Features

Building A Better Superhero

In its quest to bring ''Arrow'' to the small screen, The CW researched everything viewers wanted from the series — including the shape of the star's jawline. Now seven months in, the breakout hit has only gotten better, as the creators strive to craft the perfect superhero for our times.

It's the morning after election day , and pop culture's newly anointed superhero is in the gym battling an evil more daunting than any supervillain: Man boobs..

Wearing a Toronto Blue Jays cap and black Nikes, Stephen Amell, who plays the titular archer on The CW's Arrow, explains to a trainer at the gym not far from his Vancouver apartment exactly what he needs to accomplish during today's workout: ''I have to be shirtless every week for my TV show,'' says the actor, 31. ''I don't want to get bigger in the chest. On screen, that can look like boobs.''

Over the next hour, the Toronto native pushes himself through a workout so grueling it would discourage anyone from becoming a superhero or an actor. Hanging leg lifts. Overhead squats. Dead lifts. Side-plank push-ups. Medicine-ball push-ups. Front rollout with barbell. Rowing machine. Running. More. And again. By the end, he looks shelled and pale. Asked if he feels ready to go to the set and beat up some bad guys, Amell says, ''Actually, I feel like I have to barf.''

At least Amell can say it's worth the pain in his abs: Arrow has hit the bull's-eye for The CW, averaging 3.8 million viewers weekly (including DVR playback) and making him into a certifiable TV star after a slow-burn rise with guest stints on Private Practice and Hung. He plays Oliver Queen, once the prick playboy of Starling City, now a haunted, hooded paladin bent on liberating his hometown from a conspiracy of leechy richies responsible for the death of his father. Perhaps most impressive about Arrow is how it has evolved and improved through trial and error, and by responding to audience feedback. A show that initially grabbed us — and then, frankly, began to bore us — by being a comic-book gloss on Revenge has blossomed into an emotionally resonant, Lost-style epic about the nature of heroism. ''The arc writ large over the first two seasons of the show for Oliver is moving him from vendetta to vigilante to hero,'' says executive producer Marc Guggenheim. ''Plotting that trajectory requires us to expand Oliver's scope and field of vision.''

No one is more thrilled by Arrow's transformation than its star. ''I like where we're headed,'' says Amell, who describes himself as a ''competitive, very competitive'' guy, always agitating for bigger and better from his franchise. ''I went back recently and watched our fifth episode, and I liked it. But it's nothing compared to what we're doing now. It feels like a completely different show.''

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