Last week, I published a feature entitled What the DC Extended Universe Can Learn from the Arrowverse. For those that don’t already know, the Arrowverse consists of a few DC shows on the CW: Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow. There are several reasons why these three series are more engaging than Man of Steel or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, i.e “The Arrowverse Has More Diverse Characters” and “Listens to Fan Feedback.” There was one particular reason that seemed to divide people in the comments section, though: “The Arrowverse Has Felicity Smoak.”
For many fans, Felicity is easily their favorite part of the Arrowverse. Others, however, simply can’t stand the character. They find Felicity’s quirky personality obnoxious and her storylines to be too soapy. On top of that, they can’t get past the fact that Oliver Queen ultimately fell in love with her when the Green Arrow developed a romance with Black Canary in the comics. While the character isn’t without her haters, Felicity is largely the reason why the Arrowverse has developed into something special. Her impact on the franchise can pretty much be summed up in a few words:
Felicity Smoak > All of the other characters in the Arrowverse >>> All of the characters in the DC Extended Universe.
For the sake of argument, though, let’s go into greater detail on why Felicity Smoak saved the Arrowverse and what the DC Extended Universe can learn from her.
Before we begin, a little backstory is probably required. Felicity made her debut in The Fury of Firestorm #23, a DC comic that was published in May 1984. While Felicity would have a few more appearances after that, the character didn’t go on to play a substantial role in the DC universe. She kind of faded into obscurity until popping up in the third episode of Arrow. A tech girl who helps Oliver, Felicity was initially intended to be a one-off character. Emily Bett Rickards was so lively in the role, however, that the showrunners kept bringing her back.
By the beginning of season two, Felicity joined Oliver’s crew and became a main cast member. Just as audiences fell in love Felicity, so did Oliver, who revealed his true feelings for her in the season two finale. Since then, their relationship has become a major driving force for the series. So why exactly did Felicity leave such a mark? For starters, she injected some much-needed humor into Arrow.
If Jar Jar Binks and Scrappy-Doo have proven anything, it’s that a comedic relief character can really backfire if done poorly. Fortunately, the writers supplied Felicity with legitimately funny dialog and Rickards has nailed every line with pitch-perfect comedic timing. More importantly, the showrunners didn’t rely on Felicity to be the show’s sole source of comedy. Arrow has become an ensemble piece with the comedy deriving from how all the characters play off of each other. Even the brooding Oliver can get a laugh every now and then. Hell, he made a pretty hilarious Harry Potter reference just a few weeks ago! This all started with Felicity, who showed the cast that it’s okay to smile on occasion.
With that said, there’s a lot more to Felicity than an adorkable persona and witty one-liners. She’s also emotionally complex, caring towards her loved ones, and a badass in her own way. A while back, I wrote an article on how nerdy characters have become increasingly popular in entertainment. This is primarily because writers are starting to realize that ‘nerds’ can be a lot more diverse than initially believed. In addition to being knowledgeable, they can be strong, passionate, and even cool. Felicity Smoak is a prime example of how nerds have evolved beyond the textbook definition. Since Felicity emerged as such a three-dimensional character, she also gave Arrow something it was missing in its earlier episodes: a heart.
Oliver Queen could be so cold and guarded at first that it was hard for the audience to relate to him. Through his friendship and romance with Felicity, Oliver finally started to let down some of his defenses and become a more fleshed-out individual. By bringing out Oliver’s humanity, Felicity gave viewers someone and something to root for. Although every character on the show has grown significantly over the years, Felicity continues to act as the brain and heart of the team. Without her, Arrow just wouldn’t be what it is today.
Above all else, Felicity has supplied the Arrowverse with an identity of its own. In the beginning, Arrow clearly borrowed a lot from The Dark Knight. The same could be said about Man of Steel, which launched the DC Extended Universe. Since Christopher Nolan acted as a producer for Man of Steel and contributed to the story, it isn’t all that surprising the film felt more like The Dark Knight than the Richard Donner classic. Taking a grittier, more sophisticated approach to Superman’s origins actually wasn’t a bad idea. The problem is that Man of Steel didn’t really feel like an original take on Superman. It felt more like Zack Snyder trying to impersonate Christopher Nolan, and coming up short.
This is a problem that numerous modern superhero films have. Many of them assume that Nolan’s Batman trilogy was a success simply because it was dark and serious. Although Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises treated their audiences like thinking adults, that’s not the only reason why they became box office hits. Rather than just repeating what was popular and conventional at the time, these films strived to present Batman from a unique perspective, while also remaining loyal to the character’s mythos.
Arrow started out as another Dark Knight wannabe, but the showrunners quickly realized that Oliver had to become someone else. He had to become something else. Arrow has since found it’s own distinctive voice, and that’s partially due to Felicity’s influence. There’s only one Felicity Smoak, and thus only one Arrowverse. The DC Extended Universe meanwhile, continues to feel like its living in the shadow of superior movies and graphic novels.
Now as much as I’ve praised Felicity throughout this feature, the character admittedly isn’t without her flaws. For my money, Rickards has never given a bad performance on the show, but she hasn’t always been given the best material to work with either. Most people would agree that season three was a low point for Arrow, and this is chiefly due to Oliver and Felicity’s relationship. That’s not to say the two lacked chemistry. On the contrary, Olicity is one of the best couples of modern television. Their scenes together range from cute, to funny, to poignant, to touching, to utterly romantic. The audience desperately wants to see Oliver and Felicity together, which made it frustrating when the showrunners decided to prolong their will they, won’t they? relationship.
At the beginning of season three, Oliver and Felicity are driven apart for really forced, contrived reasons. As a result, we got way too many scenes with Oliver being a martyr and Felicity being confused about her feelings. Why do so many shows drag out romances when the audience already knows what’s going to happen? Sure, the characters run the risk of becoming a boring couple, but that’s still better than week after week of sexual tension that ultimately goes nowhere.
Even though season three understandably tried the patience of some, many viewers still looked forward to seeing Oliver and Felicity every week. Why? Because they’re two great characters that can function as both a couple and separate individuals. Then when the two FINALLY got together at the end of season three, it was a very heartfelt moment. As drawn-out as their relationship was, shippers never lost their investment in Olicity. That’s more than can be said about any of the dynamics in Batman v Superman, which were mostly underdeveloped and offered the audience little to care about.
Of course, the main issue people seem to have with Felicity seems to stem back to the fact that she wasn’t a big part of the comics. If you haven’t noticed, some fanboys and fangirls tend to lose their $#*& when a comic book adaptation makes even the tiniest change. There were fans out there that wanted to see Arrow tackle the romance between the Green Arrow and Black Canary. So naturally, they felt like the show missed its target when Black Canary was pushed aside for a minor character from the comics.
Then again, Arrow didn’t just neglect the hero’s romance with Black Canary entirely. In season one, the key relationship was between Oliver and Laurel Lance, who would later become Black Canary. In season two, we learned more about Oliver’s relationship with Sarah Lance, the original Black Canary and eventual White Canary. At the end of the day, though, Oliver simply had more of a connection with the shy MIT graduate. Thus, it made more sense for Oliver and Felicity’s romance to become the focal point of the series. To a certain extent, an adaptation should remain loyal to its original inspiration, but that doesn’t mean it needs to follow the source material to a T. It’s appropriate to make alterations when it’s for the better, and expanding Felicity’s role was definitely a good call.
In my original feature, I argued that “The Arrowverse Isn’t Afraid to Embrace Its Comic Book Roots” and Batman v Superman seemed ashamed to be a superhero movie. Some felt this statement was misguided since Batman v Superman actually packed in several DC references while Arrow is doing its own thing. Although Batman v Superman made a fair deal of changes, it was clearly inspired by The Dark Knight Returns, The Death of Superman, A Death in the Family, and various other DC storylines. Copying and pasting moments from the source material doesn’t mean necessarily equal a good adaptation, though. The same can be said about taking the source material and just making it darker.
Even if Arrow isn’t exactly like the original comics, it still possesses the tone, atmosphere, and spirit of the source material. It’s evident that the showrunners have affection for comics and understand how to transfer the medium to the screen. As for Zach Snyder, well… Kevin Smith probably summed it up best on his podcast:
“It’s almost like Zack Snyder didn’t read a bunch of comics, he read one comic once, and it was Dark Knight Returns, and his favorite part was the last part where Batman and Superman fight” – Kevin Smith
Smith additionally added that Batman v Superman lacked “heart” and “humor,” two elements that the Arrowverse has in spades thanks to Felicity Smoak.
So does this mean Felicity should join the DC Extended Universe? Batman v Superman probably would’ve been a lot more fun with Emily Bett Rickards, but no, that’s not the solution. As stated before, the DC Extended Universe has yet to find a voice of its own. It’s not going to find that voice if it keeps stealing from other artists. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t learn from the Arrowverse and especially Felicity Smoak.
In many ways, Felicity has become more than a character. Through her humor, heart, and overall personality, she’s become the embodiment of everything that makes the Arrowverse a unique product. When and if the DC Extended Universe finds a Felicity Smoak of its own, perhaps the franchise will at last become something else.