Is Green Arrow A Metahuman?
by Nicolas Juzda
I do not know for certain if Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow, was the first archer superhero, but I think that history has shown him to be quite probably the greatest. One can argue whether he or another has the most engaging and multi-faceted personality, the best stories told about him, or the most potential for future stories; his successor Connor Hawke, his protege Roy "Speedy" / "Arsenal" Harper, and Marvel's Clint "Hawkeye" Barton spring to mind as potential rivals in these regards. But in some areas his supremacy is unquestionable; he is the most commercially successful, the longest running, the most important in terms of the genre's history, and (within the fictional context in which he exists) the greatest master of the bow and arrow.
It is to the last of these qualities that I turn my attention, as I ask the question: he was good, yes, but was he too good? Too good to be merely human?
Is Green Arrow a metahuman?
Green Arrow's ability to successfully hit targets under adverse conditions is well-known. This includes a facility with distant targets, small targets, moving targets, and all combinations thereof. He has also been shown to be not particularly encumbered by other adverse conditions, such as bad weather, low light, personal injuries, etc. Though he did miss on rare occasion, these were noteworthy exceptions, usually necessary to the plot, and the general rule was that he was going to hit whatever he was shooting at.
In short, Green Arrow was one bloody good shot.
If memory serves, the original Who's Who series listed Green Arrow as an "Olympic level" archer. This was a fairly common term in the guide, used to indicate that an individual had achieved the maximum human level of ability in a given field.
Green Arrow is not an Olympic level archer. That is to say, he could certainly qualify for the Olympics, but he'd clean everyone's clocks. An Olympic level archer could not make the shots he does, with the consistency he does. I say this as no particular expert, and have consulted none, but I do know this: no Olympic level archer shoots perfectly all the time, or even the vast majority of the time. If they did, the contest would be an endless series of ties, as archer after archer shot dead centre. Bear in mind that the Olympics also do not present their competitors with the range of incidental problems I listed above, which Oliver routinely overcame.
That Who's Who did not adequately describe the dazzling levels of Mr. Queen's abilities is not proof in and of itself that he must be a metahuman. This is true for two reasons. First, because it is entirely possible, indeed almost certain, that even an Olympic champion represents less than the maximum level of achievement possible in a field. Records are constantly being broken, and perhaps one day there will come a competitor who never makes an error.
Every error is avoidable, every target can be hit. It would seem impossible that a man could have the accuracy Green Arrow does, but if every shot he makes is individually possible, at least in theory, then it is not impossible to make them all.
Which brings us to the second reason that simply being better than any human being ever actually has been does not necessitate Oliver Queen being something other than baseline genetic human. In the DC Universe, there are numerous individuals who are depicted as routinely doing the highly improbable, to the point of statistical impossibility. Batman and his associates are the most prominent example. While the vast majority of the stunts the Dark Knight is depicted as doing are not impossible per se, Batman's survival for years full of twenty such stunts a night is so unlikely as to be impossible.
But the DC Universe allows this. In that realm of fiction, the genetically normal human is allowed to push at the outward bounds of human achievement and consistently succeed. If Green Arrow is a metahuman simply because he consistently makes difficult but possible shots, then Batman is a metahuman for winning difficult but possible fights every night, and so is Black Canary, and even Jonah Hex.
I have skirted dangerously close to revealing what a hollow intellectual exercise this all is in my revelation that the DC Universe functions in such a way. But I would call the reader's attention to my emphasis on these feats being possible, albeit unlikely. The DC Universe may allow the rules of probability to be bent, but not the rules of physics to be broken. Not, that is, without the intervention of something that even the DCU must admit is outside the range of humanity, even at its peak.
So, then, we must ask another question. Does Green Arrow have a capacity to make shots that are literally impossible?
The answer that comes to mind is the affirmative, with two key examples.
The first general category of shots that openly defy the laws of our universe are the "bouncing" arrow shots. This trick involves shooting an arrow and having it "bounce" off one or more objects or surfaces before hitting its target.
If one throws a ball with sufficient velocity at a wall, the ball will bounce off the surface and proceed in a similar manner to that in which it flew before the impact. If one shoots an arrow, it does not. Even if one mounts a non-pointed edge on the arrow, so that it does not imbed itself in the wall, it will bounce off while maintaining its original orientation within certain broad parameters. In other words, an arrow that has bounced off an object will not re-align itself so that the head is once again facing in the direction the projectile is moving. The reason the ball may do so is that it is a sphere, and any side can serve as well as any other as front or back.
This appears to me to make the "bouncing" arrow trick manifestly impossible. Once again, I admit to being no expert in archery, and will gladly revise my opinion upon the explanation of someone more knowledgeable than I as to how, precisely, an arrow that has just impacted against a surface can reverse its orientation so that it faces away from said surface when it continues on its way.
The second element of Green Arrow's arsenal of tricks that I believe defies all laws of physics is his so-called trick arrows. These can be divided into two types: those that are aerodynamically sound, and those that are not.
I will readily grant that several of Ollie's arrows fell into the former category. There were flare and sonic arrows that had slightly larger but still apparently pointed heads designed to emit their respective results upon contact. While these arrows would have proven somewhat awkward for the new user, I can accept that Green Arrow would be able to learn to compensate for their increased weight.
A boxing glove is not aerodynamically sound. Neither is a pair of handcuffs. And there are hundreds of other less common arrows in Oliver Queen's arsenal.
If one mounts a boxing glove on the front of an arrow, the entire elegant design of the projectile is irretrievably compromised. The weight would be difficult to adjust to; the design would be impossible.
The aerodynamics of such an arrowhead would cause the arrow to swerve off-course. There really doesn't seem to be any way around this problem that I can see. It's a matter of wind resistance and its distribution over various areas of the arrowhead. In areas where wind resistance is greater, the section drags, which tilts the arrow in flight toward that direction.
Could this be compensated for? Well, assuming that Oliver Queen was so damn good that he knew every one of his various bizarre arrows well enough to know the respective quirks in their design, and assuming that he put each arrow into his bow knowing exactly how he was orienting it, and assuming he could do all the calculations involved in determining where its uneven drag would result in it ending up, including all other variables present in the environment...
He still wouldn't be able to shoot the arrow in a straight line. And, barring the "bouncing" arrow shots alluded to earlier, Ollie was always depicted as shooting in a straight line.
Actually, this is technically impossible even with a normal arrow; gravity and wind must be compensated for, so the archer should slightly aim high and, if necessary, to the side.
So, Oliver Queen's shots defied the laws of physics as we know them.
Does that make him a metahuman? Well, that depends on whether the DC Universe operates under the laws of physics as we know them.
Putting aside magic and psionic abilities which restructure the universe at a fundamental level (such as those possessed by Firestorm), which even in the DCU are acknowledge as breaking the normal laws, what do we know about physics as it is normally known to operate in the DCU? We know that teleportation is possible (Zeta Beams, etc), that faster than light travel is possible, that anti-gravity is possible (Legion flight rings, etc), that time travel is possible (Rip Hunter, etc), that conservation of mass is not necessary (the Atom, etc), that sound can travel in a vacuum, that objects can have a refraction index of zero (Invisible Kid, etc), that... well, that the laws of physics ain't what we have here.
Given that, must me invoke the metagene to explain the relatively minor problems posed by arrows that fly true?
The answer lies in the current JLA comic book. Connor Hawke, the second Green Arrow and one of the most skilled archers alive, had great difficulty employing the arrows of his father. This implies that the ability of a boxing glove to function as a serviceable arrowhead is not simply an accepted fact of life in the DC Universe, but something unique to Oliver Queen.
Before I proceed further, it is necessary to isolate just what metahuman ability Ollie had. I do not think that "superhuman" aim is an adequate description. This would simply allow for an archer to know exactly where an arrow must be pointed in order to achieve the desired result, and thus is functionally the same as the nebulous "Olympic level" of the original Who's Who. Instead, I think that some form of subconscious telekinesis must come into play. Only this would allow Green Arrow to keep an arrow in flight on a straight line when aerodynamics say it should swerve, or to re-orient an arrow such that it manages to "bounce" off a surface.
With that clarification, I will proceed to theorize as to how Ollie acquired this ability. The Silver Age origin of Green Arrow (which, with minor revisions, still stands) has him shipwrecked and developing archery skills to survive. It is clear that prior to his arrival on this island, he had no archery skills to speak of. Therefore, either he learnt on the island to utilize his pre-existing telekinetic powers for archery, or he developed telekinetic powers while on the island, or he in fact actually learned archery on that island and did not develop any super-human abilities until subsequently.
Any of these explanations is plausible. While starvation does not have the catastrophic nature of most metahuman activations ("origins"), it may have been sufficient under the circumstances. Likewise, his time on the island involves nothing extraordinary, even in the battle with pirates (or, in later versions of the tale, smugglers) that concludes his stay. Only upon his return to civilization, and after subsequent adventures that contained both catastrophic danger and exposure to bizarre items (both the stuff of origins beyond count), did he begin to affix random items to his arrowheads.
Before I conclude this treatise, it behooves me to mention the various other archers of the DC Universe. Is Speedy a metahuman as well? Like Ollie, he has "bounced" arrows and used trick arrows. But this was largely done in the presence of Green Arrow, whose telekinetic abilities could have been manipulating the boy's shots as well. Also, unlike Ollie, Roy Harper had trained for many years with the bow, so when not aided by his mentor's mental powers, he could still plausibly have held his own as an "Olympic level" archer. It is worth noting that he has switched to more conventional weapons since his departure from Green Arrow's side. This is not to say that he is not a metahuman, merely that the conclusion is not foregone. Others, such as Connor Hawke, Arrowette, and White Feather, also may or may not be metahumans. I leave it to others to do a comic by comic examination to see whether they can be classified as "Olympic level" or whether they too must be regarded as something more than human.
That all of them may have such a similar metahuman ability is not unprecedented. Look to the Flashes (and other Speedsters) for an example of many similarly endowed metahumans. Indeed, one can go so far as to hypothesize some sort of Arrow Force from which all metahuman archers draw an ability to make shots that no mortal ever should.
Or maybe, just maybe, such hypothesizing as I have been doing is nothing more than a minor way to derive some additional entertainment from source material that is itself above such mundane things. Perhaps not every element of the DC Universe needs to be scrutinized, and we should simply accept the impossible with joy, not questions, in our heart. Maybe Green Arrow can make those shots with these arrows, not because he must be a metahuman, but because it's a comic book, because we don't need to understand why the laws of physics are being broken if we just believe...
Believe a boxing glove arrow can fly.
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This piece is © 2001 by Nicolas Juzda.
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