THE ARROWMedium: Comic books
Published by: Centaur Publications
First Appeared: 1938
Creator: Paul Gustavson
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The Arrow, from Centaur Comics (Speed Centaur, Mighty Man), occupies an interesting and unique spot in comic book history, but it's not one that can easily be articulated in a simple declarative sentence. He wasn't quite the first masked hero in comics — The Clock, also from Centaur, beat him out by more than two years. But he did come long before the flood
of such characters. And, coming along three months after Superman, he wasn't quite the first to use special skills or abilities to fight crime. But he was the first to do both, thus presaging the dominant trend in comics over the next several years, superheroes.
As implied by the name, The Arrow's special skill was archery. Since he was fhe first to use that motif, he got to co-opt the generic name, without qualifiers, leaving latecomers to adopt ones like Green Arrow or Golden Arrow, or to eschew descriptive monickers altogether, like The Spider.
Of course, archery is rather a dangerous skill to practice indoors, where a great deal of crime fighting takes place. Green Arrow got around that by using a lot of non-lethal gimmick arrows, and Golden Arrow by operating outside, in the wide-open spaces of the American Southwest. The Arrow and The Spider were apparently simply so super-good at it that this wasn't a problem. Besides, The Arrow didn't mind taking the Judge Dredd approach of being judge, jury and executioner all in one. If a criminal deserved death, but was untouchable due to those pesky legal technicalities like due process and the presumption of innocence, The Arrow would simply take care of the killing himself, bypassing all the fuss and bother. He even kept a particular arrow in his quiver, a black one, for just that purpose.
The Arrow made his debut in Centaur's Funny Pages, vol. 2 #10, whole #21, dated September, 1938. He was created by cartoonist Paul Gustavson, who was also responsible for The Human Bomb from Quality Comics, The Angel from Marvel, and more. Since Centaur didn't allow much space for its characters, particularly at first, he started out with no room for a personal life — not even a name. Eventually, it came out that he was intelligence agent Ralph Payne.
Centaur didn't stay in business long enough to become a major publisher, so all of its characters were fairly short-lived. The Arrow was among the longest-lasting of the lot. He ran more than two years in Funny Pages, ending in the October, 1940 issue, then continued in three issues of his own title. He also appeared in the back pages of comics belonging to some other characters, such as Fantoman. He was last seen in 1941.
In the early 1990s, Malibu, one of a plethora of small publishers dotting the comics industry at the time, made an attempt to latch onto a ready-made superhero universe by adopting the Centaur heroes (who had long since fallen into the public domain), and The Arrow found new life there. But that line's tenure was even briefer. The Arrow re-entered the state of oblivion, and that, finally, was the end of him.