I’m discovering I’m actually kind of liking Arrow. I was expecting a less obnoxious Batman who beat up fewer poor people and was somewhat better adjusted. And I got that. But I’m getting more, as well.
There’s a sensibility to it that feels deeply rooted in the pulps–Doc Savage with more (and darker) character development, Remo Williams with less camp. The protagonist is not a hero. The protagonist is a vigilante with some very strict rules. I am reminded of Eric Burns’ brilliant description of the old pulp vigilantes, which I may be stuck quoting until the end of time because really, he nailed it:
I need horror turned against evil instead of for evil. I need psychology and mystery blended. I need the supernatural with a veneer of exotic science to handwave it away.
That is so why I’m watching this.
I think the show really clicked for me when Queen’s chasing down the Royal Flush gang and tries to get the guard to not pull the trigger because he wants to see them hurt as little as possible; that episode really came across as explicit acknowledgment that someone who isn’t a good guy can have a good effect. That you can tell stories about someone who isn’t a good guy, that they are doing that. (There are a lot of shows that do this. House of Cards springs to mind. House of Cards, like Pet Semetary, suffers from the “practically all our characters are assholes” curse. This does not make it a bad show, but it certainly makes it a less cheering one to watch.)
I don’t think Queen’s a good guy, not yet. I think he believes at least one good thing (“don’t kill people”), but primarily he’s driven to stop bad guys, and as Huntress so pointedly illustrates, those are not the same things. I think he can become a good guy if he listens to the characters who have a broader moral sense of how to behave and takes time to develop something more than the compulsion to fulfil his father’s quest; I am not sure he will do this.
And I am really enjoying the non-Queen characters. Diggle, who is willing to call Oliver on so much of his BS. Felicity Smoak, with Oracle-like research powers and an inability to actually get the right words out. Quentin Lance (weirds me out every time I see him for looking like such a perfect blend of the Weasel from Lost Room and Boyd Crowder from Justified), because dammit, you need a smart honest cop and it’s a relief to have a foil for the protagonist who isn’t a bad guy. Laurel Lance and Tommy Merlyn and their (admittedly completely unoriginal but nonetheless charming) crusading idealism and well-intentioned stumbling towards adulthood. Even Moira Queen, who is presented completely honestly as being both a criminal conspirator responsible for multiple murders and unquestionably devoted to her family. (I want to see what’s going to happen when those two drives are brought into sharper conflict.)
I even like a couple of the recurring locales–the diner where Diggle’s sister-in-law works, the rustbelt crumble of the abandoned Queen industrial factory. (Admittedly, diners and decaying industrial locales are an easy sell for me.) And the colour-coding of the scenes is not subtle, but it sure is pretty.
It’s not Leverage. I don’t love the characters and I don’t turn to this show when I want comfort watching. But it’s entertaining, and new, and I like the idea of a flawed protagonist who’s got a finite arc to him. So I watch.
 My opinion of Batman varies based on the iteration, but I can at the very least say that I have really not been a fan of the recent movies.