In other installments of Graphic Opinions, I’ve talked about some of my favorite characters, and this week, I decided to look a bit more in-depth into one of them and the character who took up the mantle after him.
Roy Harper has gone by quite a few names as a hero in the 78 years since his first appearance — Speedy, Arsenal, Red Arrow — but I want to focus on his time as Speedy, since the mantle of Speedy, Green Arrow’s sidekick, seems to have an interesting trend to it.
In the late 60’s, Green Lantern was on the verge of cancellation and given a new writer, Denny O’Neil, who revived the series as Green Lantern/Green Arrow with social-activism-motivated stories, one such being the award-winning 1971 “Snowbirds Don’t Fly” storyline that changed Roy, and the mantle of Speedy, forever.
The creative team wanted to tackle the increasing addiction problem that was sweeping the U.S. and felt the need to address it in the Green Lantern/Green Arrow comic. The cover shows Roy in his Speedy gear, sans mask, after having injected himself with heroin. The two-issue arc was designed to show that addicts weren’t “bad” people and that anyone could suffer from drug addiction. While intended to increase awareness, the storyline was ultimately an anti-drug public service announcement.
Roy’s character has since become defined by this storyline, marking him as a former drug addict who, in storylines throughout the following decades, was able to “get clean,” but sometimes still struggles with addiction.
Like the other members of the “fab five” — DC’s first five kid sidekicks of Robin, Speedy, Aqualad, Kid Flash and Wonder Girl — Roy was allowed to grow up and eventually shed the name of Speedy in 1993.
In 2001, Mia Dearden was introduced in Green Arrow as a runaway who is saved by Green Arrow from a child prostitution ring and discovers Green Arrow’s real identity as Oliver Queen. Mia soon becomes Oliver’s new ward and convinces him to train her. In 2004, she finally took up the mantle of Speedy and became Green Arrow’s new sidekick.
Mia is special not only because she is one of a handful of female characters to take up mantles previously held by men, but also because, like Roy, she has an extremely powerful cover and story-arc that bring attention to members of society who might normally be shunned and shine light on something that media tends to shy away from.
Prior to her becoming Speedy, it is revealed that Mia is HIV-positive, a result of her life before meeting Oliver. She becomes very open about this and even speaks in front of an assembly at her school about HIV and the stigma that surrounds it, making a point to talk about the false idea that her classmates might contract HIV by using the same water fountain as her. As a member of the Teen Titans, Mia specifically talks to her teammates about how to properly treat her should she get injured.
It’s through Mia that many readers were introduced to what life with HIV looks like and learned that really it’s not that different. She also showed that HIV affects a wide variety of people and that those who live with it aren’t “at fault” for having contracted it.
Now, it’s no surprise that Green Arrow comics would feature such storylines thanks to their history of social activism and justice, a trend that continues today. Roy and Mia may appear as members of the Teen Titans or in other series, but they’re both Green Arrow characters first and foremost. What is interesting is that over the years the writers have chosen Speedy, not any of the other characters who regularly appear, to be the representation for two marginalized groups.
Speedy is a recovering drug addict and Speedy is HIV-positive, but what’s most important is that Speedy is a hero — a hero in more ways than one for the people who see themselves in these characters.