Hero Profile: Roy Harper (Arsenal, Red Arrow, Speedy)

I tend to like both underdog and obscure characters. I also have a real fondness for the original Teen Titans. Putting those two things together, it shouldn’t be any shock I speedycount Roy Harper among my favorites. He was killed off a while ago, and, granted no one dies forever in comics, but it seems to be part of DC Comics’ general war on the Titans, at least the originals (but that’s a story for another time). For now, a look back at a character that, in a lot of ways, never could catch a break. Roy’s history has been rewritten several times. This is my best attempt to give him a decent, cohesive history.

Like many DC characters that have been around a while, there have been a few different versions of Roy. Originally, Roy was one of many Golden Age sidekicks. While, as one fan put it decades ago, “Green Arrow is nothing more than Batman with a bow,” Speedy was much the same as a counterpart for Robin. Roy’s father, Roy Harper Senior, was killed saving Navajo shaman Brave Bow from a fire. Brave Bow raised him, and Roy later met Green Arrow Oliver Queen, becoming his sidekick, Speedy. Later, a second origin gave his parents’ names as John and Anna, killed when one of John’s science experiments blew up, this time placing Roy with Chief Thunderhead before meeting Oliver Queen. The Golden Age Speedy was Green Arrow’s longtime sidekick, a member of the All Star Squadron (but never really part of their spinoff group of teens, the Young All Stars), and part of the Seven Soldiers of Victory. While “his” Oliver was killed during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Roy’s fate was never revealed. It didn’t matter, as he was one of many characters retconned away in the subsequent changes to DC’s history.


When many of the original characters were brought back in more modernized versions, there was a slightly different version of Roy William Harper, Jr. Once again, he was an orphan, his father Roy Sr. dying saving Brave Bow. Not one word about Roy’s mother has ever been written, and his father’s history has never been expanded past the previous sentence. When Brave Bow died after a long illness, Roy was sent to live with Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow. As most of the adult heroes came together to form the Justice League of America, their sidekicks became the Teen Titans. Speedy, as Roy began his heroic career, wasn’t one of the original three, but joined almost immediately after in the “Fab Five” version. The original versions of many of the heroes were bland and indistinguishable, but as characterizations gradually crept in, Roy became the bad boy and rebel of the group. He joined and left the group a few times, as did many of the characters. He and Wonder Girl Donna Troy dated off and on.


In a groundbreaking story that is often looked back on as one of the best comic stories written, it was eventually revealed that Roy was hooked on heroin. Oliver didn’t handle it well, and kicked Roy out, leading to a lot of troubles for the young hero. Dinah Lance, the Black Canary, found Roy and helped him through the worst of his withdrawal and rehab. Roy and Oliver were never quite as close after that.


Among Roy’s odd moves in the next few phases of his life: he was the drummer for a band called Great Frog, worked for several different government agencies (DC’s made up CBI and Checkmate, the Suicide Squad for a mission, and the DEA), and did some undercover work. While he was undercover in Japan, he met the assassin known as Cheshire. He was supposed to capture her, but there was a great deal of mutual attraction and, eventually, a daughter called Lian. Cheshire at first kept Lian from Roy, but eventually realized the life of an assassin didn’t provide the best, or safest, environment for a child.


After a few attempts at a more or less normal life, Roy returned to the only work he was really suited for, going back to Checkmate and expanding his formidable fighting skills with Moo Gi Gong, the art of using pretty much anything as a weapon. Roy had a stable life for a time, made friends, and got some help raising Lian from some fellow agents. That couldn’t last, and he was sent to Dick Grayson to talk about the future of the Titans after the massive property damage in the Titans Hunt storyline. Eventually, bowing to various pressures, Roy emerged as the leader of a new group of Titans, taking the codename Arsenal. His team of Titans didn’t last long, and he helped mentor another branch of the team, changing his costume yet again, but keeping the Arsenal name. Later, he found out he was a distant descendant of the immortal villain Vandal Savage, and, possibly as a result of this, got more in touch with his Navajo heritage from his time with Brave Bow. After yet another version of the Titans came and went, Roy joined his old friend Dick on a more covert team, a later incarnation of the Outsiders. After a lot of trauma and heartbreak, Roy left the team and started a new chapter in his life.


After working solo for a time, Roy became Red Arrow and joined the Justice League. He began a relationship with Hawkgirl Kendra Saunders, and started teaching archery to Lian. His life was going well, which never lasted for Roy. Fighting the deadly villain Prometheus, Red Arrow lost an arm, which was later replaced with a cybernetic limb designed by fellow Titan Victor Stone, Cyborg. Prometheus’ plan also resulted in the RAdeath of Lian in the controversial Cry for Justice story. Bottoming out, he joined a villainous version of the Titans alongside Cheshire. Then everything changed when DC launched its company-wide reboot, called the DCNU (among other things by some less than happy fans).


In the new history, Lian never existed, the Titans came in and out of reality as different writers clashed in the poor planning DC had for the event and the new world, and Roy’s life changed. His mother was now a forest ranger who died alongside his father, Roy was the one who created the trick arrows for Green Arrow, and their relationship was much more strained. Roy was one of the Outlaws alongside Red Hood Jason Todd and Starfire, and dated the powerful alien for a time. Later, the Titans reformed when their memories were restored, and Roy and Donna got back together.


Then, DC did a new event, Heroes in Crisis. This story killed off many heroes, most of them related to the Titans in some way. Eventually, readers learned that the culprit was Wally West, the former Kid Flash, when his powers malfunctioned in a way no speedster’s in DC had ever been shown to work before. Among the many dead at Sanctuary, a place allegedly designed to help heroes deal with the many traumas in their careers, was Roy Harper. I was among the many fans displeased with this story. In comics, no one dies forever, so I’m sure at some point, in some unlikely way, Roy will return.


Powers and Abilities: Roy was a highly skilled fighter, adept at using many different kinds of weapons, usually returning to the bow and trick arrows. He was a highly skilled hand to hand combatant as well, getting training from, among others, Black Canary and Nightwing. He was a skilled spy and intelligence officer, and spoke many languages, including Navajo, Japanese, and Russian.  Roy was a good investigator, leader, and tactician.


arrowSpeedy appeared in various cartoons, and was the only character to be on both Teen Titans and Justice League Unlimited. He played a major role in Young Justice as well. As Arsenal, Roy was a recurring character on the CW’s Arrow tv show, the hero’s first time in live action. His name was shown on Donna Troy’s phone in season two of the DC Universe Titans show, but he hasn’t appeared there as of the end of that season.