Dennis O’Neil: This Shall Not Change!
I guess I should put some kind of SPOILER WARNING right here, up front. Isn’t that a rule?
So Arrow has made a devil’s deal with Ras Al Ghul and, in exchange for his sister’s life, agreed to become one of Ras’s League of Assassins. What next? I’ll be watching the CW on Wednesday night to find out, but in your time zone, that was yesterday.
The storyline is based on one that appeared in Batman some years ago. Adapting a Batman plot to the Arrow really isn’t much of a stretch – the characters, though impressive, are both thoroughly human and operate pretty much on the same scale. (I’m tempted to call it “mythic” but that might be edging toward pomposity so let’s settle for “primordial” and get on with it. Or is “primordial more pompous than mythic?)
The Arrow creative folk are basing their drama on the old Batman continuity to which I contributed, but they’re taking the basic ideas further and in the process making improvements. As I was watching the show I wondered if those improvements occurred to me, way back when. Almost certainly not. Why? Well, uh…maybe because they break, or broke, some of the rules of superhero writing. And where, exactly, did I learn these rules? Were they written down, maybe on the walls of the publishing office? Given to me as part of a “welcome aboard” package? Or did some paternal executive, kindly eyes twinkling behind rimless glasses, take me aside and explain the facts of life to the new kid?
Nope, nope, and nope.
My best guess is, I intuited them, or figured them out, from the comic books I’d read. This, obviously, was how things were done. I’m not talking about sex or violence – we knew those had to be approached gingerly because of the times we were living in and that was no problem; I didn’t, and don’t, yearn to splash hormones and blood across the pages of comics. (The mandate, as always, is if the elements in question don’t serve the narrative, they probably don’t belong in the story.) No, the kind of unwritten taboo we’re discussing might have been broached if I’d had my masked vigilante reveal his real identity to the world, or had him ally with the villain, as Arrow apparently did last week.
Would rebellious li’l ol’ me have gotten away with such transgressions? Hard to say. Might have depended on who I was working for. Editors have their individual foibles. And there seemed to be no one way of reading and interpreting the Comics Code, the industry’s self-censoring tsar which was, presumably, the real rule setter. But nothing in the Code’s protocol mentioned double identities (though there was, if memory serves, a provision that dictated that the bad guys had to be in custody by story’s end.
(I did get away with depriving Green Arrow of his fortune and sending both the original Batwoman and Black Canary’s husband, Larry Lance, to their eternal rewards. Maybe nobody noticed.)
I guess the overarching commandment was: This Shall Not Change.
Some form of that is probably still The Commandment, but the enforcement is much more generous.
Alas, there was no rule, written or unwritten, that guarantees a great story every time out. There still isn’t. If I’m wrong about that, somebody please let me know.