DC Comics guts the commercial potential of C-list characters, like Arsenal
Is this Justice League: Rise of Arsenal an example of creative or commercial self-destruction? Issue #3 provides the answer.
Quick explanation – Green Arrow is the DC Comics character that shoots arrows, trick arrows. He is a rip-off of Batman (who of course was partially inspired by Superman) which leads to Smallville breaking thematic and metatextual continuity for having non-Superman-costumed Clark Kent being partially inspired by his ally and teammate the costumed Green Arrow while there is no Superman or Batman.
When Batman gained Robin it led to Green Arrow being joined by Speedy.
Robin grew up be an adult Robin twice. Then he wore pants, became Nightwing, and Batman recruited a second Robin (who got brutally murdered by the Joker with a crowbar because people in this country voted for it to be so through 1-900 voter contest) and Batman recruited a third Robin.
As Batman’s Robin (Dick Grayson) became Nightwing, Green Arrow’s Speedy (Roy Harper) became Arsenal.
Now DC Comics only has a small number of A-listers, loosely defined by Justice League membership (or if they were on the Super Friends), the sort of archetype they fulfill, and how well their comics sell. Aquaman is an A-lister because he was on the Super Friends, his own 1968 cartoon, appears on lunchboxes, and made guest appearances in the Bruce Timm DC animated series Superman, Justice League, or Justice League Unlimited . Aquaman is a b-lister because his comic books do not sell very well and although he has super-strength and is faster than any human, his primary powers are breathing underwater, swimming really fast, and talking to marine life. Green Arrow is a b-lister for a variety of reasons, many overlapping with Aquaman. In the end though he is a rip-off of Batman and the only reason he survives as a character is because people like the character.
Speedy, Arsenal is a c-lister because he is a spin-off character of a rip-off character. He got the new name, the Arsenal name, because “Speedy” is a sidekick name and Speedy was not a sidekick since Green Arrow got his 1970s look, joined up with Green Lantern for socially relevant adventures (Google “hard-traveling heroes”) and yet Speedy was wearing sidekick clothes for 20 years, dressing in a red version of the outfit that his mentor stopped wearing in the 1970s. Even after splitting off of the Green Arrow franchise and getting stuck in a franchise called “Titans”, along with some other ex-sidekicks and some freaks the character is only good for team series, not something of his own.
However he did collect a small supporting cast of his own. He occasionally borrows Green Arrow’s primary love interest as a sort of stepmom and he has a daughter that he sired with a super-villain terrorist named Cheshire out of a wedlock. Comics are for kids my butt. So his supporting cast is his daughter Lian, his mistress that murders people, and occasionally some loaners from other DC-owned franchises.
Then he got upgraded to join the Super-Friends, I mean the Justice League of America.
He took on the name and costume of Red Arrow, which works for me because he shoots arrows and the costume looks cool. It is identical to the second and most famous look for Green Arrow, and the one worn in all the cartoons. The real reason he wears this costume and took the name is to fulfill a semi-prophecy foretold by the artsy-fartsy Elseworld entirely-painted set-in-a-maybe future 20-years-from-present-day comic book story Kingdom Come. The first Justice League cast/team was more-or-less static from 1960 until 1984, at least in what kind of super-hero team comic book. In 1984 the Justice League franchise enters a cycle where every three years (at minimum) the franchise is rebooted, repackaged, and repurposed. The stories themselves typically have the team disbanding in one issue and soon another comic has a new gathering and a new team; story details vary.
The latest new direction, barely forty issues in, sees half of Red Arrow’s supporting cast getting detonated, killed in a terrorist’s explosion, and the character going off the deep-end in a horrible story that will never let him get his own lunchbox or cartoon show.
This is similar to how the company removed b-list character Elongated Man from the stable commercially viable characters. Like William Powell’s character in the Thin Man movies, he had one stable (human) character, his wife. Nick Charles had Nora Charles and Elongated Man had Sue Dibny. There would be Thin Man franchise if the Nick Charles character had no wife or family, leastwise one written out through violence, and the Elongated Man commercial property arguably lost its viability.
I never read these Arsenal falling comics, or the latest Justice League reboot comics. Apparently this “Rise of Arsenal” is an awful comic book series. As it happens the character is now snorting heroin, and in the midst of hallucinations, pummeling people ruthlessly to defend a dead cat that he envisions as his slaughtered child. This follows a plotline about sex and descent into drug addiction
Roy Harper (the hero known at various times as Speedy, Arsenal, Red Arrow, and apparently Arsenal again) and Cheshire (an international terrorist and assassin who once destroyed an entire country) are fighting each other because their daughter died. Despite the fact that Cheshire’s entire deal is that she has poisoned fingernails, she scratches Arsenal up and he’s none the worse for wear.
Sacrificing the integrity or viability of a character for the sake of a story is nothing new and really does not very little harm in this particular case; on the other hand, this story is bad,
It’s tempting to just leave it at that, because really, there’s not much you can add… that would make it sound worse than it already is. But there are problems in this story that run far deeper than what’s on the surface.
The issue here isn’t that Bad Things are happening to a character; that’s just the nature of storytelling. Characters exist so that bad things can happen to them, and they need to have challenges and adversity to overcome to continue functioning. A character that nothing bad ever happens to is boring — nobody wants to see Peter Parker get a steady job and have his girlfriend not thrown off a bridge, or Batman just drive around in a cool car with no crime to fight, or Scrooge McDuck just get richer and richer off the stock market. There needs to be conflict and opposition. That’s not the problem.
The problem is that the things that are happening are just bad. They’re poorly structured and executed, and twist characterization to fit a story that serves no real purpose.
Also one needs to note that comic book universes need a level of continuity of characterization, a level of consistency from title to in that sense if not a continuity of events within a canon. The whole purpose of having a fictional universe is so that one of the Golden Girls can visit a neighbor on Empty Nest or that The Jeffersons can move on up and carry over not only an audience but an audience that cares because the way the characters act illustrates them as the same characters more than the characters’ names or appearances. Fans also enjoy when stuff builds on other stuff that happens in the past, or last feels like it builds on it.
Cheshire appears in recent issues of “Secret Six,” where she’s very upset because one of her children has been kidnapped and likely murdered — this time a child fathered by Catman, because apparently she’s got a thing for red-haired dudes in costumes. It’s virtually the same setup, but it plays out in a completely different fashion that involves her fighting the people responsible and showing genuine (if twisted) emotion over it.
In “Rise of Arsenal,” however, her course of action as an assassin that once dropped nuclear weapons on the Middle East whose child was just murdered is to forget her defining abilities, meekly acquiesce… and then reassure her lover that… this happens to a lot of guys whose arm-stumps have been infected with “nanomites.”
What is the purpose of the comic? To be sold and to lead into something else. “Rise and Fall” is apparently another JLA reboot, I suppose, and an affirmation that the character cannot stand on its own is the name of the character is in the subtitle, with Justice League as the headline. I’m not a fan of the Super Friend franchise being used this way but this really is just a transition.
In a series ostensibly meant to make us care about this character after three years of shoehorning him into the Justice League, the creators have systematically stripped away any reason we have to be sympathetic towards him. There’s no incentive to see his eventual (and inevitable) redemption… The question, then, is why does this book exist? What storytelling purpose does Roy Harper stabbing cartoonish thugs while cradling a dead cat serve?
Considering that Arsenal is slated to join Deathstroke’s Titans — a team that was formed in a book where a woman killed someone by (no joke) burning him to death with her volcanic vagina — I think it’s safe to say that the entire point was to make him a (recovering) heroin addict named Arsenal who used a bunch of different weapons instead of a bow. Which is exactly what he already was five years ago. Even if he descends into villainy or “dies,” it’ll be just a pit stop before his eventual face turn, continuing the cycle of storytelling as ouroboros.
We already know where this comic is going, so the only thing it can possibly bring to the table is the story itself, and the story is abysmal, pawning off overblown vulgarity that would give even the worst fan-fiction a run for its money in the guise of maturity.
Deathstroke is a 1980s villain that was not only called “The Terminator” before James Cameron started the movie franchise with Arnold Schwarzenegger, but is the basis for the children’s cartoon character “Slade”, the arch-villain in the Teen Titans Saturday morning cartoon series. He started off as a super-soldier, murderer,and pedophile and then in the 1990s had his own comic book series, was a good-guy protagonist, and teamed up with Superman. Then in the last five years he started stabbing women, knee-capping children with shotguns, and helped destroy the universe for money. Now he is a good guy again. So we acknowledge the character cannot become something to be sold on its own, the stories are bad, what is old and not very good is published again and the worst part is the Justice League title is a platform for adult themes.