic washboard abs can defeat the Dark Archer. I didn’t expect to find out who the Dark Archer was, but when the hood came off and the man revealed – well, I’m still thinking about this twist. Turns out it’s someone close to Oliver- his best friend Tommy’s dad, Malcolm Merlyn (played by John Barrowman). We already knew Malcolm wasn’t a nice guy (like, really not), but to be that good with a bow and arrow? I never saw the rich, suit-wearing, corporate guy under the hood. Especially the one that can take on Green Arrow and win (he even suggests the Hood change his name to Green Arrow – a nice nod to the comic). And he knows about Oliver’s book of names, the evidence his father gave him to go after the criminals destroying Starling City? The Dark Archer knows how to shake Oliver Queen to his very core, the belief system he’s had for the last 5 years to survive. Turns out, as we find a couple episodes later, Malcolm – back in his expensive suit – is still angry about Tommy’s mom being murdered in the street. We don’t know why or how he turned so dark (not yet – I can’t wait for Barrowman’s scenes there!), but Tommy does mention that his dad disappeared for a while when he was only 8 years old. It’s inferred that Malcolm Merlyn made his way to the island full of bad guys who train assassins. If you look deeper into the story as a writer, perhaps he even has some sort of higher agenda by becoming the Dark Archer (going after his wife’s killer(s), maybe?). He might just be plain bad because he’s anti-Arrow, but what a deeper story for the character, right? We don’t know ulterior motives or future plans, and that’s what makes him so dangerous.

arrowposterARROW has plenty of other solid villains and storylines, but those are the three that stick out in my mind. I could easily do another piece on any of the other characters – I think the show’s that good and I hope it sticks around for as long as Stephen Amell continues to do upside-down crunches. What do you think makes a villain interesting? What traits do you love to read/write…and why should your hero fear him?

ARROW comes on Wednesdays at 8/7c on the CW Network.

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