On October 10, American audiences were introduced to the newest attempt to bring super-heroes to television in the form of the CW’s Arrow. While I have yet to see this show, I do find pleasure in the existence of not only the show, but the existence of the archer as a hero archetype. Why could that be a good idea? How could the audiences get invested in some guy who uses a bow and arrow? How good of a hero could he be, after all, when most criminals use weapons much more advanced than a simple bow.
In this age of guns and explosives, it is easy to see why we would appreciate men who can dodge bullets and shrug off tank fire. We can even appreciate men and women who know how to turn their bodies into weapons, circumventing the need for a firearm, as well as men and women who build advanced technology that makes our modern weapons obsolete. Despite all those options, we still enjoy a type of hero that clings to an archaic weapon of the past, with the only adjustment to make it applicable for super-heroics is a collection of special arrowheads.
Why are Hawkeye and Green Arrow along with their protégés such mainstays in comics?
One reason may be that the audience could feel an empathetic connection to the archer and his arrow. Much like modern sniping, the art of archery requires an act of certainty and precision if the target is to be hit. Calculations are made in one’s head on how to compensate for the wind’s change and the distance that must be traveled to hit the target; a brief moment with so much certainty that the choice of the shooter is the right one.
Unlike the modern sniper, however, the archer doesn’t have a scope that they can use. The archer does not have a spotter with which they can rely on to help with their calculations. In this regard, the archer stops being just a man with good aim and becomes akin to Odysseus. Each arrow loosed is a new feat of almost super-human excellence that even the stories of Robin Hood could not attest to.
And that might be the appeal of the archer archetype. Each act of archery is a testament to their nigh super-human prowess and certainty of action. Every shot counts to the heroic archer and you have a sense that they know what action they will perform next and know what they will do. It is interesting that, despite that certainty of action, the archer also seems to be uncertain of themselves, to an almost self-destructive level.
Green Arrow, for instance, was a playboy without purpose until he was forced into practicing archery for survival. He discovered not only the purpose of survival but the purpose of action, even if he has gone astray time and again. Cheating on the love of his life, Black Canary. Abandoning his son Connor when he was born. Throwing Roy Harper out to the street because the former Speedy had a drug problem. All are things he did through a certainty of the moment, but an uncertainty in who he was, as he would always seem to be held back by the man he once was and the man he wanted to be.
Hawkeye was similar in that he was a circus runaway trained in archery as a simple trick to help steal from the patrons. He continued his career as an Iron Man villain and seemed uncertain of himself despite how sure he was in his own actions. Even after he seemed to correct himself by becoming a part of Captain America’s Avengers there have been many times where Hawkeye has gone down a path that demonstrated a lack of certainty in himself. When he lead the Thunderbolts. When he discarded the bow to become Ronin. When he chose Kate Bishop to take the name Hawkeye. Clint Barton was one to surrender his identity as an Avenger on multiple occasions and even his identity as a hero because he was never sure of himself, particularly after his resurrection.
Oftentimes, we see the archer archetype as an emulation of the legend of Robin Hood, a hero of the people and for the people, representing their will and striking out against tyranny. That is a definite sentiment in the jovial nature of both Hawkeye and particularly Green Arrow, but I believe that Odysseus serves as a much more suitable model for them still. Not just because of their display of accuracy in archery, but also because of the internal odyssey the characters go through to find themselves.
Although, another reason the archer is such a prevalent super-hero archetype may not necessarily be as complicated as the acknowledgment of an internal struggle of character. People may enjoy archers for a similar reason they enjoy Batman and Captain America. The art of archery is an ancient one that requires years of practice to perfect. It is why a man who adamantly adheres to the practice of bow-hunting feels such joy in catching his prey. It is the effort and dedication to one’s craft that we can appreciate and understand.
The ideal of the self-made man has always been a strong backing behind the mainstream appeal of Batman and through extension the success of Green Arrow on Smallville and Hawkeye in the Avengers. Yes they can use a gun, but to have faith in an arrow is to show you have faith in your skills. The audience can sense that confidence and enjoys watching those displays of showmanship, as if the archer is carrying their utility belt in hand at all times.
Perhaps I enjoy the archer for all these reasons. I look to them for a more humanistic sense of internal struggle while enjoying the catharsis of the bow through the skill of its archer. Whatever the reason is for my love of the archer archetype I will continue to enjoy them. Whether I enjoy reading the latest issue of Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye series or even my inevitable watching of the new Arrow series on the CW I hope to see the continued progression of these sure shot Robin Hoods of the urban forest.