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Super-archers

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Comic-book publishers were scrambling to create new costumed crime fighters in the wake of Superman's instantaneous success in Action Comics #1 (June 1938). Since the wildly popular Errol Flynn movie The Adventures of Robin Hood was attracting long lines at the box office during that summer, the notion of pitting a contemporary bowman against villains armed with guns was too good for comics creators to ignore


Centaur Publications struck the first bull's eye with the Arrow, comics' original super-archer—and the first costumed hero to appear in print after Superman. Bowing in Funny Pages (September 1938), the Arrow, written and drawn by Paul Gustavson, mixed the archery motif of Robin Hood with the mystique of pulp hero the Shadow. The Arrow was a masked enigma—even the readers weren't privy to his identity. His adventures routinely pitted him against thugs and deviants, whom he would disable, and sometimes even destroy, with a well-aimed arrow and absolutely no compunction. The Arrow graduated into his own title in October 1940, where he was unmasked—for readers—and revealed to be a United States federal agent named Ralph Payne. Removing the mystery around the hero also removed his appeal, and The Arrow was canceled after its third issue.


Fawcett Comics' Golden Arrow was the next super-archer, drawing aim in Whiz Comics #2 (February 1940). Raised by a prospector in the 1940s American West, Golden Arrow was actually Roger Parsons, who became a master bowman to avenge the murder of his parents. Golden Arrow was far from the traditional costumed crusader: He dressed in nondescript garb and wore no mask. Nonetheless, he continued to target criminals throughout comics' Golden Age (1938–1954), appearing both in Whiz and in six issues of his own title. Three months after Golden Arrow's debut, Quality Comics premiered its own super-archer, the Spider—in a strip titled Alias the Spider—in Crack Comics #1 (May 1940). Dressed in a vibrant yellow shirt and blue tights, the Spider, secretly wealthy playboy Tom Hallaway, took crime prevention into his own hands as a bowman whose quiver contained a spider seal arrow he fired into the hands of gun-wielding mobsters.


The next super-archer of note was the first uniformed villain to challenge Superman: the Archer, who appeared in Superman #13 (November–December 1941). This rogue was a green-clad, masked assassin, piercing victims' hearts with perfectly aimed shafts. Once Superman caught him, the Archer was revealed as a big-game hunter who admitted, I thought hunting human beings would prove more profitable! While the Arrow and Golden Arrow may have impressed comics readers, the Archer missed the mark, his weapons seeming trivial against the superhero who was more powerful than a locomotive.


Appearing concurrently with the Archer was DC's Green Arrow, inarguably comics' best-known bowman. First seen in More Fun Comics #73 (1941), GA was more than DC's answer to Robin Hood: He was a clone of the publisher's own Batman! Behind his domino mask and emerald costume was millionaire playboy Oliver Queen. Living with Queen was a young ward named Roy Harper, who fought alongside his mentor as the superhero sidekick Speedy. While most adult superheroes first established themselves as solo crime fighters before adopting sidekicks, Green Arrow and Speedy debuted as a team. This dynamic duo was headquartered in an Arrow Cave, drove an Arrow Car, took to the air in an Arrow Plane, and relied upon an amazing arsenal—not gadget-filled utility belts like Batman and Robin used, but quivers brimming with regular and trick shafts: the boomerang arrow, the boxing-glove arrow, the super-sensitive-sonar arrow, even a fountain-pen arrow!


Despite their lack of originality, Green Arrow and Speedy commanded a long-running presence in comics: They survived the 1950s, the decade when most superheroes disappeared from print, and the 1960s, when GA joined the Justice League of America and Speedy hooked up with the Teen Titans. Green Arrow was reinvented in 1970: Queen lost his fortune and became a bearded leftist, using his tongue more frequently than his bow in a series of critically acclaimed adventures with Green Lantern. This relevant take on GA made him one of DC's most popular characters throughout the 1970s, but by the mid-1980s he was overhauled again, beginning in a miniseries entitled Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters. Queen was now a grizzled vigilante, not unlike the original super-archer, the Arrow. The character died in the mid-1990s and was succeeded as Green Arrow by his bowman son Connor Hawke. Speedy, no longer a teen sidekick, matured into his own as Arsenal, firing concussive arrows among a varied cache of weapons. In 2001 the 1970s version of Green Arrow was resurrected from the dead in a new monthly series, originally written by filmmaker Kevin Smith (Dogma, Chasing Amy). Curiously, in his lengthy career, Green Arrow has encountered a variety of adversaries, but has never developed a recognizable rogues' gallery or even a signature villain.


The other major super-archer of note is Marvel Comics' hotheaded bow-slinger Hawkeye. Beginning with his first appearance in Tales of Suspense #57 (1964), ace sideshow marksman Clint Barton set his sights on becoming a superhero, but got shafted when the police misinterpreted his actions. After flirting with a life of crime alongside the Russian spy called the Black Widow, Hawkeye salvaged his reputation and joined Marvel's mightiest superteam in The Avengers #16 (1965). Hawkeye's quiver is loaded with an array of trick arrows, but instead of the preposterous weapons in Green Arrow's employ, Vibranium arrows, stun-arrows, and other scientifically enhanced barbs help this Avenger in his war on crime. Readers have followed Hawkeye through myriad Marvel team books including The Defenders, West Coast Avengers, and Thunderbolts. Unlike Green Arrow, Hawkeye has hit the mark less often as a solo player, with two limited series in 1983 and 1994 and an ongoing one starting in 2003 that fans may or may not embrace long-term. However, his impulsiveness and staunch loyalty to his teammates will no doubt save him a place in readers' affections whichever comic he lands in.


Other super-archers have come and gone, from White Feather in DC's superhero parody The Inferior Five to the Amazon Artemis in the pages of Wonder Woman and the grim-and-gritty Shaft in Rob Liefeld's Youngblood. Marvel's Bullseye may not shoot arrows, but he throws any object with deadly force and accuracy. In the 2000s archery is depicted in fantasy comic books like CrossGen's Sojourn, but as real-life science creates technologically astounding weaponry, superhero stories, which have always been required to stay one step ahead of reality, have begun to steer away from the traditional bowmanship inspired by Robin Hood. One exception to this rule is Arrowette, an adolescent archer first seen in Impulse #28 (1997), who later joined the teen team Young Justice. —ME

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