Battling Bowmen

Hawkeye, Green Arrow, Robin Hood, William Tell, the Golden Age/Malibu Arrow, Artemis, Rob Liefeld's Shaft, Legolas, Link... This is a big year for the archer superhero. Hawkeye is starring in one of the best series on the stands AND was recently played by the ubiquitous Jeremy Renner in Marvel's movies. And Green Arrow is finally, I think, on track with Jeff Lemire at the helm, and a hit TV series on the small screen. And isn't that Hunger Games chick an archer too? So what is it about archers that fascinates writers and audiences alike? What part of ourselves does the trope tap into?

On the surface, the archer hero is simply Batman with a more limited/specialized skill set. And indeed, that's how Green Arrow was originally played, complete with an Arrowmobile, a kid sidekick and an international Green Arrow club of heroes. TV's Arrow isn't too far from the dark night avenger either. But the archer is, and should be, a different animal altogether, even if his motivation may mirror the Bat's, or whether he uses non-lethal "trick" arrows (the equivalent of a utility belt) or the sharp, deadly kind.

Accuracy is what distinguishes the archer from other hero types. The Batman is accurate with his weaponry, of course, but the archer hero is superhumanly accurate. He (or she, I don't mean to slight TV's Speedy, or Arrowette, or Shado, or any other female archer) is allowed to do the impossible when it comes to his weapon of choice, and often relishes doing so. We respond to the incredible focus such a character must have because most of us are just a little obsessed with accuracy, aren't we? Whether it be trying to win a giant teddy bear at a fair or just throwing paper balls into a waste paper basket, we've all experienced the slight agony of the miss, and the sweet exhilaration of the bullseye. Many sports have an element of accuracy - goals and nets and inside certain lines - and many games do too. Imagine being Hawkeye: How much would you rock at pool or darts?

Highly-trained humans acting as superheroes aren't out of our grasp, but a generalist like the Batman might be. But pick up a bow and practice enough, you could be Green Arrow. Well, that name's taken, but perhaps another color? And though we might never reach that level of skill, it's still recognizable SKILL, and like watching any athlete or circus performer, you can't help but admire that very special trick shot. If I again return to Batman (he's the baseline "human" hero, after all), detective work, stealth or even punching as shown in most comics aren't really spectator sports. But it takes showmanship to be an archery hero. And we appreciate showmanship, that we do.


Martin Gray said...

Nice piece. I like archers because I associate them with dashing Errol Flynn's Robin Hood, the devil-may-care thing is very attractive.

Anonymous said...

Part of it too, at least for me, is that archery is something of a lost skill: our ancestors used bows to survive, but most people today wouldn't know how to use one. Even such archers as we have today tend to use these compound bows with pulleys, counterweights, and sights calibrated for a variety of ranges -- more efficient to be sure, but it feels like something primal has been lost.

So I say yer Green Arrows and Hawkeyes don't just tap into the historical, they tap into the primal.

By the way, you too can make a workable albeit crappy bow for maybe $25, with materials from a hardware store. Get a six foot length of 1" PVC, slap on PVC caps at each end, put a few fibreglass driveway marker poles in there for added strength, and tie a string (parachute cord works fine) from one end to the other. Congratulations, you have a bow. Now add an arrow rest (I use an angle bracket covered in duct tape) and a handle (PVC insulation + duct tape) and it's ready to go, and it's probably about as high quality as most "real" bows throughout human history.

Siskoid said...

Some great points, guys.

And it sounds like you've already made your own bow, Anon. Watch where you point that thing!

SallyP said...

This is very well put indeed. Batman is a bit out of reach, but Green Arrow or Hawkeye isn't. Or Mia.

Dang, I miss Mia.

Anonymous said...

Siskoid: not to worry, I only shoot people who are really Skrulls. I'm very careful about that.


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