The comic book version of Green Arrow is best known as being one of the few heroes with a distinctive political point of view. Who does Superman vote for? Who knows? Green Arrow is an out-and-out bleeding heart liberal, and that’s probably one of his defining characteristics.
Except he wasn’t always that way. The character existed for a good twenty years before his political perspective came up at all. Prior to that, he was the standard white bread DC hero who did good because it was good and if he ever had a thought deeper than which arrow to use at any given moment, he sure didn’t share it. In point of fact, the guy was a Batman rip-off, living as a millionaire playboy with his sidekick and ward in a big mansion with a cave and a car and a plane underneath his home. It’s not much of a memorable era for the Emerald Archer.
This era also gave us Arrowette.
Female knock-offs of male heroes have existed for ages. Some even get to be fairly popular in their own right, or at least are someone hanging around on the side for adventures aimed at potential girl readers. The issue tends to be that the female hero in the earliest iterations are often just not as competent as the male hero they’re based on. If Hawkman and Hawkgirl are going to compete in something, the reader knows Hawkman is going to be the one to prevail. And Hawkgirl was one of the better ones!
Today that is not so much the case. Marvel really did some interesting things with the distaff counterpart. Spider-Woman might as well be a different character since her name is pretty much the only thing connecting her to Spider-Man these days. The She-Hulk is nothing like her cousin. Even DC did well with some of their Silver Age female heroines. Batgirl’s old adventures actually show her doing quite well on her own from day one aside from one horrible issue where she keeps stopping to adjust her lipstick and stuff like that. Plus, female heroes didn’t have to be knock-offs to do things that are clearly sexist to the modern reader. I recall one Brave and the Bold story where a group of heroes are assisting Batman in rounding up some bad guys, but Black Canary is missing from her spot. Why? Robin finds her getting her hair dried at a local beauty salon since it was raining outside.
But then there’s the original Arrowette. First appearing in World’s Finest Comics #113 (Green Arrow didn’t rate his own title in those days), Bonnie King was an Olympic archery champ and won a beauty contest making her “Miss Arrowette”. Naturally, she thought that made her perfect for crime fighting like her idol Green Arrow. Green Arrow didn’t think so, and he and sidekick Speedy (a kid of maybe 12) would routinely tell Arrowette to go home and leave the crime fighting to experts like themselves.
And they’d be right! Arrowette didn’t appear in every issue. In fact, she appeared in very few of them, but when she did, she was bound to screw things up somehow.
That isn’t even getting into her arrows. Green Arrow in those days basically had an arrow that could do anything, like Batman’s utility belt on the Superfriends. Arrowette had…feminine versions of those arrows. Green Arrow had a net arrow. Arrowette had a hair net arrow. Green Arrow had an arrow that latched itself to a bad guy’s bumper and left a trail of paint for him to follow later. Arrowette had one too. Hers used lipstick instead of paint. She had arrows with mirrors or nail files.
Really, it was like the writers were trying to anger future readers that get upset over blatant sexism.
Heck it wasn’t even that uncommon for Arrowette to conclude at the end of an adventure that girls weren’t cut out for crime fighting.
Arrowette might just have been a forgotten footnote to the Silver Age were it not for a longstanding DC tradition of giving heroes legacies. Various Atoms, Green Lanterns, and Flashes were often replaced by a younger generation version, so why not Arrowette?
And what would be funnier than making the original Arrowette a stage mother from Hell type?
That’s more or less what happens, as Bonnie brings her daughter Cissie King-Jones into superheroing as the new Arrowette. Wearing a costume that looks like it was designed to win beauty pageants, Cissie first appeared in Impulse #28. That issue shows Bonnie actually lose custody of Cissie for exploiting her daughter’s natural archery skills.
So, perhaps the real moral of the story is Bonnie shouldn’t have been so quick to use her real name. Maybe the real reason Batman, the Flash, and Green Arrow wore their masks was to avoid child endangerment charges.
The younger Arrowette would reappear about a year later when she joined the Young Justice series as one of the three original female members alongside the three boys already there. That series was written by one of my favorite superhero scribes, Peter David, who has a special knack for taking long neglected second stringers and one note characters and making them cool. Now part of David’s success is because he is working on those second stringers and one note characters, he can get away with drastically altering the character into new and fundamentally different ways, like combing the Hulk personas into composite being, or doing the Earth-Born Angel thing with Supergirl.
But this was Young Justice. His original line-up was Robin, Superboy, and Impulse, which meant other editors had a say in how those characters appeared. David mocked this in one of his first issues when night fell instantly between panels as soon as Robin appeared, because he was told to never show Robin outside during the day. Issue 4 introduced the female line-up of Wonder Girl, Secret, and Arrowette. Wonder Girl had the same problem as the boys from a creative standpoint (plus, her name was Cassie, so there was a Cassie and a Cissie on the team, and both were blonde teenagers). But Arrowette and Secret were both fair game and David got a lot of use out of those two for character development purposes.
As a result, while Arrowette became a very talented and valued member of the team, her experience with an overbearing mother meant she could also occasionally tell off various members of the Justice League (including both Batman and Superman at the same time), and still have some comedy (another Peter David specialty) involving Bonnie showing up like some kind of stage mom who may or may not still be wearing her old costume’s mask. And that stuff predated Here Comes Honey Boo Boo by roughly a decade.
Unfortunately, for all that Arrowette was a full member of the Young Justice team for most of its run, when DC opted to blow up the Teen Titans and Young Justice, transferring many of the Young Justice team to the Titans and some of the Titans to the Outsiders, Arrowette was left off both teams and more or less disappeared. Aside from the occasional cameo in Teen Titans or the Wonder Girl mini-series, that’s about it. Heck, Young Justice became a (pretty good) animated TV series at one point, and it included a blonde female archer, but it was a completely different blonde female archer! Artemis was her name, and though also an established DC character that predates Cissie by a couple decades, it would at first glance seem odd to replace a character fans of the comic series would recognize with a similar-looking but different lesser known character, but the decision made sense as the story played out for anyone who knew Artemis’ own back story.
But maybe, in a world where Toddlers and Tiaras is a real thing, Arrowette was hitting the target a little too close to home.