The representation of Native Americans in American media has a long, sad history. American movies, television, and books have often depicted natives as broad stereotypes such as violent, raving barbarians or as wise shamans. Native Americans depicted in comic books over the last 70 years hasn’t been much better. Certain comic writers have created better representations of native culture (see Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod). Still, many writers often relegate natives to supporting or sidekick roles. This is the case for DC Comic’s Brave Bow.

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Who Is Brave Bow?

Famed comic scribe Otto Binder first introduced Brave Bow in ADVENTURE COMICS #262. In this comic, titled “The Worst Archer Ever”, Binder writes an origin story for Roy Harper, Green Arrow’s ward and sidekick. Binder tells us that Roy’s father once saved a Sioux chief named Brave Bow from a forest fire. Brave Bow felt indebted to Roy’s father and promises to repay him. Then Roy’s father dies when Roy is only an infant, so Brave Bow decides to raise Roy as his own to clear his debt.

brave bow
ADVENTURE COMICS #262 page 29. Image Courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Binder writes that Brave Bow is the one who teaches Roy his skill in archery as well as how to ride a horse. Yet, by the time Roy became an adolescent, Brave Bow became quite sick. Brave Bow decided that it was time that Roy sought out another teacher to complete his training in archery. So, Roy seeks out the Green Arrow who, after a trial session for Roy, accepts him as his new ward.

Since Binder’s initial introduction of Brave Bow, there have been several different retellings of the character’s story. Many of these stories contradict each other. For example, in another story, Brave Bow was, in fact, a Navajo chief. In this version, the Navajo kicked Roy Harper out of their tribe for being a Hassai “enemy of our people.” Yet, Brave Bow’s role as Roy’s first father figure and mentor has stayed unchanged for nearly sixty years.

Why is he Problematic?

There are notable problems with DC’s depiction of Brave Bow in the comics. To state the obvious, he’s a highly stereotyped character. Brave Bow is the perfect example of the wise, spiritual native chief who gives guidance to the white hero. In fact, Brave Bow’s only real motivation throughout his time in the comics is to do right by the Harpers. He strives to return Roy’s father’s kindness with his own and to make Roy the best archer he can be. Showing a prominent native character as overly obsequious to two white male characters is deeply troubling.

brave bow
ADVENTURE COMICS #262 page 29. Image Courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Then there’s the fact that Brave Bow speaks in broken English. All of his lines are something like “Me return noble deed some day!” or “When your father die in avalanche, me keep my promise!” Furthermore, the wise sage is always shown smoking a pipe and then promptly dies of liver cancer. Finally, the only bit of wisdom we see him pass onto Roy are physical skills. Basically, we’re supposed to assume that since Brave Bow is a native (and because of his name), he has otherworldly skill in archery and horseback riding.

How Could DC Have Fixed This Character?

Brave Bow is clearly a heavily stereotyped character. It seems to me that he’s simply a tool to push our white hero (Roy Harper) towards his destiny of fighting crime among his people. As a white boy who has little experience with native culture, I don’t claim to know the best way to remedy this situation but there are clearly ways DC could have handled this situation better.

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Firstly, they did not need to have Brave Bow possess all the traits of a stereotypical Native American. If they gave him a unique personality, he could have been a much more memorable character. He could have been an impactful supporting character similar to Alfred for Batman. Instead, we only know that Brave Bow raised Roy and taught him archery. Besides making the reader cringe from the blatantly racist depiction, the uninspired portrayal of Brave Bow makes him a deeply unmemorable character.

Make Roy Harper Native American

My second suggestion could be somewhat controversial since Roy Harper is a popular character who has been around for seventy-six years at this point. I also love Roy Harper. I think he’s one of the best sidekicks due to his wit, cocky attitude, and personal struggles. Yet, this doesn’t change that fact that he fits the mold of other sidekicks like Robin, Aqualad, Wonder Girl, and Kid Flash who were near carbon copies of their superhero mentors.

brave bow
RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS #3. Image Courtesy of DC Entertainment.

I do think that Binder added Roy’s native American roots to attempt to differentiate him from Green Arrow. Yet, it just comes off as another example of white characters like Iron Fist, Batman, and Doctor Strange who absorb other people’s culture to further their superhero exploits. If you made Roy Harper the biological son of Brave Bow, then he could bring native culture into his crime-fighting, instead of appropriating it.

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I don’t think this choice would need to change anything about Roy’s character. He could still be arrogant and have difficulties with drug abuse. Sam Wilson, Mile Morales, and Kamala Khan are all diverse superheroes whose cultures are a major component of their characters. Yet their cultures aren’t the only thing that defines them. I think this could be the case with Roy Harper.

Final Thoughts on Brave Bow

Let us remember that Brave Bow was introduced in the year 1959. This doesn’t make Brave Bow’s characterization okay, but it means that this was sadly typical at the time. I genuinely believe that Otto Binder invented Brave Bow to include more Native Americans in comics. Yet, it’s often just as bad to have damaging depictions of marginalized groups as it is to have an absence of their presence. The comic book world needs to push itself to include more natives with three-dimensional personalities and can’t continue to appropriate them as side characters.

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