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John and Carole Barrowman on Writing a New Side to Malcolm Merlyn

Malcolm Merlyn is a pretty enigmatic character on The CW’s Arrow. In one minute we see him as a heartless killer, another we see him as a proud leader of the League of Assassins, and yet another we see him trying to do his best to be a father to Thea. But one thing we don’t get to see on the show is Malcolm’s backstory. Thankfully, John Barrowman and his sister Carole Barrowman decided to remedy that with The Dark Archer comic book series at DC Comics. So when I got the chance to chat with John and Carole about the upcoming eleventh chapter of the series, and finally get some answers on why everyone on Arrow pronounces Ra’s al Ghul’s name differently, as well as talk a bit about Torchwood and Doctor Who, I jumped at the chance.

[For those wondering, there is an actual reason characters pronounce the name Ra’s al Ghul differently, Raysh versus Rahz. Both are correct. Members of the League of Assassins call him Raysh, and those not in the League, rogue former League members, or enemies of the League say Rahz. Using the pronunciation Rahz can actually be used as a form of disrespect. Why is this a thing? According to John, the pronunciation explanation came as a late-in-the-game remedy after the actors weren’t given one consistent way to pronounce his name, and everyone used a different pronunciation. #TheMoreYouKnow]

In the Dark Archer comics, which are written by John and Carole, we get to see Malcolm’s back story in a way that we really haven’t seen anywhere else. John first discovered that there was a huge lack of information on Malcolm’s history while he was researching for his role on Arrow, and decided he and his sister would be the perfect people to fill in the gaps of Malcolm’s origin story. “There’s very little backstory and history there for him.” John explained, “There’s other comic books he’s in and bits and bobs in encyclopedias; there’s also some history that DC has, and I just said to Carole, ‘Why don’t we do something where we write the backstory because it hasn’t been done?’ So I just went to Geoff Johns at DC and I told him we were interested in doing it, my sister was on board, and could we write the Dark Archer comic? And Jeff said thank you for bringing it to him, yes please, go ahead and do it, and that was it! So now we’re DC comic book writers, and we’ve created the history and the backstory for Malcolm Merlyn FOR THE REST OF TIME!”

Malcolm Merlyn


Putting John and Carole on the job makes perfect sense. After all, no one knows Malcolm Merlyn better than John, and the two have worked on a project centering around another of John’s characters, co-wroting a Torchwood novel that focused on John’s character on the show, Captain Jack. The siblings just make a great team–a big reason being that they like to drink, according to John–but as Carole said, having John around was like having a Malcolm Merlyn encyclopedia on hand at all times. Whenever she was stuck, she was always able to call her brother to get clarity on the character to make sure their story stays true to Malcolm. John and Carole have put the work into thinking through the existing information and hashing out who Malcolm is as an individual, whether it’s telling his back story or imagining how Malcolm would interact with the Doctor (for those curious, John thinks Malcolm would beat the crap out of Twelve and yell at him to move faster).

But more than giving us a new glimpse into Malcolm’s younger days, the siblings hope that their comic can help us all see Malcolm Merlyn in a new light. Carole and John have worked really hard to help the fans understand Malcolm as more than just an eccentric rich assassin, “I think the final chapter of the Dark Archer comic that’s going to come out is going to also have a big, wonderful aha moment for fans,” Carol explained. “It’s gonna be one of those moment that reinforces the narcissism of Malcolm, but also his compassion. It’ll put the whole show in a little bit of a different context because of what we know has happened to him.” John even said he’d like to see one-off episodes in every season that focused on Malcolm, similar to what The Walking Dead did with The Governor.

So what can we expect from the final chapter of the comic? They didn’t have much to say, as they didn’t want to spoil it, but as John puts it, “You’re going to pee your pants and run around the room squeeing.” Clearly big things are in store for Malcolm, and this final chapter might finally help us understand what’s going on in his brain.

John Barrowman and Katrina Law

Of course, what will happen to the comic after the final chapter is released is unclear. DC hasn’t yet renewed the series, so it’s possible that the journey into the Dark Archer’s backstory will end very soon. Carole and John aren’t letting that slow them down. In addition to John recording about ten new audio dramas for Torchwood, he and Carole are writing the Torchwood comics for BBC and Titan Comics. I asked if John had any plans to return to Doctor Who as well, I just couldn’t help myself, and he gave me a firm no. “No one’s asked, so the answer is no.” So with no return to the TARDIS in the cards for now (if he’s telling the truth!) and the work on the Torchwood comic only beginning, John and Carole’s main focus remains on finishing out the Dark Archer comic strong, and hopefully helping fans to understand the man behind the Dark Archer mask. They’re also standing at the ready to write scripts should the CW go for John’s one-off Merlyn episode ideas. They say it needs to be done, and as Carole put it, they are, “absolutely ready to do it!”

The Barrowmans definitely don’t mean to excuse any of the evil Malcolm Merlyn has taken a part of on Arrow, but any good villain/reluctant good guy ally has a solid backstory. By showing us where Malcolm has been, it will help us better understand where he is today, and maybe even like him a bit. Even if DC doesn’t renew the comic book series, we’ll still get tons of information we didn’t have before on how Malcolm Merlyn became the man we all know and love/hate today. From what I’ve been able to read of the comic, it’s a fascinating look into the past of this complicated and troubled character that any Arrow fan will enjoy. John’s final words about the comic summed it up better than I could have ever hoped, “Remember, you’ll squee and wee!”

What do you guys think of the Dark Archer comic? Would you like to see a one-off episode about Malcolm and his backstory? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

Image credit: The CW

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