A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Friday, February 18, 2005

Don't Try This at Home!

One of the most popular motifs for the "non-powered" superhero is archery; Robin Hood remains an icon and inspiration for comic writers and artists. Sadly, not many of them bother to learn anything about the sport, and it shows. It's like this: I will accept that Green Arrow can shoot an arrow through an ant's ass at 100 yards while swinging from a chandelier, but only if you show me that he knows how to hold a bow. Mike Grell and Scott McCullar get a pass here, being about the only Green Arrow creators to know their way around a bow; likewise Pia Guerra on Y, The Last Man. Everybody else gets it wrong one way or another, the most egregious being Todd Nauck and Peter David for their "Arrowette Goes to the Olympics" storyline in Young Justice a couple of years ago. Even putting aside the obvious absurdities (compound bows are not permitted in the Olympics, men and women shoot in separate competitions), Nauck just flat-out made up every bit of equipment out of his head, and clearly has not the slightest idea what's involved in shooting an arrow. He's at it again in last month's Teen Titans Go! (#14).

To be fair, the worst example of archery in this issue can't be laid at Nauck's pencil. The cover, by Dave Bullock, is the single most laughable example in quite a while. Worse, it falls into the category of "Kids, Don't Try This at Home." If any impressionable children try to shoot their Li'l Chief archery set using this picture as a guide, they are quite likely to injure themselves. I hope DC's liability insurance is paid up.

See how he's holding the arrow onto the bow with his index finger? Never do that. Let me repeat that. Never ever ever under any circumstances should you hold the arrow with your finger. If Speedy shoots that arrow, the next thing the Titans will hear will be his screams of pain. The fletchings (feathers on the back end of the arrow) are going to cut his finger to the bone. It's the mother of all paper cuts. That arrow will be moving at roughly the same speed as a .22 rifle bullet.

The reason he's holding the arrow that way is, he's holding his bow upside down. The bow hand should be thumb-up. The arrow then sits on a little shelf on the side of the bow (depending on the type of bow; some longbows have the arrow rest right on the hand, in which case a glove is absolutely necessary, and not the utterly useless fingerless things Speedy is wearing here). Of course, Speedy's arrow wouldn't fit on an arrow rest anyway, since it's roughly the thickness of a broom handle. A normal arrow is usually somewhere between 3/16" and 3/8" thick. But that's really beside the point. The point is, when Speedy releases that arrow, the string is going to smack him on the forearm and raise a heck of a welt all the way down just before the fleches half-sever his finger. Kids, don't try this at home!

Even if he were to turn his hand upright before he fired, he still would most likely miss whatever he's trying to shoot at, for three reasons:

First, he has the arrow backwards. There are three fletchings on that arrow, and the one that's perpendicular to the bow should be facing away from it. Otherwise, as the arrow passes the bow, the fletch will hit the bow and be thrown sideways a few inches.

Second, He has no rear anchor point. The string hand should actually touch the face. The idea is to put the rear end of the arrow close to the aiming eye (by the way, Speedy is left-handed here and right handed on page one), in a spot that can be repeated consistently. It works like sighting a rifle; there's a front and rear sight. For the bare-bow shooting Speedy does, the front sight is usually the tip of the arrow. The rear end of the arrow is the rear sight, and has to be put in a spot that can be found over and over. The hand hovering six inches away has no reliable anchor and the shooting is necessarily random.

Third, he isn't pulling the string correctly. For a recurve bow, as shown here, one usually uses three fingers to draw the bow, not just two. The string sits comfortably in the groove of the first knuckle, with one finger above the arrow, the other two below. For longbow, which DC Comics bows randomly morph into with alarming regularity, all four fingers are used (longbows take a lot more strength). The thumb stays the hell out of it. The fingers pull back on the string, not the arrow. Pinching the arrow or pulling on it will only mess up the shot.

Once we stop alternately laughing at and cringing from the cover, we get into the comic itself.

On page one, Todd Nauck reveals that he has still not bothered to take a look at an actual bow. The recurve part (the smaller reverse curve at the ends of the bows) is not decorative; it's there to increase the bow's power and accuracy, but only if the string actually connects to the ends of the bow instead of at the base of the curve as shown here. Oh, and once again the arrow is on the wrong side of the bow.

Moving on, we see on page two a repeat of the two-fingered shooting style and complete lack of an anchor point.

For the next several pages, Speedy just carries the bow around, until page 11, when he somehow manages to turn the bow sideways with the arrow on the underside without having it fall to the ground. By the way, can we declare a moratorium on that holding the bow horizontally thing? Nobody shoots that way. It's inaccurate. You will not hit the target if you shoot that way.

Finally, on the second-to-last page, it's time for that tired cliche, shooting three arrows at once. And again, all three arrows are on the wrong side of the bow, all three are backwards (fletchings AWAY from the bow, remember?), and at least one of them isn't on the string at all.

Jim MacQuarrie is an NAA certified archery instructor. Naturally, his arrows are green.

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