Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Thanks for Nothing, J.T. Krul

I've been composing this post in my head for the last half hour on my way home, after reading Rise of Arsenal 4 on the train ride back from my comics shop. I am very upset and annoyed right now, so if this is a bit more rambling than usual, sorry, but I'm typing this as the words come to me.

And of course, there be spoilers here.

First, I want it known upfront that I'm an easy audience. I'm the sort of reader and viewer who most willingly checks my disbelief before entering some fictional realm. I'm easy and forgiving, so it takes a lot -- a helluva lot -- to piss me off. Yet, that's exactly what J.T. Krul has done.

Second, I wanted to like this. I had high hopes for this. I told myself to wait til after I read the last chapter before passing judgment. And so I have, and it isn't pretty.

Third, I shouldn't take these things personally, I guess. The death of the original Supergirl cut so close and it turned me off comics, especially DC, for nearly a decade, so I should know better than to be so emotionally attached to characters. And there they went and killed Lian and it hurt because there was no reason for it. Ollie could have gone off the deep end and killed whathisname just for taking Roy's arm and destroying most of Star City. But now I know the real reason and it sucks bigtime.

And I can't just turn my back on a character I have loved for 45 years. Roy Harper wasn't my first male comics character crush. Back when I started reading comics, it was the Bat books and the Superman books and that included the LSH in Adventure, so my favorites were Dick Grayson and Element Lad. Gradually, I added in Elongated Man and Roy, with Roy leapfrogging to the top of the list.

I don't know whose decision it was to do this to Roy. I don't know if Krul came up with the idea and got the go-ahead, or editorial did and Krul was just the hired gun. It doesn't matter. I thought Krul got Roy. His first effort, in Titans, showing Roy and Lian, was wonderful. So I had hopes he would make this mess into something wonderful, surprising, even. That he didn't is as great a disappointment as when it turned out Lian was dead as many of us suspected.

Which brings me to the fourth thing. I don't mind heroes who kill. I understand the reasons behind the act and when done well, it can add to a character. Many years ago, on Magnum PI, one of Magnum's close friends, his contact in the Navy, was killed by someone with diplomatic immunity and the most that could be done was to deport the asshole. And that wasn't good enough for Magnum. It wasn't justice. So he waylaid the car taking the killer to the airport and as the episode ended, you see him aim his gun and fire. It's a close-up and you don't see the killer die. The camera is on Magnum and you know this is not about revenge but justice. This was cold-blooded, an act of quiet desperation, perhaps, but one that had been decided and carried out with care. There were no witnesses who would come forward. Magnum got away with it. He'd been in war, so he knew what it was like to kill. He knew what he was doing and it was an act that fit the character.

In Rise of Arsenal 4, Roy kills the Electrocutioner, while Ollie pleads with him to not do it, and while dozens of prison guards and prisoners look on. Roy's act is not one of justice, but of revenge, as he's goaded on by hallucinations of his dead daughter. Roy has escaped from the drug treatment facility, he's in physical pain, and he's suffering the lingering effects of the narcotics in his system. And what happens after he kills the bastard? He walks away. He burns his house, says goodbye to Lian's ghost and he walks away. At least Ollie went on trial for the murder he committed. I can only conclude that the reason behind Lian's death was to make Roy a killer. To make him as sanctimonious as his mentor.

The book ends with the note that Roy's story continues in Titans Villians for Hire, a book I have no intention of reading. This is not where I wanted/hoped Roy would be. I'd hoped he might be able to return to the JLA, along with his fellow Teen Titans grads Dick, Donna, and Wally. But the days of following Roy to whatever book he turns up in are over. I have no interest in Titans now and what Roy is right now is not anyone I want to read about.

Roy has been a character routinely dumped on. The drugs were just part of it. But no matter what, Roy always came through the bad times a better, stronger person. He might not have been able to turn to Ollie who was rarely there for him, but he could lean on Dinah and Hal, Dick and Donna. Now, he's alienated everyone who cares about him. No matter how much darkness he had in his soul, there was a basic core of goodness that never died. It's what made him a better person than Ollie at times. It's what made him a hero. And now, the death of his daughter destroyed that. Realistic, perhaps, but this isn't a real person we're reading about; it's a freaking comic book character. The opportunity to do something special with him was tossed away so he could become just another vigilante.

Perhaps the next time the DCU hotshots are questioned about the apparent racism and sexism in their books, they could point to Roy and say, "See, we disrespect white male characters, too. Just look at how we continually botch the writing of Roy Harper!" I'm sure they're proud of what they've done to Roy, when all they've done, that I can see, is alienate Roy's fans. This is one fan who can't bring myself to care about him anymore. So congrats, DC. You've managed to destroy my love for Roy Harper. And the sad thing is, the folks at DC will never know that, and if they did find out, wouldn't care.

As a reader, I know I'm not in charge. I write, so I know and understand that the audience should not dictate to the creators. And with so many people over so many years involved in writing comics and individual characters, there will be different interpretations and some inconsistencies. But I also know that if you want to be read, you would do best writing what people want to read. And while I might not have liked, at all, this storyline, I would have been fine with it if it had been good. If it had been true to character. If it had been more than a predictable, cheap shot. Because this is not the Roy Harper Brad Meltzer wrote joining the JLA a few years ago. This is someone unrecognizable. That Roy Harper would have gone through the denial, anger, and other stages of grief, but he would have emerged stronger, wiser, if sadder, and with a strong sense of purpose, of what's good in the world and of doing good, not as some dark avenger, but as someone who sets an example. The true Roy would have found that goodness inside him.

If I had written this story, Roy would have, with the help of his friends, found a way to rise above the bad and tap into the good inside him. He would have finally started to believe that he had worth after all. I would have kept his flaws, his doubts, but had him start pushing them aside and start really believing all the good things he pretended to believe about himself. If that's the ultimate goal for Roy here, it's taking too long and I have no interest in continuing to read in the hopes that's the case. Now that I see where this is headed, apparently, I almost wish he'd been killed, too.

I have a short box of comics that feature Roy, plus the short box of Teen Titans/Titans books. I have even bought dups of some of the JLAs with Roy so I can keep them in his box as well as the JLA box. That's how much he mattered to me. And now, I'm going to toss out this mini-series and content myself with rereading all the old, wonderful stories that showed Roy for the youth, and then man he truly is. Because the man who emerged from this story isn't him. Maybe someday, the true Roy Harper will return, but I'm not counting on it. Though, given how often he gets revamped, it might happen in another 3-5 years.

Unless Roy guests in a book I'm already reading, I guess this is it. Farewell, Roy. It's been a helluva 45 years. But it's time for me to move on. There are plenty of characters for me to read: the gang in Secret Six. The gals in Birds of Prey. Batgirl. Supergirl. Power Girl (I hope!). Batwoman. Batman or whatever book Dick Grayson is in. A few others and a bunch of non-DCU books. That's more than enough. So take care, Roy, and maybe we'll be reunited someday. With comics, one never can know for sure where the stories will lead.


  1. As I've used up all my vitriol on this clusterf***'s catalyst, all I have to say is "Terrible."

  2. Well crap. Crappity crap crap. I didn't pick up this issue, because I was so grossed out by the first one, so I didn't realize that they actually went and turned poor Roy into a murderer. It's bad enough that they did it to Ollie, but now Roy too? AND they're going to stick him in that gawdawful evil Titans book?

    What the heck did Roy DO to you Dan Dideo?

    I'm so sorry.

  3. Thanks for the support, Sally. I'm beside myself over this. I wish I knew why Roy has been subjected to so much crap. As a former addict, single father with commitment issues, he was one of the more interesting DC characters, which made the early traumas fine by me because they elevated him from just another sidekick. But now... this is worse than death.

  4. I haven't seen #4 yet, but it sounds as bad as I suspected it would be.

    Like I said on my blog, the mini could have been subtitled "DC Spotlights Roy Harper And Sucks All The Redeeming Qualities Out Of Him".

    You're not alone, Shelly. Roy could've continued to inspire people. Now he'll probably just inspire people to stop reading DC.

    I thought there couldn't be a more depressing character revamp than Speedball becoming Penance during Civil War. It's sad that I was wrong, and sadder that it was Roy.

  5. Thanks, notintheface. I suspected the worst, too, but I was trying to be positive and give Krul the benefit of the doubt, based on that Roy and Lian story in Titans. It wasn't great, but the characters were on target. Damn, I feel betrayed.