In the long overdue final installment of this three-part series, we’ll be focusing our attention on the third and final member of our merry band of Outlaws: Roy Harper, best known as Green Arrow’s former sidekick Speedy, though he’s also gone by the codenames of Arsenal and Red Arrow in the past.
Unfortunately, as much as I’d like to regale everyone with an exhaustive biography on the guy, there’re several major obstacles when it comes to doing that:
1. In one form or another, Roy Harper has been around longer than Starfire (31 years) and Jason Todd (28 years) combined, having debuted in the pages of More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941) 70 years ago this month. Tracking down and skimming through that many back issues is more time and effort than I care to invest in writing an article about a comic book I don’t particularly like.
2. During those seven decades, he’s been given no less than four mutually exclusive origin stories. While the most basic elements of his background – that he was an orphaned child raised and taught how to use a bow and arrow by a Native American guardian – are the same across the board, they often differ wildly from one another when it comes to all other details. For those of you keeping score at home, here’s a handy little reference table with examples:
Given that at least three reality-altering crises have taken place since the most recent of these origins saw print, even I have no idea what’s considered canonical anymore. The fact that numerous inconsistencies have been introduced by dozens of writers over the years and that DC Comics’ current regime has proven incapable of penetrating the morass of their own continuity – even after Flashpoint – doesn’t really help matters any.
Since things’re such a mess and there’s so much mess to wade through, I’ll be concentrating on information that would be most relevant to new readers of Red Hood and the Outlaws: his origin, his relationships with Jason Todd and Starfire, his association with the Teen Titans, and how the key aspects of his life that have been retconned out by the relaunch have affected the overall integrity and current portrayal of his character.
Roy William Harper, Jr. (Speedy I/Arsenal/Red Arrow)
The orphaned son of a forest ranger, Roy Harper, Jr. was raised in the traditional style of the Navajo people by Raymond “Brave Bow” Begay – the medicine man of the Tachini clan whose life Roy Harper, Sr. had saved from the forest fire that ultimately claimed his own – from the age of two onwards.
Now, as you’ve probably guessed from someone who’s not only called “Brave Bow” but also gave his adopted white son the tribal name of “Lost Arrow”, the man was an archery nut and found a willing and remarkably proficient student in Roy, whose lack of any real close friends on the Arizonian Indian reservation he called home left him with plenty of spare time for brushing up on his skills.
Though he wouldn’t discover it for many years, Roy’s uncanny aim was not limited to bows and arrows but also extended to both firearms as well as handheld and even makeshift weapons (making him like a non-lethal version of Marvel Comics’ Bullseye). He would eventually become a master of Moo Gi Gong, a combat style of the Korean martial art Hwa Rang Do which emphasizes both the offensive and defensive applications of a wide variety of traditional weaponry, thus allowing practitioners to use almost any handheld object as an improvised weapon.
When Roy was thirteen years old, Brave Bow – who was secretly dying of liver cancer – made arrangements for him to be taken in by wealthy businessman and industrialist Oliver Queen, who had previously visited the reservation to serve as a judge in their annual archery contest as his alter-ego Green Arrow, a superhero whom his adopted son idolized.
Eventually, Roy took on the costumed identity of his mentor’s kid sidekick Speedy and became a founding member of the original Teen Titans alongside Robin (Dick Grayson), Kid Flash (Wally West), Aqualad (Garth), and Wonder Girl (Donna Troy).
Though initially a reservist, he became a permanent member when Aqualad took an extended leave of absence. And one of his first actions was to demonstrate just how much Green Arrow’s skills as a ladies’ man had rubbed off on him by arranging a date with the group’s sole female member, thereby cockblocking the other two guys on his team right off the bat.
While he seemed to have the world at his fingertips, privately, Roy was growing increasingly depressed over the direction his life was taking, his seeming lack of control over it, and the loneliness and abandonment issues that came with having had few actual friends growing up, being an outcast, never quite fitting in, and losing two fathers – one biological, one adoptive – before he was even old enough to drive. Stuck on an endless merry-go-round of school, Teen Titans meetings, superhero work, and not much else, the emo pot finally boiled over when Oliver Queen was stripped of his reputation, fortune, and control over Queen Industries through the evil machinations of corrupt financier John Deleon. The experience radicalized Green Arrow almost overnight, transforming him into an anti-establishment hippie with a bow and arrow and resulting in his spending more time with Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), his new girlfriend Black Canary (Dinah Lance), and even a Guardian of the Universe in human form that his own adoptive son.
But while the new man of the people was out discovering America and trying to save the world, he was completely ignoring problems closer to home, where a combination of the forced lifestyle change and losing his latest father figure drove the despondent Roy to begin experimenting with drugs in order to ease his pain, with him and his buddy Corey – who would later die of an overdose – developing a special taste for heroin. But Green Arrow was so preoccupied with his new role as a socially conscious activist and repeatedly tearing Green Lantern a new one for supposedly being a naive, clueless, authoritarian stooge that he was completely oblivious to all of this until the two of them set out to bust some local drug traffickers…and even then he only discovered the truth completely by accident.
Green Arrow, bleeding heart liberal that he is, was immediately sympathetic to Roy’s plight and assumed his share of the responsibility for what happened.
Roy was later discovered lying in an alleyway by Green Lantern. Determined to beat his heroin addiction on his own, he declined an offer to be taken to a hospital, so the latter deposited him on Dinah Lance’s doorstep instead. Having provided Green Lantern with all the information his reconnaissance work had yielded thus far while the two of them were en route, he then spent the rest of the night going cold turkey with only his adoptive father’s girlfriend for company.
Several days later, Roy, now well enough to function again, was reunited with Oliver Queen and took the opportunity to thank him for his love and heartfelt support during these trying times.
This incident marked a turning point in their relationship. Even though the two of them would reconcile, more or less, years later, their time as a crimefighting team had come to an unceremonious end and Roy decided to strike out on his own. When the Teen Titans temporarily disbanded in order to focus on their individual careers, his relationship with Wonder Girl dissolved as well, and he seemingly retired from crimefighting for a while to pursue a career in music.
Though he reunited with both the Teen Titans – and Wonder Girl! – when the group reformed, this second incarnation of the team proved to be extremely short-lived and they all went their own separate ways again soon after, and for much the same reason as they had the first time around.
Now flying solo again, Speedy decided to put his negative experiences to good use and began working closely with detox centers as a counselor and eventually the Drug Enforcement Agency. In fact, the contacts he made within the federal government while working for the DEA eventually lead to a career with the Central Bureau of Intelligence or CBI, better known as Checkmate.
You know, I’m going to stop right there for a moment. Time for a quick aside.
There’re a number of people out there who’ve complained that Starfire is widely known for being little more than “Dick Grayson’s ex-girlfriend”. Well, ever since Roy Harper was outed as a junkie, he pretty much became “that former kid sidekick with the drug problem”.
Hell, he was trotted out no less than three times during Marv Wolfman‘s run in the 1980s in “very special issues” related to substance abuse and never managed to live it down (or stop poking fun at himself for it).
Okay, enough with the distractions. Back to the show.
Roy Harper first met Starfire when, as Speedy, he was nearly killed during an attempt to shut down a drug smuggling and distribution ring. Rescued by Aqualad, he enlisted the aid of the then-latest incarnation of the Teen Titans in order to help him complete his assignment.
Even though he was a founding member of the original, Roy Harper only hooked up with the third version of the team perhaps a half dozen times before he was eventually forced to take control of it. And, even then, these team-ups were sporadic, so he never really spent an inordinate amount of downtime with Starfire while she was a regular despite having (very, very briefly) moved into Titans Tower at one point. Therefore, he never had much of an opportunity to get to know her that well (at least at that point in time).
It was during one of the aforementioned gaps between adventures with the team that Roy, now a full-fledged member of the CBI, was sent on an undercover assignment to Japan by its drug trafficking division. His mission: track down the middlewoman in a narcotics smuggling ring named Jade Nguyen – better known as Cheshire, one of the world’s deadliest assassins and a recurring adversary of the Teen Titans – under the pretense of purchasing cocaine, gain her trust, gather as much intelligence on the operation as possible, and then deliver her into the waiting hands of the proper authorities. Sounds simple, right? But, as luck would have it, a funny thing happened along the way…
Yeah, you guessed it: Roy Harper fell for his mark. Hard. Even more surprising? Turns out the feeling was mutual. Looks like opposites really do attract. And despite both of them being there on business, love and hormones being what they are led them to add a little pleasure to the mix.
As boneheaded a move as this was, Roy still retained clarity of mind to realize that remaining with Cheshire was a disaster waiting to happen, as their being on opposite sides of the law meant that they’d inevitably end up at each others’ throats one day. Unfortunately, the fact that he was genuinely in love with her meant that he no longer had the heart to turn her in. So, he did what any mature, responsible guy in his position would do: he bailed on her suddenly and without warning, presented his superiors with the intel he’d gathered but lied to them by claiming her trail had gone cold, and did his best to put this latest messed-up chapter of his life behind him.
To say that Cheshire wasn’t thrilled by this turn of events would be putting things mildly. When she later discovered exactly who Roy Harper was – both in and out of costume – her heartbreak curdled into resentment and then hatred, an emotional deterioration largely motivated by the fact that he’d accidentally left her a little something to remember him by. The kind of something that gestates for nine months. So, when the two of them were eventually reunited more than a year later after the Church of Blood sent her to Zermatt, Switzerland to disrupt a secret U.S./Russian arms control meeting by staging a fake assassination attempt – one that the Teen Titans were sent by the C.I.A. to covertly foil and coincidentally marked the first time that Roy Harper and Jason Todd, still Robin at the time, ever worked together – she dropped quite the bombshell on him.
Unfortunately, the mission ended up being a complete disaster for everyone who wasn’t a bad guy, as the C.I.A., Teen Titans, and King Faraday (the F.B.I. agent who recruited them) were discredited for violating the conditions of the peace talks via their unauthorized presence and international tensions increased as a result. Even though Roy managed to track Cheshire to Hong Kong after the fact and convinced her to let him see his infant daughter for the first time…
…even that silver lining was on a very dark cloud. Since she felt foolish for having opened her heart to him in the first place, he had come to embody a weakness in herself whose existence she couldn’t stomach. His visit, however brief, had reopened too many wounds, so she opted to completely cut him out of their daughter’s life in order to punish him and disappeared. Then, as if to add insult to injury, Roy was fired from his job with the C.B.I. within a year, possibly as a result of the fallout from his disastrous encounters with his bad girl romantic interest. While he eventually managed to recover Lian with the help of information from his remaining contacts with the organization, it took getting Nightwing to help him under the pretense of preventing Cheshire from assassinating several ambassadors involved in signing a U.S./Russian peace treaty (this time for real), getting beaten up and captured by her elderly adoptive father Wen Chen Cheng, and getting beaten up and nearly fatally poisoned by her in order to make it happen.
While he supported himself and his daughter working as a private detective out of Los Angeles for a while, Roy was eventually reinducted into Checkmate and sent undercover to stop Cheshire from blackmailing the world with stolen Russian nuclear warheads. While he and Deathstroke the Terminator – secretly working for the CIA at the time – ultimately succeeded, they were unable to prevent her from destroying the capital of the Middle Eastern country of Qurac. Placed on probation as a result of this latest incdent, he was sent on official business as a federal agent to warn Nightwing’s about a major upcoming threat to the Titans unlike any they’d faced before: the U.S. government.
Unfortunately, when Nightwing proved unreceptive and an attack on longtime Titans critic, Councilwoman Liz Alderman, by a mysterious assailant (who turned out to be an evil version of Raven) boosted public scrutiny of the team to unheard of levels, Roy, now going by the codename of Arsenal…
…was forced to assume command of the Titans by his superior, Sarge Steel, in order to establish a link between the team and Checkmate, thereby reducing the risk of the United States Attorney General prosecuting first them and subsequently other non-sanctioned superhero groups. Though Arsenal fought long and hard (and succeeded) in maintaining the Titans’ independence, the ever-increasing number of ties to the federal government led to a mass exodus of members, including Starfire. Eventually, when it became apparent to Arsenal that the remaining members were not really coming together as a family and putting a half-assed effort into their superheroics, he decided to sacrifice his own public image by purposely trashing the team’s reputation in a newspaper interview in the hopes that it would get them all fired. His plan succeeded, the government pulled the plug on the Titans, and everyone walked away with their self-respect intact except for him. He later severed his ties with the CBI and Sarge Steel completely after the latter deliberately engaged in misdirection to get him to retrieve a former druglord for a show trial, a mission that resulted in his getting shot up full of heroin for the first time since he beat his addiction and nearly getting killed several times over.
After the surviving members of every incarnation of the Teen Titans teamed up with the Justice League of America and several of their associates in order to prevent the planet Cyberion from transforming Earth’s moon into the new homeworld of the Technis, a cyber-alien collective, the founding members of the first and third incarnations of the team, sans Raven, decided to reform the Titans. While this marked the first time that Arsenal and Starfire spent any significant amount of time together on the same team, her membership proved fleeting as circumstances soon forced her to return to her role as Princess of Tameran, her royal duties taking her away from Earth indefinitely.
While his precarious financial situation was finally at an end now that he and Lian could live at the new Titans Tower, Arsenal’s lovelife went through the wringer as Cheshire ended up getting captured, hospitalized, put on trial, and imprisoned for nuking Qurac. Moreover his refusal to aid in her escape combined with his finally coming to terns with who and what she was sounded the death knell of their twisted relationship.
But things really came crashing down when both his close friend (and ex-girlfriend) Donna Troy – now known as Troia and with whom Arsenal had briefly rekindled a romantic relationship – as well as former Titans West member Omen, a.k.a. Lilith Clay(-Jupiter), were killed by a rogue Superman robot that the mysterious 41st century time-travelling android later dubbed Indigo had activated in order to help repair the damage that temporal displacement had inflicted upon her systems. Their deaths proved to be the last straw for Nightwing, who formally disbanded the Titans after their friends’ funerals.
Not one to remain on the sidelines, Arsenal began actively scouting for members for a new team a scant two months later and persuaded Nightwing to join by stating the major difference between this group and their old one: instead of leading a bunch of close-knit friends who were like family into battle and potentially getting them killed, they’d now be leading a bunch of mostly casual acquaintances and complete strangers – including the amnesiac Indigo – into battle and potentially getting them killed. Thus was born the third incarnation of the Outsiders, a version dedicated to hunting down criminals and working outside of the system.
Almost from the start, the team proved to be a disaster magnet for everyone involved. Between discovering that Optitron, the benevolent media conglomerate financing their operations, was a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises (which pissed off Nightwing), the “Batman” secretly providing them with intel was none other than a disguised Deathstroke the Terminator using the Outsiders as his personal squad of superpowered gofers (which made ex-intelligence agent Arsenal look like an idiot), and Indigo turning out to be a shell program for Brainiac 8 (which was bad for both the Outsiders as well as the fourth incarnation of the Teen Titans as she, Brainiac, Lex Luthor, and a brainwashed Superboy attempted to kill them all off), things got progressively worse. Even Starfire, who was recruited to the team after Jade wrested control of it away from the apathetic Nightwing, got the short end of the stick as her tenure was cut short by Infinite Crisis, which ended up stranding her in deep space with Animal Man and Adam Strange for the better part of a year.
Aside from being Deathstroke’s dupe and later nearly getting killed by him in hand-to-hand combat, Arsenal also suffered numerous other indignities during his time with the Outsiders, such as being shot in the chest five times at point blank range and having his daughter kidnapped in retaliation for their working with America’s Most Wanted to bust a child slavery ring that Grace Choi, his teammate and friend with benefits, had once fallen victim to in her youth.
No, seriously. John Walsh totally hung out with them.
The straw that broke that camel’s back for Arsenal, who had grown increasingly uncomfortable with their cloak-and-dagger operations, came when a botched attempt to break Black Lightning – framed for killing the murderer of his niece, Joanna Pierce, by Deathstroke (who else?) – out of prison when it was discovered that his life was in danger ended with the deaths of forty-four inmates and prisoners. He subsequently quit the team, but not before using a live television interview to personally distance himself from the team’s catastrophic last mission and lending credence to the notion that the Outsiders had been killed while fleeing the scene, thereby facilitating the team’s attempt to go underground.
By sheer coincidence, Arsenal happened to be in the neighborhood when Black Canary and Green Lantern needed help recovering Red Tornado‘s android body from Professor Ivo and Solomon Grundy. But he was dumbstruck when they later returned to offer him membership in the newly-reformed Justice League of America.
After accepting the invitation, Roy Harper not only adopted a new costume and name…
…but also found a new romance with Kendra Saunders, the then-current Hawkgirl and reincarnation of the original, who, like him, had a child of her own (albeit one she’d given up for adoption some time ago). In a nice (but unintentional) display of mentor/sidekick parallelism, this coupling offered a continuation of the arrow/bird romantic legacy.
For a while, Red Arrow was riding high and even ended up pulling double duty for a while on both the Justice League as well as the latest incarnations of the Titans – the latter having apparently become a viable concept again after Donna Troy unexpectedly came back from the dead – and offered him yet another opportunity to work with Starfire. Unfortunately, these good times were not to last, and a series of circumstances both within as well as beyond his control would soon cause his life to unravel at the seams.
The first shoe dropped when his increasingly volatile relationship with Hawkgirl self-destructed. Given the three millennia of romantic history he had to compete with when it came to Hawkman (even if Kendra didn’t remember any of it), the fact that he ended up being little more than a romantic footnote in her reincarnation-driven existence was almost a foregone conclusion. What was surprising, though, was that he genuinely had feelings for her and was so crushed by her loss that he ended up quitting the team over it (at least for a short while). It was only when he returned to active duty that the tragedy and drama trains went into overdrive and completely jumped the tracks. What’s more, in a morbid display of symmetry, while his membership with this incarnation of the Justice League was largely due to his being in the right place at the right time, it was his being in the wrong place at the wrong time that finally brought his tenure with it to an end.
While saying goodnight to Lian via a computer terminal, Red Arrow was ambushed by the supervillain Prometheus – who had impersonated Shazam in order to gain access to the JLA satellite – and disarmed following a vicious fight. Literally.
Viciously maimed, Red Arrow soon lost consciousness due to massive blood loss but was found by his teammates and rushed to a hospital in time to save his life, unfortunately. And I say “unfortunately” because, given the hell that Dan DiDio, Eddie Berganza, James Robinson, J.T. Krul, and Eric Wallace were about to collectively put him through, his death would’ve been a mercy killing at this point.
See, while Roy Harper was comatose, Prometheus set his plan of revenge against the Justice League into motion by activating devices that he and his villainous cohorts had previously planted in the home cities of its various members. Though originally intended to be teleporters, due to the uneasy marriage of the myriad technologies used to create them, they ended up functioning more like doomsday machines instead and began tearing their respective targets apart, with Green Arrow’s home of Star City being the first on the chopping block. While Roy’s successor as Speedy, Mia Dearden, managed to track down the Electrocutioner, Prometheus’ triggerman on her home turf, she was forced to abandon her babysitting duties and leave Lian Harper unattended at Oliver Queen’s mansion in order to do so. Unfortunately, not only did he end up slipping through her fingers when the buildings they were standing on collapsed out from under them, but when she and the others finally made their way back to her charge, they discovered, to their combined horror, that there was no house left to return to.
In order to prevent any further loss of human life, the Justice League grudgingly agreed to grant Prometheus – whom they’d since captured – his freedom in exchange for the codes needed to shut down the devices. The supervillain’s victory proved to be extremely short-lived, however, as Green Arrow secretly managed to track him down and summarily executed him for his crimes. He subsequently enlisted Speedy’s help in capturing the Electrocutioner, fully intending to send the latter to join his former employer in the afterlife. When the time came, however, his conscience, having finally kicked in following a confrontation with his biological son Connor Hawke, the second Green Arrow, earlier that day caused him to relent before he either claimed another life or allowed Speedy to take her first. Green Arrow then surrendered himself to the authorities and both he and his would-be supervillain victim were taken into custody.
But back to the focus of our article.
After waking up from his coma to discover his arm gone and Lian dead, Roy completely lost his shit and began his slow descent into madness and extreme character derailment. First, for reasons that were never actually explained, he started having vivid hallucinations in which his old, dead, smack-shooting buddy Corey kept tempting him to fall off the wagon. Then, he started popping painkillers like Flintstones vitamins due to the flesh-eating nanomite infection – an unexpected souvenir from his battle with Prometheus – constantly aggravating the stump of his right arm and preventing it from healing properly. While Cyborg later presented him with a temporary cybernetic replacement until a more permanent solution could be found, working around the existing nerve damage ended up causing Roy additional pain and discomfort. This, combined with the stopgap nature of the prosthetic, seriously impeded his ability to use his archery skills effectively.
With his life now completely in shambles, Roy began to burn through the massive forced withdrawal from the sympathy bank at an unprecedented rate by systematically lashing out at his friends and family, the highlights of which include insulting Black Canary’s infertility and priorities…
…Green Arrow’s murder of Prometheus and poor track record as a parent…
…Speedy’s lousy babysitting skills and annoying respect for human life…
…and Donna Troy’s sex life with Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and her alleged lack of devotion as a wife or a mother.
I’d like to note, for the record, that the inherent hypocrisy of that last rant is pretty mind-numbing, as Donna’s son was left in the care of her ex-husband when they divorced while Lian was raised by a series of nannies and babysitters while Roy was out playing superhero. Looks like Oliver Queen’s self-righteousness is getting contagious.
Having lost his daughter, his friends, his family, his arm, his aim with a bow and arrow, and quite possibly his mind, Roy’s broodfest/self-pity party was interrupted by his baby mama Cheshire, who decided to make a housecall.
And when the two grieving parents’ attempt to kill each other turned into demented-yet-kinky foreplay for a serious bout of condolence nookie that both desperately needed at this point, she discovered just how right her earlier statement was.
After suiting up and taking out his sexual frustration on any looters and criminals in Star City unfortunate enough to cross his path, Arsenal stumbled upon a pusher and decided, after some prodding from “Corey”, that he’s found a better way of dealing with his pain.
And not only did he take it all, I’m pretty sure that he took it all too, because that’s the only way I can rationalize his getting so stratospherically high that he hallucinated a group of fellow addicts as an army of Prometheuses (Promethei?) and the dead cat he found in the alley as a suddenly-alive-again Lian that needed protection from all of them.
It’s worth noting at this point that the inherent comedic value of this scene – which has been mercilessly mocked by everyone who’s laid eyes upon it – can be cranked up to eleven if you imagine that Arsenal beat up all those thugs with the corpse of the dearly departed feline. In fact, not only did quite a few people come to this mistaken conclusion all on their own, but Sterling Gates and Bernard Chang decided to lampshade it themselves in Supergirl #57 (December 2010), where a Bizarro version of Arsenal appears…wearing a quiver stuffed with dead cats.
Anyway, back to our trainwreck.
Dick Grayson, who assumed the mantle of Batman following Bruce Wayne‘s apparent demise in the pages of Final Crisis at this point, staged an intervention…
…and deposited Roy in Virgil House, a supervillain detox center in Star City. Guess the superhero detox center got shut down due to a lack of funding or something. After making sure that he was securely strapped to a metal table, he and Black Canary subsequently abandoned him there so that he could cool his heels and burn the remaining drugs out of system. The good news is that this wass the point where Roy stopped being haunted by visions of “Corey”. The bad news is that this was also the point where he started being haunted by visions of “Lian” instead. Succumbing to her taunting, he broke out of rehab, broke into the prison where the Electrocutioner was being held…
…and ended up gutting him like a trout in spite of Green Arrow’s best efforts to stop him.
Now completely off the deep end, he eliminated the final traces of his former life by torching his house with “Lian” still inside of it…
…and then went out hunting out for criminals with his new-and-unimproved attitude.
Christ, this is awful writing, DC Comics. Just fucking awful. But it’s going to get worse before it gets…well…even worse than that.
Anyway, when word about Arsenal’s new drugged-up vigilante lifestyle started making the rounds, he was contacted by Cheshire, of all people. Seems that Deathstroke, in the latest in his long line of dick moves, decided to hijack the Titans franchise by using it as the name for his villains-for-hire outfit in order to drag the reputations of his longtime adversaries through the mud. And when Cheshire was severely injured by him while completing the main objective of one of their missions, she recruited her ex-boyfriend into helping her kill Deathstroke using the tried and true female tactic of guilt-tripping.
So, under the pretense of betraying Cheshire to her intended target…
…Arsenal joined the team and muddled his way through his new supervillain career using the exact same tactic that frustrated readers and Roy Harper’s remaining fans were in order to cope with this garbage right about now: being completely stoned off one’s ass.
While Cheshire and Arsenal’s attempt to get Deathstroke killed one way or another ultimately failed (though they admittedly came damn close when the made their move), both they and the rest of the Titans eventually discovered that everything about them – from the reasons they were recruited to the team in the first place to the seemingly random items and individuals they’d conveniently stumbled upon during the course of their missions – had all been part of a carefully orchestrated gambit by their leader: he’d used them to assemble the components and raw materials required for Dr. Sivana and Dr. Impossible to construct the Methuselah Device, a machine capable of restoring the dead or dying to full health and possibly even grant immortality. And, after using it to heal his terminally ill son Jericho, he decided to spread the wealth by extending a once-in-a-lifetime offer to his villainous associates:
It’s at this point that Arsenal managed to sober up enough to grab the idiot ball and run with it at full speed.
Just so we’re clear on this: on a team of supervillains and anti-heroes, all of whom have killed at least one person in cold blood during their careers and who have just spent several weeks or months engaging in morally questionable activities that have directly or indirectly resulted in even more deaths, a fight breaks out concerning the ethical issues of raising the dead and human longevity of all goddamn things. Needless to say, the battle ended with the Methuselah Device destroyed and everyone walking away pissed off, depressed, and disillusioned. Just like the readers who wasted good money on this crap.
Well, everyone except for Arsenal and Jericho, that is. The former somehow had an epiphany during all this and now wants to restore honor to the very Titans’ name that he was spitting at just a short while ago since he’s discovered that it still means something to him after all, while the latter wants to atone for all the horrible things done by his father to give him a second lease on life.
Call me crazy, but considering that Arsenal’s a wanted murderer and Jericho’s suddenly turned evil and laid death traps for his former teammates and allies no less than three times now, I don’t really think that they’re the most suitable candidates for the job…
The Continuity Verdict
If character derailment in Red Hood and the Outsiders were a spectrum, with Jason Todd towards one end and Starfire all the way on the other, then Roy Harper would probably be somewhere in the middle. Considering that the bulk of his history and character growth has been completely flushed down the toilet in the aftermath of Flashpoint, though, what we really needs to ask ourselves is if the current version of the character bears any resemblance to his previous self and whether the decanonization of certain stories is sufficient to explain the more drastic alterations to his life and personality. The short answer, in my opinion, is a grudging “yes”.
As anyone who’s made it this far has probably guessed, the fact that Roy Harper has two normal arms now suggests that the events of the Justice League: Cry for Justice didn’t happen, something which Scott Lobdell has since confirmed. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, in that very same interview, he told us about another creative decision of his that’s been with considerably less fanfire, namely that Lian Harper no longer exists and never did in current continuity. He then proceeds to elaborate upon his rationale for this in a really awkward, rambling video, where he states:
“Roy doesn’t have a daughter partially because he’s much younger than he’s been portrayed in the past, he’s about 19 years old now and other than, you know, MTV which glorifies teen pregnancy a lot […] I think the notion of Roy either leaving his daughter at home to fight crime or taking his daughter with him to fight crime – either way I just felt the character is better off not having a daughter. But I know people got very, very, very attached to her when she was around… so I feel badly for them but I don’t feel badly for Roy. I think it was the right decision.” – Scott Lobdell
Well, you think wrong. Which, given the artistic license you took with Starfire, isn’t much of a surprise.
Ignoring, for a moment, the fact that he’s retconned away a cute supporting character that was universally liked and can’t seem to make up his mind about how old Roy Harper actually is – he has the character pegged at 19 years old in the above interviews (dated September 12 and September 17, 2011, respectively) but refers to him as a “relatively recently-sober 21-year old” in another one from October 6, 2011 – the fact of the matter is that, either way, the current version of Roy isn’t much older than his previous incarnation was when his daughter was born. She was conceived when he was 20, born when he was 21, and he finally gained custody of her a year later, on or around Lian’s first birthday.
Given the ridiculous temporal compression that’s occurred as a result of Flashpoint and assuming, for the sake of argument, that Lian did exist in this new timeline, she wouldn’t be more than two or three years old, meaning Roy could’ve been anywhere from 15 to 18 years old when he fathered her with Cheshire. And the latter’s hardly a scandalous age to have children at. (Not that any of Lobdell’s other claims make much sense, anyway. For one, MTV doesn’t glorify teen pregnancy; the producers of Teen Mom and related shows exploit it for ratings. For another, Devin Grayson, Jae Faerber and Judd Winick effectively used Lian as a plot generator while writing their books. Plus, a cute little girl with a superhero raising her as a single father and a supervillainess mother is a totally unique concept in comics that’s rife with storytelling possibilities if you have little imagination. Ahem.)
But I’m going off on a tangent here. Lian Harper is officially no more. As much as that sucks, we have to accept it. (At least until I displace Scott Lobdell as the book’s writer, anyway.) So where exactly does her non-existence leave Roy? Well, given that, in a candid discussion with Donna Troy, he once confessed that the single event that changed him the most was fatherhood…
…I’d say that, with his daughter removed from the equation and her positive influence on his growth and development as a person and a fictional character likewise abolished, it’s not at all surprising that his maturity level has taken a steep nosedive. Not that he was ever the poster child for maturity to begin with. I mean, we’re talking about the man who once used a picture of his baby daughter to score with three chicks in a bar as part of a bet with Beast Boy, for god’s sake.
The real problem with all this is that Roy’s regressed from smooth operator to immature fratboy and is now more Austin Powers than James Bond. Naturally, some diehard fans aren’t exactly thrilled by his sudden change for the worse. And I can’t really blame them.
When it comes to Starfire, Roy’s seeming ignorance about her in Red Hood and the Outsiders is hard to explain. They’ve worked together on several occasions, and, assuming that even the smallest fraction of all Teen Titans stories are still canonical, he should know her reasonably well by now (or at least better than he seems to in the premiere issue).
Which brings us to yet another thing that several readers have their panties in a bunch about: the egregious violation of the bro code he committed by sleeping with Starfire, his best friend Nightwing’s ex-girlfriend. And how can you argue with that? That’s a pretty crummy thing to do, and Roy would never…
Okay, let’s not blow things out of proportion. He was just displaying a bit of camaraderie and Dick Grayson was seriously on edge at the time, so I really don’t think…
So? There’s nothing wrong with a friendly goodbye kiss between teammates. I mean…
Eh, you know what they say: once is an accident, twice is coincidence, three times is…
…really really skeevy. Goddammit, Roy Harper.
Okay, so maybe he can be a douchebag when it comes to women. He certainly has an established reputation as a womanizer and has romanced or engaged in casual sex with his female teammates before (Donna Troy while he was with the original Teen Titans, Grace Choi when he ran with the Outsiders, and Hawkgirl when he joined the Justice League of America), so this type of behavior isn’t exactly out of the question for him. Moreover, even though he and Dick are best (or at least extremely close) friends, their relationship can be somewhat dysfunctional at times. When the going’s good, they’re really tight buds. But when things go south…
…it can get pretty damn ugly between them.
But in spite of the occasional tensions that flare up between Roy and Dick and inevitably end in knock-down, drag-out fistfights, one key question remains: would he really have no qualms whatsoever about hanging out with Jason Todd, someone who’s caused so much trouble for (and even nearly killed) a childhood acquaintance and longtime teammate of his?
Surprisingly enough, the answer, based on what we know about him, is yes.
See, one of the really strange things about Roy Harper is that – up until Justice League: Cry for Justice completely destroyed his life – he had an extremely laid-back, attitude most of the time. So laid back that he was practically horizontal. Not only did he often try to look for the best in even the most morally and ethically bankrupt individuals, but he seemed to have the ability to compartmentalize his feelings about someone based on whether or not they acted with malicious intent, if he was associating with them while in or out of costume, and whether his (or his daughter’s) immediate welfare were negatively affected by their actions or not (an admittedly somewhat self-centered philosophy that made him a less-than-ideal friend sometimes). It was only when someone deliberately did something that sent his private and superhero lives on a collision course that he would begin harboring grudges against them. Exactly why he developed this extremely liberal philosphy towards life and almost ridiculous capacity for forgiveness is anybody’s guess, though the best explanation seems to be that, since he himself was such a screw-up, he felt that he wasn’t really in any position to be judging others harshly.
Whatever the reason, the best way to illustrate his bizarre sense of ethics and loyalties would be by analzying his relationships with three individuals: Cheshire, Deathstroke the Terminator, and Chanda Madan, one of Lian Harper’s numerous nannies.
I won’t dwell on Cheshire too much since, based on the incredibly long and boring biography of his that you’ve all had to slog through just to get here, it’s clear that Roy’s relationship with her was infinitely more complicated and dysfunctional than his friendship with Dick Grayson.
While this level of dedication to the mother of your child would be admirable under any other circumstances, given that Cheshire’s the second deadliest assassin in the DC Universe, attempted to kill the Teen Titans more than once, and had a pretty high body count even before she nuked the capital of Qurac and killed thousands (if not tens or hundreds of thousands) of people, it took far longer for him to come to the realization that she’d never change and finally shake off the romantic feelings he had for her than common sense and logic would normally allow. And even then, he still respected her visitation rights and took Lian to visit her mother in prison.
As for Deathstroke the Terminator, if there’s one thing he’s infamous for, it’s how close he came to killing the Teen Titans by planting Terra in their group as a mole while completing his deceased son’s contract with the H.I.V.E. And yet, as crazy as it sounds…
…Roy didn’t hold any of that against him and actually seemed to think quite fondly of him, even though, by this point, the man had probably killed dozens, if not hundreds, of people while working as a mercenary-for-hire. In fact, it was only after Deathstroke dressed up as Batman, played him for a fool, threatened his daughter, and nearly killed him in hand-to-hand combat…
…that Roy even started taking things personally. Whether or not Deathstroke’s use of Chemo as a bioweapon to wipe Blüdhaven and its population of one hundred thousand off the map during Infinite Crisis increased the bad blood between them is anyone’s guess, especially since Roy seemed perfectly willing to give Cheshire a free pass for mass murder.
Finally, we come to Chanda Madan, a young woman of Quraci descent whose grandparents were killed when the country’s capital was wiped off the map. After learning exactly who Lian Harper’s mother was, she took advantage of the unrestricted access she had to Titans Tower as the young girl’s nanny to uncover Cheshire’s whereabouts, information that she subsequently passed on to Quraci terrorists so that they could avenge the deaths of their countrymen. Unfortunately, things quickly spiralled out of control in ways she neither anticipated nor wanted, and the entire fiasco ended with Cheshire nearly being killed twice, Lian narrowly avoiding being kidnapped, and Arsenal badly beaten and nursing a broken leg. But even after Nightwing outed her…
…Roy was still totally cool with it and wanted her to stay on as his daughter’s caregiver. The only reason Chanda no longer had her babysitting job after this all crap went down was because she quit of her own free will rather than risk putting her charge, whom she’d genuinely come to adore, in any more danger in the future.
In a nutshell, given Roy’s established patterns of thought and behavior, his being friends with Jason Todd is completely consistent with his character. In fact – vindictive babysitters with links to Middle Eastern terrorism aside – I’d even go so far as to say that Jason, who’s “only” murdered pushers and members of Black Mask’s criminal empire and doesn’t have a 10K+ body count under his belt, is the least objectionable person of dubious morality that he’s on friendly terms with. And that’s still pretty disturbing.
Still, the ultimate tragedy in all this is that Roy Harper, whose depiction for most of the last 24 years has been that of a quasi-mature, halfway responsible single superhero father with a supervillainess ex who’d grown beyond his original role and come into his own, has been reduced to a childless Green Arrow lite playing the role of the Red Hood’s partner. In essence, he’s the former kid sidekick who’s now the sidekick of another former kid sidekick. Which, if you think about it, is pretty pathetic.
You call this progress, DC Comics? Seriously?