Red Hood and the Outlaws has been one of the few clear successes of the DCNU. Scott Lobdell was able to take three B-list heroes and create a successful new team which has consistently garnered sales in the mid thirty thousands ranking it slightly above the middle of the pack out of the Not-So-New 52. RHATO has generally met good critical reception too; not everybody is a fan, but it has a solid fan base and almost everybody can appreciate some elements of the series.
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Of course, Red Hood and the Outlaws has had its critics mostly due to the rebooted characterizations of the heroes. Virtually nobody minds the tweaking of Red Hood's personality to make him more stable and less prone to nonsensical outbursts of homicidal mania and general dickishenss, but many have taken umbrage with the reboot of Starfire. In addition to wiping out a large part of her history, Lobdell has made her mentally deficient so that she can no longer remember major past events or distinguish between the majority of human faces. In an effort to further discourage any woman from ever wanting to pick up a comic book, the Outlaw creative team made sure to give Starfire a ridiculous figure, an even more revealing costume than had ever previously been donned by the heroine, the modesty of a nudist, and virtually no sexual mores. Oh, and she occasionally kills people without the slightest hint of remorse.
Full disclosure here: I love continuity, yet I am not extremely familiar with Roy Harper. I know a lot about him via various articles such as his character history on ComicVine, but I have not had the pleasure of reading a ton of his stories which occur mostly in Teen Titans in the modern era.
However, I have seen and read enough of Roy's life to fall in love with him in a weird sort of way.
Let me explain.
Most characters are stagnant. Superman is essentially the same now as he was twenty years ago. Batman has had various archs that somewhat develop his character, but in a very real sense, all that happens is he swings between being slightly more broody and slightly less broody throughout the modern age. Spider-Man is another character who has been more or less plateaued for the last couple of decades. All these characters might go through brief changes, but their fundamentals stay the same.
Roy Harper has never been a stagnant character in the modern age. In the last twenty-five years, Roy went from being a sidekick to a member of the Justice League of America to a killer drug addict. How many other characters can claim that much character “growth” over the years?
A Speedy Telling of the Life of Arsenal
For you to understand my point, you really have to understand pre-Flashpoint Roy Harper.
Roy Harper learned the skills of archery from the Native American man who raised him, Brave Bow. After getting infatuated with the hero Green Arrow, Roy entered an archery contest in the hopes that he would land on GA's radar. As luck would have it, Roy lost the competition but won the approval of Green Arrow who took Roy as his sidekick because Ollie just copied everything Batman did in those days, and Batman had a kid sidekick, so why shouldn't Green Arrow? When GA learned that Roy was actually faster with the bow that Ollie himself, (though not more accurate) Roy earned his first codename, Speedy.
Roy was nearly always Green Arrow's compatriot in battle, and his tour of duty also brought him in contact with greater heroes like Superman, Batman and Robin. Robin, Speedy, and other sidekicks began hanging out and eventually formed the group Teen Titans.
To briefly run through many years of continuity, Roy hit a hard time when he broke up with fellow Teen Titan member Donna Troy and his partnership with Green Arrow seemed to dry up as Ollie focused on his relationship with Dinah. Roy turned to the solace of drugs and became addicted to heroine. When it was discovered, Green Arrow turned his back on Roy, but GA's girlfriend, Dinah, helped Roy to detox. When cleaned up, Roy became an anti-drug spokesman.
Eventually, Roy, now an adult, shed the name Speedy and took the moniker Arsenal using a great variety of different tech and weapons rather than relying solely on his trusty longbow. Arsenal was soon recruited by the government organization Checkmate where he was assigned to infiltrate a criminal organization ran by the villain Cheshire. Roy apparently got in too deep with his cover falling in love with Cheshire and eventually infiltrating his way into her pants. Realizing he had screwed up, Arsenal withdrew from his cover and abandoned the operation. Unfortunately, this was not the end for Roy soon discovered that Cheshire had born him a daughter named Lian. At the end of the day, Roy ended up with sole custody of Lian.
Arsenal soon left Checkmate and rejoined the Titans. When that team disbanded, Roy formed his own group called the Outsiders. Eventually, Roy, using the code name Red Arrow, made it all the way up to the big time gaining a slot on the Justice League of America. It was around that time that Roy's whole world fell apart.
The villain Prometheus destroyed a large part of Star City, the location of Roy's home. In the destruction, Lian was killed. After having an emotional breakdown, Roy shed his identity as Red Arrow and returned to the old identity of Arsenal. Enraged at the loss of his daughter, Roy begins to track down and kill everyone who played a role in helping Prometheus' schemes. It was during this time that Roy began using heroine again.
Eventually, the superhero community had to act on Arsenal's behavior. With Ollie's approval, Dinah Lance and Dick Grayson worked together to take Roy down and turn him over to the justice system. Roy, however, continued to do his bloody work using his time in prison to get close to the Electrocution (one of Prometheus' goons) and torture him to death before escaping. When last we saw Roy before the reboot, he was constantly shooting up and working as an assassin with Cheshire.
Now is that a happy story? No, but how many heroes over the years have had such a compelling story of tragedy? Few could compare in my view. Sure, lots of heroes have had horrible things happen to them, but I see Roy as a character who, though very flawed, tried immensely hard to do the right and overcome his own personal weaknesses. In the end though, he loses his daughter, is abandoned by his friends, and loses himself to his own addiction. I can't speak for you, but that one strikes me right in the heart.
I enjoy the new version of Roy, but I can't help but feel there was still a lot of story left to be told with pre-Flashpoint Arsenal. The universe left him in a very dark place, and unless there is a reboot reboot, then I think some part of me will always feel that Roy is still in pain and tearing himself apart. Perhaps if the universe had continued, Roy might have been able to get to the same place DCNU Roy has reached. Maybe old Roy might have been able to become the addict in recovery who masks his pain and insecurities by making jokes and playing dumb. Maybe...but we will probably never know, and I can't help but think that old Roy, if left to continue in his self-destructive direction, would have ended up dried up and dead in some Star City alley with a needle in his arm.