It became obvious to any Arrow fan that some changes to the formula were under way following the shocking mid-season 3 finale, but the first tease of what's on its way is more puzzling than expected. It was assumed that the rest of the show's cast would take a larger part in the spotlight given Oliver's upcoming absence, but it seems the showrunners are taking the opportunity to introduce more DC Comics characters.
A new report from CBR claims that Marc Singer (Beastmaster, V) will be joining the series as 'General Matthew Shrieve' beginning with Episode 14, with a recurring role thereafter. Besides the chance to see yet another sci-fi/fantasy face join The CW's shared universe, the character will be familiar to fans of the comics - a fact that Warner Bros. TV apparently calls out in their official character description:
In the DC Comics, Matthew Shrieve is the leader of a group known as the Creature Commandos. In 'Arrow' he will play a significant role in the latter portion of the season's flashback storyline.
This season's "flashback storyline" has centered primarily on Oliver's exploits as an ARGUS recruit/captive in Hong Kong, slowly but surely acquiring more of his lethal skills and training. Having another military official enter that plot isn't out of the ordinary, but without Oliver handling starring duties, it seems an odd choice to keep the flashbacks centered on his character. When combining this casting with other details on the season's second half, some potential plans start to form.
For starters, it's still a stretch for fans to expect to see the aforementioned Creature Commandos in their most iconic (but admittedly outdated) incarnations. Created by J.M. DeMatteis and Pat Broderick in the "Weird War Tales" comic series, the squad - officially known as Project M - began as a World War II era superteam of classic movie monster super-soldiers, led by Lieutenant Matthew Shrieve. The battlefield effectiveness of a Werwolf, Vampire, Gorgon and Frankenstein's Monster-esque resurrected man is debatable, but fit the series' title perfectly.
Even if the overwhelming success of the Arrow/Flash crossover may have the writers reconsidering their plan of keeping superpowers out of Starling City, the chances of seeing those Commandos in live action are slim. That being said, you don't pick a military man like Shrieve out of thin air - and the newer take on the Commandos may be a better place to look for those hungry for speculation on what the next stage of Arrow may introduce.
A new version of the Commandos was introduced in the pages of "Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E." as part of DC's New 52 relaunch. The comic follows Frankenstein (the name adopted by Frankenstein's actual monster) as he is appointed the leader of S.H.A.D.E.'s (Super-Human Advanced Defense Executive) special ops team, consisting of less... fantastical versions of the predecessors.
Soldiers Warren Griffith and Vincent Velcoro volunteered to have their physiology adapted to that of a werewolf and vampire, respectively. Add in a 'Swamp Thing'-esque scientist and a reanimated corpse, and an experimental strike team becomes a bit more plausible (in a universe where metahuman threats are a weekly occurrence).
But the most telling aspect of the New 52 series is the brilliant DC character who made a surprising appearance in its pages: Ray Palmer, formerly The Atom, and currently being played by Brandon Routh on Arrow.
As the mind behind much of S.H.A.D.E.'s clandestine technology and scientific discoveries, Palmer's role in the formation and advancement of the organization (its chief science advisor) may be yet another hint that Arrow's upcoming episodes will place a larger emphasis on the character (not to mention his plans for the A.T.O.M. exosuit).
If that's truly the case, is it possible that it may be Palmer - not Oliver - who stars in the show's upcoming flashback sequences? Some backstory would certainly help clarify the head of Palmer Technologies' motivations. At this point, viewers can be sure of two things: that Palmer's role in the events of Starling are about to get a lot more obvious, and that there's more to him than meets the eye.
Whether that means a flashback that focuses on the formation of S.H.A.D.E. and Palmer's role in its technology (that would certainly explain his meteoric rise to the top of the field) or simply an added layer of intrigue to the ARGUS/Omega plot is anyone's guess. At this point, Palmer could emerge as a hero, a villain, or even seek out Deathstroke's mirakuru-laced blood on behalf of S.H.A.D.E., and we wouldn't be surprised.
The previous season of Arrow managed to donate plenty of time to a small-screen version of the Suicide Squad, and fans didn't complain in the slightest. So even if Oliver Queen may be taking some time off, that leaves room for Black Canary's introduction, or Palmer's adoption of the A.T.O.M. identity.
But that's all set in the present tense. It's still possible to see the flashback sequences keep Oliver's presence felt in each episode, but at this point, a refreshing change to that subplot is more than warranted. Singer's version of 'Matthew Shrieve' may be a confirmation that a change of direction is in store - or that a larger role for Routh on The CW is possible - but at this point, anyone's guess is as good as ours.
What do you think of our theory? Would you like to see Routh take a larger role in this season of Arrow, or do you hope to see Oliver reclaim his role as the central character sooner rather than later? Share your thoughts (and theories) in the comments.
Arrow will return on Wednesday, January 21, with "Left Behind" @8pm on The CW.
Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce for updates on Arrow as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.