What Could Have Been: The CW’s Unproduced Arrowverse Shows by Jerry Whitworth
When Arrow made its television debut in 2012, no one knew it would explode into what became the Arrowverse (or the CWverse) with the Flash, Constantine, Vixen, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, Freedom Fighters: The Ray, Black Lightning, Batwoman, Stargirl, Superman & Lois, and Naomi (not to mention all the connections made through Crisis on Infinite Earths). However, with the establishment of HBO Max, it seems its time is quickly coming to an end as recent attempts to continue to grow the brand have mostly collapsed while the streaming service picked up Doom Patrol, Titans, Peacemaker, Green Lantern, Strange Adventures, Justice League Dark, Constantine, and an untitled Gotham PD project (as Netflix plays with Lucifer and Sandman). Before the CW gives up being the superhero channel to whatever form it will take next (undoubtedly featuring young, attractive people that make poor decisions), lets take a look at what shows almost joined the Arrowverse/CWverse but didn’t make it to television.
Back when Smallville was a monster hit for the WB, there were a number of attempts to develop a universe of accompanying superhero shows. Birds of Prey made it to television, Aquaman made it to pilot, and a Green Arrow spin-off eventually morphed into Arrow. While executives were trying to decide if Justin Hartley would get his own Green Arrow show before opting to begin fresh, Deadman was being developed for the CW. Supernatural creator Eric Kripke, whose aforementioned show became the CW’s longest running series, was tasked with bringing the project to life, so to speak. In the comics, Deadman was Boston Brand, a trapeze artist murdered during a performance stuck in the Deadman costume he wore at the time of his demise as an Earthbound ghost. Returned to life as a disembodied spirit by the goddess Rama Kushna to seek justice for his death, Deadman had the ability to inhabit and control the bodies of the living. Over the years, Deadman has been connected to the Batfamily in various ways including Deadman’s murderer Hook performing the deed as an initiation into the League of Assassins and Dick Grayson’s father being a fan and friend of Deadman prior to founding the Flying Graysons family of trapeze artists (Nightwing’s first costume retroactively a variation of the one his father wore that was based on Deadman’s suit). While Deadman was being developed independently of Arrow, chances are had it made it to air, a crossover between the brands may have been inevitable.
Smallville told the story of a young Superman while 2014’s Gotham focused on the youth of Batman but in between those series was one similarly planned for Wonder Woman called Amazon from writer Allan Heinberg. No stranger to television, the success of 1966’s Batman saw its showrunner try to tackle the Themysciran princess in Who’s Afraid of Diana Prince? before Batman scribe Stanley Ralph Ross helped adapt the character for her 1975 TV series. Since then, attempts were made in 1990 around the time Warner Bros. Television developed The Flash and Human Target and 2011 when famed producer David E. Kelley had a TV pilot filmed starring Adrianne Palicki in the title role (Kelley managed to bring some semblance of his vision to television eventually when Erica Durance of Smallville fame donned the costume for his show Harry’s Law). 2012 saw development of Amazon at the CW with teases of an inevitable crossover with Arrow. However, after numerous delays and Wonder Woman’s emergence in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the show was killed (as Heinberg went on to write the script for 2017’s Wonder Woman feature film).
Based on the success of Arrow and amid development of Amazon and the Flash, 2013 saw the creator of the Ironside reboot Michael Caleo tasked with bringing Golden Age hero Hourman to the small screen at the CW. Blending various elements of the character’s mythos together, the show was built around pharmaceutical analyst Rex Tyler plagued by visions of the future. Choosing to use his ability to witness tragedies an hour before they occur to save lives, Tyler became the hero Hourman and work to reunite with his ex-wife and son. In the comics, Tyler also employed a drug called Miraclo to have superhuman capabilities for an hour of time. Hourman was developed independently of the aforementioned CW shows so it may have not necessarily crossed over but being on the same network, it would have been surprising if it did not at some point (especially when you consider Constantine, Lucifer, and Supergirl were at other networks but became tied to the Arrowverse in varying degrees). Versions of Hourman inevitably appeared in Legends of Tomorrow and Stargirl.
When the Suicide Squad was introduced in the second season of Arrow, the concept proved popular with fans and returned time and again over the run of the show. In 2014, talks emerged of spinning the Squad into its own series while the Flash was still in development. However, the response to the Squad proved so big, it was decided instead to develop it as a feature film with David Ayer hired to write and direct set in the DC Extended Universe. With the release of the motion picture in 2016, its failure allowed a version of the Squad to return to Arrow as the so-called Ghost Initiative. Today, James Gunn wrote and directed a sequel to the movie to be released this summer with an accompanying television series in Peacemaker coming to HBO Max.
Since the first season of Arrow, Kord Industries was teased. A tech company run by Ted Kord, the character was slated to be a massive component of the third season of Arrow as a rival for Oliver Queen in business, love, and justice as the superhero Blue Beetle. However, the long laid plans for the character were uprooted when the show’s producers were told other designs were in place elsewhere for the property and suggested the Atom as an alternative. This development lead to Brandon Routh joining the series as the Atom Ray Palmer largely sliding into stories that would have been around Kord. Seeing the Atom employed as something of an Iron Man stand-in then makes more sense if you consider the character likely would’ve worn armor like the Jaime Reyes iteration of Blue Beetle in Arrow. Ultimately, Blue Beetle became the Atom and while there’s no concrete evidence this would’ve lead to a Blue Beetle series, a lot of groundwork was laid for the character to become a major component of the emerging Arrowverse. It should be noted, a television series based on the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle was in development around the same time as Arrow and a test clip was produced with stuntman Garrett Plotkin in the role of the character. The clip was released to the world as a DC Nation short on Cartoon Network.
As noted, two seasons of build-up for Blue Beetle resulted in the addition of the Atom Ray Palmer in the third season of Arrow with Brandon Routh in the role. Further, given the development of the character and how in many ways it operated outside the themes of Arrow, the concept effectively begged for a spin-off. In the wake of the success of Arrow and the Flash that came out of it, the CW was eyeing growing the brand with rumors the Atom was high on the list. Of course, instead, the CW opted to produce Legends of Tomorrow teaming various characters from their two superhero shows (including the Atom) and picked up Supergirl from CBS.
The Terminator Slade Wilson, Deathstroke emerged in flashbacks of Arrow‘s first season as an ally and mentor of Oliver Queen before becoming his nemesis in the second season. Save one appearance, the character was predominantly absent from the show until the end of the fifth season when he was redeemed as an ally again emerging a handful of times in the season that followed. Largely, Deathstroke’s absence after season six was attributed to the character’s appearance in 2017’s Justice League movie intended to set Slade up as Batman’s enemy in the Dark Knight’s upcoming film. However, prior to the decision to put Deathstroke in Justice League, the character’s Arrow actor Manu Bennett discussed plans to spin-off into his own television series. Wanting a TV-MA rating with the character as an anti-hero for the late night crowd, the concept was squashed with Slade’s cinematic appearance. Deathstroke later emerged as the primary villain of the second season of Titans and CW Seed produced the animated series Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons (which was initially unclear if it was part of the Arrowverse but proved to be an original project).
Throughout Arrow, references to Hub City occasionally appeared in the series. Home to Vic Sage, the faceless hero the Question, there was a desire to bring the character into the show at some point over its run. However, by 2017, showrunner Marc Guggenheim admitted plans to introduce the Question and possibly transition to his own series was off the table because he was set to appear on the big screen. In the comics, Vic Sage was a journalist that employed a substance called Pseudoderm to make him appear to have no face which he used as the hard hitting vigilante the Question. Primarily, the character came to be known for his activism in politics and philosophical debates originally under Dennis O’Neil but throughout his existence hence forth. In 2019, the Question mantle passed to ex-Gotham police officer Renee Montoya until the New 52 turned the Question into a mysterious mystical entity associated with the Phantom Stranger and Pandora as the Trinity of Sin. That reinvention was later abandoned for another version of Vic Sage as a government agent.
Around the time Superman & Lois and Stargirl were in development, rumors emerged that Booster Gold was another property being eyed for television. Arrowverse executive producer Greg Berlanti has allegedly pushed to produce the series since before Arrow and rumor has it his script was reworked to join the other CW shows with support from other notable figures behind the scenes. However, in the ensuing years, no more word of the program has emerged. Booster Gold is Michael Jon Carter, a distinguished quarterback in the 25th century until a scandal ruined his career and saw him reduced to working as a security guard at a museum. Housing such treasures as a Legion of Super-Heroes flight ring and Brainiac 5’s force field belt, Carter chose to steal the technology and journey to the late 20th century via Rip Hunter’s Time Bubble to become a corporate-sponsored superhero. However, along the way, he blossomed into a true hero. Brainiac 5 and the Legion have been a notable presence on Supergirl and Rip Hunter founded the Legends on Legends of Tomorrow (retroactively, Booster was made Rip’s father in the comics).
With Arrow creeping towards its end, an effort was made to keep the show going with Green Arrow and the Canaries. Introduced in season seven via flashforwards, Mia Queen was the daughter of Green Arrow and Felicity Smoak that picked up her father’s bow and legacy in the future. The second to final episode of Arrow was “Green Arrow & The Canaries,” a backdoor pilot where Dinah Drake and Laurel Lance were displaced through time to join Mia as the new Green Arrow to protect Star City. So confidant was executive producer Marc Guggenheim in the series, he commissioned a poster for the series drawn by Emanuela Lupacchino. Sadly, the show was not picked up with the global viral pandemic primarily blamed for the loss.
By the end of 2020, news broke that in addition to Green Arrow and the Canaries, three additional Arrowverse/CWverse series were in development in Wonder Girl, Painkiller, and Naomi. For Wonder Girl from producer Dailyn Rodriguez of Queen of the South fame, the series would have centered around Yara Flor, a character that had not even appeared in print yet and was only announced as a concept to the public a month prior to the show’s announced development. Several Wonder Girls have emerged over the years, originally a teenage Wonder Woman and later Donna Troy and Cassie Sandsmark, all heroines of European descent that have generally had straight sexual orientation. The proposed Yara Flor was Latina and LGBTQ+ which offered notable diversity to the line-up. Earlier versions of Wonder Girl appeared in the Wonder Woman television series and Titans.
As noted, while Green Arrow and the Canaries was still under consideration, Wonder Girl, Painkiller, and Naomi were in development. Painkiller was a character introduced in the first season of Black Lightning and has been a considerable part of the show throughout its run. Therein, student Khalil Payne matriculated at Principal Jefferson Pierce’s high school that dated Black Lightning’s daughter Jennifer before being turned into a killing machine by series’ big bad Tobias Whale and the U.S. government. Alternating between ally and foe to the show’s heroes, the final season hosted a backdoor pilot for the character in the episode “Painkiller.” Rumor has it the series is still being considered for HBO Max.
Honorable mention: Metropolis on DC Universe.