25 years ago - Roy Harper is born, the son of a forest ranger & a native american tribal leader's daughter.
18 years ago - 7-year-old Roy's father dies, and he goes to live with his mother's people on their reservation, where he is taught by his grandfather Brave Bow.
13 years ago - 12-year-old Roy is taken in by 29-year-old Oliver Queen when Brave Bow dies, and becomes his sidekick, Speedy. They regularly battle new Star City vigilante, Eric Needham.
10 years ago - 15-year-old Roy isn't asked to join Raven's Teen Titans. When 32-year-old Oliver Queen goes traveling with 31-year-old Hal Jordan, Roy begins his casual drug use.
9 years ago - 16-year-old Roy attempts to commit suicide by attacking Waylon Jones, but when Croc realizes what he's doing he won't continue.
8 years ago - 28-year-old Dinah Lance discovers 17-year-old Roy's heroin habit & takes him to rehab.
6 years ago - 19-year-old Roy has an affair with the terrorist Cheshire, before she detonates an atomic bomb in Quarac.
5 years ago - 20-year-old Roy adopts his new role as Arsenal, and gets government backing for a new Titans team. He brings Cheshire to justice & gains custody of their newborn daughter Lian.
4 years ago - 21-year-old Roy joins the newly reformed original Titans, and brings in Jesse Quick & Argent from his government team. He battles Red Panzer alongside Donna Troy & Kyle Rayner.
3 years ago - 22-year-old Roy & Nightwing build a new Outsiders team in the aftermath of Donna Troy's death & the end of their Titans team.
2 years ago - 23-year-old Roy becomes the sole leader of the Outsiders when Nightwing leaves the team to become a cop.
1 year ago - 24-year-old Roy joins all the surviving Titans in space to save Donna Troy. He gives Mia Dearden his old quiver.
Roy Harper is called "Red Arrow" in modern comics, but that entire identity was an attempt to put him in a box, and a character like Roy completely defies that sort of thing. Arsenal is the black sheep of his entire generation of heroes, and one of the most dynamic characters comics has to offer. Sometimes a character might start out as someone's supporting character, but they grow past that and become something so much better.
Arsenal's Comic History
Roy was one of a crop of teen-sidekick characters that sprung up during the early Silver Age. At the time Green Arrow was essentially a re-skinned Batman so it made perfect sense to give him a Robin of his own, and for the time Green Arrow and Speedy operated in much the same fashion. Then Green Arrow was re-imagined by Mike Grell and suddenly Roy Harper was a bit of an outlier to the new concept. Ollie was now a crusading liberal, traveling across America with Hal Jordan confronting a variety of social issues. Then In a VERY bold decision by writer Denny O'Neil, Hal and Ollie discovered that in their absence Roy had started to use heroin. The two heroes walked into a room to find Roy with a needle in his arm. It was a genius (albeit heavy-handed) way to show that drug use could affect someone even in their own family. It was a stroke that changed the landscape for these characters forever.
The aftermath of this played out in the pages of the Teen Titans. We saw other former sidekicks dealing with the big shoes they had to fill but very few of them had to deal with the absenteeism of their mentor and father figure. Oliver Queen, whatever else he is, is a terrible mentor. He's a great archer and superhero, but he makes for a lousy role-model. We watched Roy crumble as he dealt with his abandonment, and then got to watch as he built himself back up again.
Roy first adopted his identity as Arsenal in the early nineties, and it showed. It seemed like the comics were struggling to understand what to do with the character, but through it all, there was something very admirable about him. He was deliberately recreating himself. There was no catalyzing event that pulled him from being a recovering addict and made him a hero. He did that himself. Roy's continued to be a hero simply because he said so. He lead a government funded Titans team, joined the original Titans when they reformed, restarted the Outsiders alongside Nightwing, and continued to be one of the leaders of his generation of heroes seemingly by sheer will.
Roy as he appeared in the pages of the Outsiders seemed to be the character as he was always intended to be. He was a wonderful single father to his daughter Lian, but he also tackled his career as a hero with a dedication and panache that was completely unique. In 2007, he was made a member of Brad Meltzer's Justice League as Red Arrow, theoretically taking on the role he had been meant for. As a fan of the character though, I can say that it actually read as a bit of a step backward. He had grown as his own person for so long that returning to the shadow of the man that abandoned him simply didn't feel like part of the character's natural progression. Sadly. the character became largely unreadable after his daughter Lian was killed during a story called 'Cry for Justice'. A watered down version of Roy appeared in the new 52, but we've yet to see a return of the charismatic, experienced veteran hero that Roy had become.
Our Arsenal Story
Sometimes our task of rebuilding a character's story is a simple matter of cutting away everything that doesn't work.
We follow his comic timeline almost to the letter... His career as speedy, his abandonment by Ollie, his drug addiction and recovery, and then his career as a government agent. He serves as an undercover member of Slade Wilson's team of assassins the Ravens, and then he assumes his identity as Arsenal, leading his own Titan team to take down Cheshire, the mother of his daughter. From there, he rejoins the original Titans until they separate, and then forms his own team alongside Nightwing, the Outsiders. When Nightwing steps down, he becomes the team's sole leader.
That's all almost directly from the comics (with the exception of the Ravens, we made that up). From here, though, we stop following comics history at all. No Red Arrow. No Cry for Justice. No cyborg arm. No baseball cap. Outsiders Roy is peak Roy. If you just let that character thrive, you get a classic comic character for the ages. He would maintain his leadership of Outsiders even as he becomes a member of the new Watchtower, because characters of this caliber tend to turn up everywhere.
Roy's been through a whole spectrum of costumes over the years. This totally fits for a character who has changed so much over his career, but at some point they seem to have over-exceeded their grasp. When he was 'upgraded' to join Brad Meltzer's Justice League of America as 'Red Arrow', his look started to be less his own thing, and more of a differently-colored reflection of Green Arrow. Of course, then he lost an arm to be replaced by a cybernetic one in Cry for Justice, which served as a symbol for everything he'd lost that was making the character unreadable. Not to be outdone, when we hit the new 52 he started wearing a baseball cap all the time. Presumably because someone thought it was time that we finally got a comic book superhero that was also an insufferable bro.
So which of his costumes should actually stick? Obviously his original red and yellow 'speedy' costume is classic. He went through a few pretty nineties-tastic looks when he debuted as Arsenal, but his high collared red and orange number with the arrow motif on his chest seemed to be a pretty good launching point. Those two costumes should do a good job of representing his development over the years.
His BEST design, however, was definitely the red and black jacket-and-pistols look he started sporting when he became the co-leader of the Outsiders. This was the character concept he had been evolving into for his entire career. This is why he would never be the person who takes over as Green Arrow after Oliver's retirement, because THIS is the hero he needs to be.
One of the really amazing things about characters of Roy's generation is that they all seemed to evolve on their own, without any editorial direction. Roy as he is depicted in the Outsiders was everything that people would one day love about the heroic version of Red Hood, but without the obvious teen angst. Roy is as non-lethal as any hero until someone needs to make a hard choice. He uses all sorts of clever gadgetry without the obvious deus ex machina of Batman's utility belt. He's basically a perfect non-powered superhero.
His future is obviously tied to the new Watchtower team, as well as staying the leader of the Outsiders... but we're a few years away from a real exciting new element of his story; Lian isn't that far from being able to be a hero herself. Roy's going to have a sidekick of his own, and his daughter is going to be one of the leaders of her generation of heroes, and watching Roy teach her how to do it is going to be awesome.