Things have been heating up on “Arrow” recently with the introduction of John Barrowman as the sinister Malcolm Merlyn, father of Oliver Queen’s best friend Tommy Merlyn. While much has yet to be revealed about the Merlyn clan and what kinds of problems they might pose for Oliver in the future, the name Merlyn has much significance in Green Arrow lore.
This week in Hollywood Justice, we’re going to take a look at the Merlyn of the comics, how he has bedeviled Green Arrow over the years, and what makes him such a fitting archnemesis.
Merlyn, A.K.A. Arthur King, made his debut in 1971’s “Justice League of America” #94, by Mike Friedrich, Neal Adams, and Dick Dillin. He got his nom de guerre not through any actual feats of mysticism, but for his seemingly magical mastery of the bow and arrow. Hired by the League of Assassins to take out their foe Batman, he eagerly accepted the opportunity it would afford him to cross bows with Batman’s teammate Green Arrow. Merlyn was already established as a master archer when Oliver Queen first encountered him as a young boy, and he dazzled the young Oliver with his feats of trick shooting. Shortly after Oliver took on the identity of Green Arrow, he encountered Merlyn again during an archery contest, and Merlyn easily bested the still green archer.
But in going after Batman, Merlyn proved that his deadly aim was not his only asset, as he used a variety of trick arrows to incapacitate the Atom and even Superman, and succeeded in trapping Batman, leaving him a sitting duck. However, Green Arrow was able to avenge his earlier humiliation at Merlyn’s hands by shooting Merlyn’s killing arrow out of the air in midflight, proving himself the superior archer and saving Batman’s life in the process. Merlyn was not done with his tricks, however, and used a jetpack built into his quivers to escape and fight another day.
Merlyn would persist as a thorn in the side of Green Arrow and other heroes for years to come, but in the wake of DC Universe’s recent reboot, his status has become a bit more complicated. In issue #4 of Grant Morrison’s “Batman Incorporated” series, he makes his return in traditional form, serving the League of Assassins, and out to kill Batman once again, which is in line both with his origins and Morrison’s usage of him during his pre-reboot “Batman” run. He proves his deadliness by keeping the heroes of the Batman Incorporated organization at bay, but is ultimately taken down by the teamwork of Damian Wayne and Jason Todd, Robins past and present.
However, in the pages of “Green Arrow” #0, by Judd Winick and Freddie Williams II, we are introduced to a Merlyn much more in line with the Arrow series portrayal. Here, he is Tommy Merlyn, Oliver Queen’s best friend, as seen on TV. Oliver himself is a reckless, irresponsible party animal, living it up on his dad’s oil rig, partying with his friends, and having helicopters full of alcohol and shady characters flown in to join the festivities. When this leads to a group of particularly nasty pirates taking over the oil rig and threatening to blow it up if anyone tries to stop their oil grab, Oliver foolishly leaps into action, causing the explosives to be detonated. His girlfriend is killed, and his best friend Tommy is badly burned, with the two of them cast adrift at sea.
Before Tommy loses consciousness, he tells Oliver, “I know what you are” and warns that these won’t be the last people Oliver gets killed. The two are separated, and while Oliver eventually returns to civilization, and goes on to use this grim lesson as a teaching moment in becoming a more responsible hero. We later learn that Tommy washed up on some exotic shore, and has been in a coma for years, under the care of a mysterious convent for his horrific burns. As Tommy emerges from his coma, a cloaked feminine figure notes that he shows “potential” and vows to alert her father.
Given the existence of the traditional Merlyn in “Batman Incorporated”, it’s difficult to know what to make of this very different incarnation. One might think that the mysterious woman promising to notify her father about Tommy’s potential could be Talia Al Ghul, given her League of Assassins connections, but she is also appearing in “Batman Incorporated”, and this might prove to be an awkward thread to reconcile. But regardless of whether the two comics incarnations ever come to intersect, it’s clear that the “Arrow” series is already intersecting with the comics, and future storylines may well expand upon that influence even further.
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