Roy Harper and the Five Stages of Grief
Start by watching this. Trust me.
This video is a painfully adorable representation of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s grieving model, known as the “five stages of grief.” I have a theory that writers at Marvel and DC are forced to watch this video anytime they’re planning the aftermath of a character being killed off. Just to be clear, these stages are:
Roy Harper happens to be going through this right now, which should be a surprise to no one since he’s always been the proverbial whipping boy of the DC Universe. And it just so happens that our friend Roy also has some stages of his own as a character:
1. Shoot arrows
2. Shoot drugs
3. Shoot guns
There’s a fourth step, “makes unbelievably irresponsible decisions,” but as far as I can see, this tends to happen at least once in between the other steps, so you should just assume that it’s occurring at all times. It’s the only way to explain a lot of what has gone down with this guy. In the past 30 years, he’s been put through drug addiction, conceived a child with a lunatic assassin, suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the chest, and had his child get kidnapped by child-slavers. But this wasn’t enough.
It seems that it’s impossible to make Harper terribly compelling as a character, so his primary role in the DC Universe has been as the victim of constant misfortune, which makes him into a very effective vehicle for selling comics. We all know that the mainstream reader of superhero comics is motivated by schadenfreude more than anything else. I’ve learned that I’m one of these people, and I’m not remotely ashamed of it. If DC wants to turn Harper’s life into the grindhouse version of a Lifetime movie, then I’m totally coming along for the ride.
And it has certainly been a ride in 2010. DC officially stands for “Dead Children,” in the aftermath of Cry for Justice, as we find Harper’s daughter Lian dying tragically when the villain Prometheus bombs Star City, leaving star-shaped crater behind (yes, really). This is a horrible, horrible thing. It can’t get more horrible than this, can it? OH YES IT SURE CAN!!!
OMG LOL SCHADENFREUDE Prometheus totes cut his arm off too! And now I get to read The Rise of Arsenal, where Roy basically turns into the cute little girl with the goldfish. It’s not hard to see that this is part of DC’s whole “Brightest Day” thing.
What I’m finding interesting about this direction for Roy is…oh, actually nothing. I’m no expert in dramatic writing, but it’s pretty easy to see that horrible suffering doesn’t guarantee any kind of meaningful character development. Nevertheless, that seems to be the thought process underlying this story, the idea that putting a perennially second-tier character through hell will somehow make him into someone we’ll care about. I doubt it’ll actually work, but what fascinates me is that DC has really cut loose with the “it can and will get worse” approach. He’s lost his daughter and his arm (which is pretty important for a hero with a bow & arrow) and it appears that he’s not even close to hitting bottom. How do we know this? In the next issue of “The Rise of Arsenal,” Lian’s mother is coming after him (remember the lunatic assassin thing?).
Let’s get back to those cycles. As far as the five stages go, Roy is pretty much all over the place so far, but it’s mostly just anger. And it’s the best kind of anger; the kind that’s directed at everyone else. Including, but not limited to:
His stupid bow!
I have a hard time believing that he’ll eventually reach the stage of acceptance. Since that new cyborg arm of his doesn’t work so well, I’m hoping that Roy ends up more like the KGBeast or Grim Reaper. That’s assuming that DC wants to stay classy with this one.
But hold on! I’m forgetting Roy’s other cycle here. After shooting guns, Roy decided to reinvent himself as Red Arrow and start shooting arrows again. In the aftermath of unbelievable tragedy, Roy has managed to find himself living out a combination of stage 2 of the Roy Cycle and stage 3 of the Kübler-Ross cycle. He’s bargaining with an imaginary drug pusher:
So I don’t know where else DC can really take Roy Harper as a character after this. They’ve taken away his daughter and his archery, which are really two out of the three things that have come to define him. The third piece of Roy and what may have been the only this that was interesting about him was his status as a man in recovery. Now that they’re teasing at a relapse (he’s already popping pills), it seems like that part of him has been cheapened as well, even if he ends up coming back from the edge. By calling this mini-series “The Rise of Arsenal,” there’s a strong implication to me that he’s going to pick up a bunch of guns again (remember, this is step 3 after “shoots drugs”) and turn into some kind of hybrid of Cable and the Punisher…Franken-Harper?
In any event, I have no doubt that in a few years, we’ll see an issue of The Brave and the Bold in which Wonder Woman and Zatanna take Roy out to an arm-wrestling competition the night before the events of “Cry for Justice” after Zatanna has a dream that Roy is gonna have a really bad day.
(As I was writing this, I started to feel somewhat guilty about the fact that I was making light of the events of this story. Maybe I should. To be honest, there was a time in my life when I wanted to be a grief counselor, and I’m a registered hospice volunteer, so I really don’t take death too lightly. It’s an important part of life and the grieving process is something that should be taken seriously. On the other hand, my father is a clergyman, and so talking about death was a big part of life in my household, since he conducts funerals on a pretty frequent basis, so I’ve always had a strange perspective on these kinds of things. But I find that DC has become obsessed with death lately in a really strange way, and the more that they rely on it as an edgy plot device more than anything else, the less seriously I’m able to take it. That doesn’t mean I love the comics any less; I’m more entertained than ever, in a messed up way. But I certainly feel weird about it. Look at that! Neurotic self-commentary!)