A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Monday, August 15, 2005

Green Arrow's Specialty Arrows

Green Arrow Secret Files & Origins

Eliot R. Brown has established himself as the go-to guy for "realistic" (or at least plausible) diagrams and explanations of superhero equipment. Sadly, in his Green Arrow Secret Files & Origins piece, he really drops the ball.

Most of his diagrams look pretty good (except the bow, but we'll get to that), but it all falls apart in the text, mostly because he didn't do any research into archery terminology or techniques. Examples, beginning with the most trivial and proceeding to escalate in importance:

Thoughout the article, he refers to arrows being "notched." The word he's looking for is "nocked." Similarly, he consistently refers to bows being "pulled." Bows are not pulled, they are drawn. Archers speak of a bow's "draw weight;" they do not say things like "a custom pull of 125 pounds." Aside from the erroneous use of "pull" there is the question of what a "custom pull" might be. But that is the least of the problems with the bow description.

As I said, the various trick arrows sound mostly plausible, and fall well within the bounds of "suspension of disbelief:" that is, we'll all agree that they'll work, simply because they have to work for the sake of the story. The bow described here does not pass the test, simply because a real bow would perform better than the ones that Brown has made up out of thin air. Listen up...

"A traditional bow of the gentle recurve type, 46" overall. Constructed of maple hardwood with rosewood handle, the limbs are laminated fiberglass and are very quick with a custom pull of 125 pounds."

The accompanying illustration shows what appears to be a one-piece bow, but the text clearly describes a "takedown" bow, or in other words a bow that can be taken apart for storage. But that's just the beginning of our problems here.

"A traditional bow of the gentle recurve type"-- There's no such thing. There are traditional bows and there are recurves, and never the twain shall meet. A recurve bow has the reversed curve at the ends, a traditional does not. Aside from that, there's no such thing as a "gentle recurve" bow. It's either a recurve or it isn't. "Gentle recurve" is analagous to "sort of pregnant." Which leads to the next problem...

"46" overall"-- No way. When my daughter was 8 years old, she shot a 54" bow. Now, there are some short bows, but they would be more like the mongolian horseman's bow, with a VERY deep string height (distance from string to handle). A normal recurve would have a string height of around 9 to 10 inches, while a horseman's bow might be 12"; Mr. Brown shows us a bow with a height of about 1".

Let's do some geometry, shall we? An average archer's draw length (distance from nock to arrow rest at full draw) is 29", which is the length at which bow weights are calculated (add or subtract two pounds for each inch longer or shorter). I think we can all agree that Ollie is above average. I would estimate his draw length at 30 to 32" (the longest draw length I've ever seen is 36", which is the longest arrow shaft one can buy without having them custom made, and that guy is very tall with disproportionately long arms). We'll go with 30" which is about right for a six foot tall guy, and it makes for nice round numbers.

Now, the bow is said to be 46" tall. The riser (handle) is not flexible, and it would normally be 24" tall, but we'll agree that this one is 16", again, just for the sake of round numbers. That leaves us with 30" for the limbs, or 15" each, which is about 6-8" short of what a normal limb should be. The problem now is that the string is normally 3 to 4 inches shorter than the bow, which is what causes it to be curved in the first place. Since this is supposed to be a "gentle" recurve, let's say that we have a 44" string. Okay?

Now, remember Pythagoras? The guy who prattled on about triangles? He's about to bother us a lot. Suppose Ollie draws his bow; He needs to extend it to the point that the back of the arrow (on the string) ends up 30" away from the point where the arrow sits on the bow. Here's an illustration:

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Notice that as the bow is drawn the limbs bend and the string forms an angle roughly equal to about half the distance from nock to handle. Hmm. The string is only 44" long, so that only gives us 22" on each side of the arrow. What angle will that string have to be at in order to reach 15" (half the draw length)? Are those tiny limbs going to be able to reach the other 15"? I don't think so. The bow described here can't possibly have a draw length of more than about 20" and it certainly can't have a draw weight of 125 pounds.

If that's not bad enough, Brown then goes on to describe an "impromptu bow":

"This impromptu bow, made of found components, uses a table leg for the handle-riser system and a spring steel center surrounded by a segmented armor sheath for the limbs. Pull is estimated at around 80 pounds."

Say what?

If I were going to improvise a bow, I certainly wouldn't try to create a takedown one. A one-piece bow would be a lot simpler and might actually work. Find a 6 foot piece of a straight, long-grain wood such as maple or ash, build up a handle out of duct tape, and braid a string out of dental floss, and you're set. Certainly a lot easier than scrounging up lengths of "spring steel...surrounded by a segmented armor sheath", which is just the sort of thing everybody has lying around their house. For that matter, why bother with the armor segments? They add nothing to the bow's operation at all. A length of steel roughly an inch wide and 1/8" thick would make a pretty good impromptu bow.

But then, the rest of Green Arrow Secret Files & Origins is chock full of material for me to write about. That ridiculous first story by Judd Winick, for example. Unlike the subjects of my previous posts, in that story all the fault lies with the writing rather than the art. But that's for another time.

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