And more specifically, where does the semi-villainous Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) go when he’s not popping out of the shadows to deliver ominous news, or seriously f— with his daughter Thea’s (Willa Holland) life? What do the other characters on Arrow get up to while Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) is busy telling people they’ve failed this city?
The answer to those questions — and many more — have been playing out for the past few months in the pages of DC Comics’ official tie-in The Dark Archer, a digital comic written by Barrowman and his sister Carole E. Barrowman. Though the duo has collaborated before on a young adult book series called The Hollow Earth, as well as two novels set in the universe of the Doctor Who spin-off series Torchwood (in which John starred), this is the first time either of them has tackled comic books.
And Malcolm Merlyn’s back-story is a perfect fit. Though we’ve learned a little bit about him over the past four seasons of the show, we haven’t seen what happened to the guy the League of Assassins called the Magician before he met Oliver, or what he gets up to when he’s not alternately helping and terrorizing the Arrow’s home base of Star City.
“There was not much back-story on Malcolm Merlyn when I started doing him on television,” John Barrowman tells TVGuide.com, explaining why he decided to tackle this story. After getting Carole to agree to come on board, the duo pitched DC Comics Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns.
“There were really no questions,” John says, adding that Johns quickly gave the greenlight.
You’d think the beats of Malcolm Merlyn’s back-story would be set out by Arrow, that it would be the sort of plot that would play out in the show proper. But you’d be wrong. According to the Barrowmans, the show has no bible for Malcolm Merlyn’s backstory, meaning the field was wide open. And in fact, showrunner Marc Guggenheim “had nothing to do with this,” according to John.
Despite the lack of input from the show, the series has added major wrinkles to Merlyn’s character, including the revelation that his real name is Arthur King — something that doesn’t just set him up as a clear opposite to Oliver Queen… It also gives him a higher rank.
“If you’re talking in the family of royals, which I am a part of,” John says, laughing, “I’m basically one up on him.”
Adds Carole: “Malcolm would have many faces, as well as many names.”
But readers who go back and catch up with the series shouldn’t expect a kinder, more regal Malcolm/Arthur. We’re not only introduced to one of his first loves, a woman named Lourdes, but discover that Malcolm left her to die in exchange for a magical elixir that has kept him young and healthy for decades (which show viewers know better as a Lazarus Pit).
We also get to meet an entirely new supporting cast for Malcolm, and other than a guest appearance by Ra’s al Ghul (Matt Nable) and his daughter, none of the show’s regular characters appear in the comic series. The reason for this? Not only to let Malcolm break out on his own, but also to show that some characters — like Malcolm’s assistant — are fiercely loyal to him, because he is loyal to them in return.
“He’s a narcissist,” Carole says, “but even narcissists show compassion now and again.”
John adds that this aspect of the series comes right out of the show, in which — shockingly — Malcolm’s arch-enemy Oliver is often loyal to him. “Who does Oliver always turn to when he needs advice?” John explains. “It’s Malcolm.”
That said, there’s another, more business-y reason for leaving the show’s main characters on the table: “We didn’t want to get stuck and have to get approval,” John says. “And to be blunt, we wanted to create new characters that if they’re ever used in the TV show, or used anywhere else, Carole and I get some rights to them.”
With the set-up out of the way, the Barrowmans are definitely interested in tackling more Malcolm Merlyn stories, to depict what happens after he pops back into the dark shadows on the show, while still making sure the comics themselves aren’t totally dependent on what happens on TV.
“We’re fans ourselves,” John said,” So it was important to put in an Easter Egg, or a thing that’s going to make them scream, or just wet themselves.”
One detail that might make fans have to put on new underwear, if the Barrowmans get their way and create a second Dark Archer book? The reveal of just how Merlyn went from having a severed hand mid-way through Season 4 to wearing a terrifying looking dragon claw by the end of the season.
“All of a sudden that hand just appeared,” John said. “If I had my way, it would be some kind of bionic hand that shoots arrows out of it.”
Oh, and speaking of screaming, John does have one major event to look forward to this season on Arrow: a still-in-the-works four-show crossover between his show, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl. The big question though, is when that does happen… will it be a musical extravaganza?
“I actually doubt that would ever happen,” John says, laughing. “But if it did, if I wasn’t in it I would throw a diva tantrum.”
The Dark Archer #12 hits stores on June 15 from DC Comics. Check out an exclusive preview in the pages above – and below!