Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Underrated/Overlooked: Arsenal by Grayson & Mays

I'm not sure he'd make the cut on any sort of list I'd put together of favorite characters, but I'm definitely a fan of Roy Harper (aka Speedy I, aka Arsenal, aka Red Arrow). He's got the whole reformed bad boy deal going, he's got wit, he's an archer (and as a former certified archery instructor myself, though I sucked at hitting the target, I can still fool myself into thinking that's a common thread) and he's got a rich history in the DC Universe. He's been in some series and stories I hold great affection for, from New Teen Titans to Suicide Squad to Green Arrow and onward.

Given all the characteristics I rifled off above, you'd think Roy would be a writer's dream, but I get the hunch he's actually quite challenging to handle, in part because he's almost too good to be true...if that makes sense.

Let me elaborate by listing all the stuff Roy has going on in addition to the core personality I already outlined:

-He was raised by Green Arrow.

-He was a junkie.

-He was a government agent.

-He had an affair with a super villain/terrorist that produced a daughter.

-He now raises said daughter as one of (if not the only) single father characters in comics.

-He's a known ladies man who has knocked boots with the aforementioned Cheshire, Donna Troy, Grace, the Huntress and Hawkgirl just to name a few.

So right there I just threw out half a dozen things that could easily define a character and give writers plenty of fodder for many many stories; the trick with Roy is he's got all of those things going on. I've seen plenty of stories starring Roy Harper that try to cram in that he's an ex-junkie single father who carries a torch for his super villain former lover while flirting with other chicks and trying to use his government agent skills to cut through his daddy issues because he was raised by Green Arrow all into the same plot.

Oh, and he was also in a band.

So because Roy has such tremendous potential but at the same time so much baggage to overcome in writing good stories in which he is featured, I have tremendous respect for writers who can accomplish that task, and for my money, Devin Grayson has pulled it off more than once.

Devin Grayson wrote the excellent Phil Jimenez-illustrated JLA/Titans three-issue mini, which prominentaly featured Roy (then Arsenal) and also led into a new Titans ongoing book, again written by Grayson (for the first 20 issues) and again with Arsenal taking a major role. Over the course of those 23 issues, Grayson did some great stuff with Roy's character, but prior to that, she wrote a four-issue Arsenal limited series that I guess you could consider a trial run for what came next.

What I find nice about Grayson's approach to Roy Harper is that she acknowledges that all those things I mentioned earlier are ingredients in what makes him such an appealing character, but she knows how to use them in moderation and also doesn't let any of his "gimmick" hooks overwhelm his personality; in other words, she makes him being a recovering heroin addict or single dad part of his story, but not define him and make him an afterschool special.

In the case of the Arsenal mini, Grayson actually makes some light of all the cliches Roy has racked up over the years and makes it work for the story. A big part of the plot is Roy trying to balance his life between being a super hero and trying to raise his daughter, doing his best he doesn't let one life bleed over into the other and put people he cares about in jeopardy. Grayson makes Roy almost manic as he cycles between hero and dad as well as horndog, spy, addict, etc. She shows that these are all facets of what makes Roy Roy, but pokes a little fun by piling them all one on the other; she also gets it all in there up front and then narrows her focus to telling a story with the character that isn't predicated on him suffering withdrawl or pining for Cheshire, recognizing that those are each stories that need their own space.

Out of that set-up, we get a fun adventure that highlights the swashbuckling Green Arrow protege side of Roy, but also points out how different he is from his "dad" (who was "dead" at the time) in that he's committed to the family he has (his daughter, Lian) and has grown up to be a very responsible man despite the facade he may present to the world.

Grayson milks the Green Arrow connection further by having Black Canary and then-GA Connor Hawke as featured guest stars. I've always enjoyed the Roy-Canary dynamic when done right (which it is here) because it's so unique: she's a beautiful woman who's really not that much older than him, but she's also the closest thing he has to a mother and he is immensely respectul of her; on the flip side, Dinah is far more protective of Roy than she would be even of Ollie. It's a nice relationship and Grayson writes it well. She also gets good stuff out of one of Roy's first encounters with Connor, Ollie's actual son and our hero's polar opposite, disciplined perhaps to a fault. I enjoy the bickering brother routine and, on a more base level, that even though Connor is one of the best fighters in the DCU, Roy can still one-up him with a bow and arrow and also shows off that he has surpassed even his "dad" by becoming a master of many weapons, not just one.

The plot is a little wacky, but it's fun: immortal villain Vandal Savage has discovered that Roy is one of his descendants, so he kidnaps Lian in order to extort Arsenal as possible heir, but more likely to use his organs at some point down the line. It makes for good action and provides high stakes, but really it's all secondary to the character stuff and Roy's ongoing evolution as a hero, a father, and a man.

Rick Mays provides the art for this series, and he's a guy I really wish we saw more of. I love his Manga-influenced style, the fun energy it has and his awesome action sequences. His work on the dearly departed Ultimate Marvel Team-Up where he drew a two-parter teaming Spider-Man and Shang Chi was simply poetry, as he was born to draw fight scenes, which he demonstrates again here, but another thing he proves on this assignment is that he excels at bringing out genuine emotion in his characters.

This book is definitely a hidden gem and one of the best examples of what a blue chip leading man Roy Harper can be if done right. If Devin Grayson has a Red Arrow pitch, I hope somebody over at DC has the time to listen and perhaps Rick Mays on speed dial.


KP said...

Remember when Rick Mays was supposed to draw Robin for like three months? Man, that was a washout in so many ways.

I like issue #1 of this Arsenal book, though I never read the rest.

Ben Morse said...

You should track it down, particularly as I bet it's quarter bin fodder.

Mays was supposed to draw Bendis' Spider-Woman book before it became Alias as well.

Colin said...

"He now raises said daughter as one of (if not the only) single father characters in comics."

I think Lone Wolf & Cub have got a 30 year lead on that cliche.

Ben Morse said...


puertas metalicas said...

It can't truly work, I think this way. said...

It won't really have effect, I think this way. said...

Hey, there's really much effective information above!

viagra online said...

I have to admit that I haven't read any comic that he appears. I think that I will give it a try because right now they have a digital comic version.