Arrow is the new show on the CW network, the same network that ran Smallville. This isn’t actually a spinoff about Justin Hartley’s Green Arrow from Smallville (much to the disappointment of some fans, I’m sure) nor does Allison Mack make a reappearance as Chloe Sullivan (much to my disappointment), but it represent’s the CW’s exercise of its existing rights to the Green Arrow character.
The show actually provides some rather unique opportunities to delve into legal issues, for two reasons. First, and perhaps most obviously, Green Arrow isn’t a superhuman. He’s a guy that happens to be really good with a bow and arrow. So there’s no obvious connection to Krypton, alternate dimensions, other planets, all the stuff that, while fun to watch, doesn’t leave very much for us to talk about. That’s why we’ll probably never talk about Firefly or Star Trek: those worlds, while fun, are obviously using a different legal system than ours. It’s also why shows like Smallville only occasionally gave us good fodder. We had a series of posts about it last year (one, two, three) but especially as the series went on, the stories had more and more to do with the fantastical, taking it out of our particular area of interest.
But second, and more importantly, one of the main characters—Arrow’s version of Dinah Laurel Lance, known in the comics as Black Canary—is a lawyer. This is a departure from Lance’s portrayals in other media, so we do not at this point know if she is destined to become Black Canary in the TV show. But having only watched the first two episodes so far, there’s some real potential for recurring legal interest here.
Not a whole ton happens in the pilot episode. Oliver Queen, billionaire playboy, returns to society after having spent five years on a presumably deserted island in the North China Sea. A lot of the implications of that, and what actually happened, are going to be explored in future episodes. But Queen does take on the mantle of Green Arrow in this episode. And boy howdy does he not mind roughing people up. Getting shot with a broadhead arrow, the kind that Green Arrow mostly uses so far, is no laughing matter. They’re reputed to slice through ballistics vests, and that aside, they’re designed to cause large amounts of damage. Getting hit with one would be at least as bad as getting shot with a pistol or rifle. At least they don’t leave a huge honking shaft in you afterward. And several people get shot every episode, with no mention of Queen using non-lethal arrows with blunted tips, which would suck but probably not do much damage most of the time.
This puts Queen on pretty shaky ground, legally speaking. In most (if not all) states he’s using a deadly weapon.* He’s also using deadly force, as he’s causing serious bodily injury or at least engaging in conduct which is reasonably likely to do so. And at least so far, he isn’t using deadly force in his own defense or the defense of others. Not in a context that the law would recognize as a defense anyway. Defending self or others with deadly force has to be the in the context of immediate peril of serious bodily injury or death. The fact that someone is engaged in unjust litigation or has defrauded other people? Not grounds for violence of any kind.
* New Hampshire’s Supreme Court has held that a bow and arrow is not an inherently deadly weapon (and thus a felon may lawfully use one to hunt animals), but using a bow and arrow against other humans (as Green Arrow does) would make it a deadly weapon. State v. Pratte, 959 A.2d 200 (N.H. 2008).
We’ll take a look at the legal issues that the series raises as we watch more episodes. Somewhat irritatingly for us it’s not clear what state Starling City is located in; maybe that will be cleared up in the future. But for starters, this is a violent version of Green Arrow that runs on the darker side of what it means to be a hero. This is actually somewhat in keeping with the Green Arrow from the comics, as starting in the late 1960s with Denny O’Neil, Oliver Queen has been a somewhat anti-establishment figure. As we go through the Arrow series, we’ll also be taking a look at the classic Green Arrow/Green Lantern pairing O’Neil wrote, which is widely regarded as a watershed moment in comics history. Look for those posts to come!