No character in comics has been drug through the mud more than Roy Harper. Originally, Roy was Green Arrow’s sidekick, Speedy. He followed the mold of first Robin, Dick Grayson, the prototype sidekick, at first. Once writer Dennis O’Neil broke the mold with Roy, doing something completely different at the time, there was no going back.
Roy, introduced in More Fun Comics #73 (1941), was raised by a Navajo medicine man, learning archery, before being adopted by Oliver Queen upon the medicine man’s death. Ollie and Roy went on their goofy adventures for decades with glue, ink, or other nonsensical trick arrows. Roy was a founding member of Teen Titans, along with Robin (Dick Grayson), Kid Flash (Wally West), Aqualad (Garth), and Wonder Girl (Donna Troy). He and Wonder Girl dated for a time.
Everything went down hill from there. The Titans disbanded and he and Donna broke up. Roy was mostly seen in Green Lantern/Green Arrow. The title was on the verge of cancellation (I’ll bet today’s publishers would kill for those numbers), and new writer Dennis O’Neil was given carte blanche. Attempting to tackle modern issues (for 1970), in issues #85-86, the two part story “Snowbirds Don’t Fly” saw Roy addicted to heroin. Ollie, being the stand up guy his is, socked Roy in the gut and kicked him out. Black Canary eventually helped him quit. Roy and Ollie fought after, ending their partnership.
Roy bounced around for a while, working for the government before being hired by Checkmate to go undercover and gain the trust of assassin Cheshire. The two fell in love, having an affair, leaving Chesire pregnant, unbeknownst to Roy. Eventually, their daughter, Lian, was left in his care.
Then, the 90’s happened. Roy adopted a new identity, Arsenal, where he wielded a bevy of high-tech weaponry. He formed a new team of Teen Titans, with a bunch of no name 90’s anachronisms filling out the roster. They eventually died so, whatever. Flashforward a bit, two teams of sidekicks were running around for a while, Young Justice and Titans, the latter of which Roy was an active member. In the crossover, Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day, people were killed and both books were cancelled, with roster reshuffling as the new Teen Titans and Outsiders books were launched. The Outsiders, started by Roy, was a team who would be proactive, hunting down villains rather than waiting for them to pop up. In a cool twist, Roy was receiving intel from who he thought was Batman, but actually Deathstroke in disguise.
An Infinite Crisis and One Year Later, Outsiders were no more. The Justice League was reformed, and Roy was asked to join by Hal Jordan, taking the Red Arrow persona at his suggestion. Roy as Red Arrow was originally seen in Kingdom Come in 1996. Things were going good for Roy, so of course they had to go down the crapper. You thought the heroin or the 90’s was bad, then obviously you haven’t heard about Cry for Justice.
The villain Prometheus (think evil Batman), enacts his actually smart plan to take down the Justice League. Roy catches him on the satellite, and has his right arm cut off. Then Star City (home of Green Arrow), is destroyed, killing Roy’s daughter, Lian. Roy became addicted to pain killers, lashing out at those around him. He, and I’m not making this up, developed stress induced impotence and hallucinated that a dead cat was his daughter. Roy eventually joined Deathstroke’s team of villainous Titans.
Thankfully for him, the New 52 came along, rebooting everything. Honestly, Roy was pretty broken at this point. Now, he pals around with Jason Todd and Starfire in Redhood and the Outlaws as Arsenal again, his right arm restored and no daughter in sight. Addiction is still part of his life, though Killer Croc (yes, the Batman villain) is his sponsor. Redhood is a pretty terrible book, but at least it’s a step up from where the old continuity left him. Only one step though.
The animated series Young Justice featured Roy, taking this jumbled history and spinning it into a fantastic story. He was introduced in the first season of Arrow, played by Colton Haynes. In season three, he will be given a red, duplicate costume of Ollie’s, but go by Arsenal.
Roy Harper is a legacy character, much like the rest of the original Teen Titans. The Teen Titans are the perfect example of every possible road for these characters. Wally West is the best possible outcome, growing up and eventually taking his mentor’s mantle. Dick Grayson is stuck in limbo, unable to take over as Batman, with no road to take other than the one he makes. Garth is simply forgotten. Roy though, he is an example of everything that can go wrong, creatively.
What’s your favorite Roy Harper story? Did you like Cry of Justice (don’t lie)? Comment below!
Freebasing off a dead cat.