Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Archery Comics!

Comics writer Warren Ellis released 4 one-shot comics in 2004 asking the question what would comics look like if they hadn't been overtaken by superheros so completely? Comics grew out of the old pulp magazines, so he used old pulp genres. There was a detective story, a science fiction story, an aviation story[1] and an old-school pulp-mystery hero along the lines of The Shadow or Doc Savage story, all released under the fictional Apparat comics line.

Now he's releasing a number of one-shot comics under the Apparat line. Crécy is the first. As might be imagined it's a story of the battle of Crécy, from the viewpoint of one of the archers, William of Stoneham. There's less chivalry and "let the boy win his spurs" and more rain, sausages made from horse's arseholes and swearing, and, especially, more longbows.

Now as every good English schoolboy knows, the crossbow is not even in the same league as the long bow. A trained archer fires 10 arrows a minute, while some Italian with a bodged together machine will be lucky to get off 2 in that time. Like so many things all good English schoolboys know, and as Crécy details, this isn't true. The Genoese were professionals with well-maintained weapons, and hooks on their belts to cock the crossbow in one smooth standing-up motion. Seven and a half bolts a minute, and man-sized pavise shields to reload behind, so they are invulnerable to arrows. Longbowmen aren't invincible when their opponents are invulnerable.

After a history lesson as obscene as it's fascinating the English win the battle. I expect Ellis intended this to be part of an imaginary history or medieval war comic genre. But I can't help thinking of an imaginary archery-comic genre. Robin Hood and William Tell fill in for Superman and Batman; Wonder Woman is an amazon, so give her a bow and she's good to go. Legolas has a spin-off comic from Lord of the Rings (which has more archery in it). Archery-heroes with the names like Apollo and Artemis are obvious, and maybe Cupid too. Rambo becomes an Archery-hero, and there's a whole Trojan War cycle with Achilles and Penthlisea doing the whole love and death thing. Historical stories come in as well - Genghis Khan, Domitian (who apparently could fire 4 arrows at once) and the archers of Henry II[2].

There's maybe even room for Green Arrow in this imaginary comics genre. Maybe.

[1] No really! It first appeared as a subset of (proto) science fiction in the 19th century, was prominent amongst adventure fiction between the wars, had a few final moments in the 50s (Biggles springs to mind) and finally became indistinguishable from thrillers and adventure stories as the tropes and scenery became mainstream or were discarded.
[2] Tepus, Bowman of the Guards; Gilbert of the White Hind; Hubert of Suffolk; Clifton of Hampshire; Egbert of Kent; William of Southampton. It's like a medieval JLA but with bows!

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