I’ve never been a fan of Malcolm Merlyn. Ever since he survived his apparent death in Arrow‘s first season finale, he’s represented a lack of daring on the writers’ part, an undercutting of everything Stephen Amell’s Oliver fought to achieve his first year under the hood. So, the new digital first series Arrow: The Dark Archer shouldn’t be for me, but I think I might love it.
Set between the show’s third and fourth seasons, the series tells the story of Merlyn’s first months as the new Ra’s al Ghul. While showrunner Marc Guggenheim wrote past tie-in series, this is written by Merlyn himself—or at least the man who plays him, John Barrowman. He shares the duty with his sister Carole and their familiarity with the character really seems to lend itself to the story. The best thing about Barrowman’s performance has always been the sort of dry, aloof way he plays the character. Malcolm Merlyn doesn’t care if you don’t like him; he knows he’s right. That same low-key sass is present here in the lightly snarky dialogue the character speaks even when in danger.
The plot itself is also really intriguing. The series has been sold as the origin story of Arrow‘s most consistent villain, but there’s also a bit about his current place on the show. Mainly, that has to do with Katrina Law’s Nyssa character. She’s due a little revenge after the hurt Malcolm has caused her and while we know he’s still alive in the fourth season, seeing him at least experience some sort of punishment for his treachery will provide the satisfaction the show has always failed to give.
If there is one weakness to this fledgling series, it’s the art. Penciller Daniel Sampere previously worked on the Green Arrow comic when Arrow‘s co-creator Andrew Kreisberg took over writing duties and I disliked his style so much that I nearly removed the book from my pull list. While his figures and proportions are fine when a character is still, they become a bit indistinct when in motion. That said, his work has improved since then and is superior to the previous artist on the tie-in series, Joe Bennett. Hopefully, his work continues to improve as he gets a better feel for the world.
Arrow‘s digital tie-in series have always been a bit of a mixed bag—much like the show. The best to hope for is decent art and a fairly engaging story. So far, Arrow: The Dark Archer fits that bill. It’s cleverly written and the art isn’t half bad. And at the very least I’ll get to see Malcolm Merlyn tortured. That’s worth a lot more than 99¢ to me.