A bunch of people – no, really, an honest-to-god bunch – emailed me asking for parodies of The Rise of Arsenal, which isn’t going to happen. This isn’t because the comic isn’t shitty1 but because it, like just about everything else people ask me to parody these days, is singularly joyless and unpleasant. I mean, you can say a lot of things about Civil War, but whatever else, it has fights and explosions and Big Moments and an actual good idea in there somewhere, so it at least starts out from the right place and then unspools in a crazy-ass rollercoaster ride into Whafuckville. Even when you are saying things like “wait, Tony Stark is going to hire Bullseye and Venom? Seriously?” it’s still at least fun to read.
The Rise of Arsenal has none of that; it barely has a plot, really. Instead, it’s three bad ideas rolled into one. It’s one-third Roy Harper angsting about his dead daughter, one-third Roy Harper telling off everybody else in the DC Universe for being irresponsible and unfit at their jobs and/or as parents, and one-third Roy Harper doing drugs and for some reason hallucinating about his now-dead pusher. Quick: which of those three things do you want to read about?
The correct answer is “none of them.” The second correct answer is “wait, are you seriously asking me if I want to read about Roy Harper?” Because, come on. This isn’t Batman we’re talking about here: this is a character who’s been in about half-a-dozen titles over the last fifteen years, none of which exactly set the comics world on fire. (Three of them were the inevitable “hey guys remember the Wolfman/Perez run on New Teen Titans” series that DC feels compelled to publish every four years or so for the six remaining people who really, really give a shit about Beast Boy.)
But on top of this being about Roy Harper, whom you don’t care about much when you think about it for more than two seconds, it’s a terrible series because it seems to be designed to remind everybody that superheroes, as a concept, are really quite stupid. We all know that superheroes are a stupid concept and they don’t work if you think about them for two seconds.2 When Roy screams out that the entire idea of kid sidekicks just endangers kids or that Donna Troy abandoned her kids to go “whore around in space with Kyle Rayner”3 all it does is remind me that I am reading a comical book about people in tights fighting crime and how none of that actually makes sense. It’s like if I was reading Lord of the Rings and Sam suddenly started whining about why hobbits shouldn’t have hair on the tops of their feet. It makes the entire comic feel like a judgement on the reader for enjoying the genre, for crissake, and it’s something DC in particular just keeps doing again and again and again, and when it’s not this particular thing, it’s something else about how I don’t like comics in the right way and every time it happens I want to read DC comics less and less.
Marvel doesn’t do this. They singularly don’t do this. When Marvel decided that they needed to “fix” Spider-Man by retconning out his marriage by having him make a deal with the devil, it was a bad idea concocted to justify a worse idea that only existed because people can’t stop fanboy-jerking off to the idea of Spider-Man as their inner teen selves and etc. etc. etc. But you know what? If I pick up a Spider-Man comic, I barely ever have to read a thinly veiled diatribe from some writer about how I’m wrong for not liking Spider-Man the way that they like Spider-Man. I just get a Spider-Man story. “Here,” Marvel says to me, “here’s the Spider-Man story we’re going to write. It might not be quite your thing, we hope it is, but if not… I dunno, I guess DC just resurrected Barry Allen, do you like that? Then read that. We’re gonna write Spider-Man the way we think he should be written, and that’s all we have to say about it.” It’s really a refreshingly adult way of handling things.4 Marvel can also generally avoid the “but how does the real world come into this” trap because their heroes tend to be more real-worldy in the first place, and when they aren’t, they basically just say “aw, hell with it” and have Thanos eat a planet or something.
And before someone goes to the fanboy partisanship well, understand that I came into comics as a DC fanboy – other than Spider-Man and the odd issue of Avengers – I barely ever even read Marvel comics growing up. I have no deep nostalgic connection to the classic 80s runs on Thor or Wolverine or Daredevil or Iron Man, I lack the emotional connection to the X-Men that half of the comic-reading population has (I don’t even have an opinion about Kitty Pryde!), and I only discovered Dr. Strange (one of my all-time favorite comics, naturally) as an adult. My first comics that I collected were Legion of Super-Heroes and Batman and Justice League of America and All-Star Squadron: you cut me and I probably bleed the old-school DC Comics logo, the DC in the blue and white checkered circle.5 Do you have any idea how much it annoys me that I officially now hate Hawkman?6 When I was a kid I actually kind of liked Hawkman! Now he sucks because he’s in shitty comics all the goddamn time! It makes me actively not want to read DC’s fresh output, in the fear that I might start hating Guy Gardner or Steel or someone else who still manages to be awesome.
That’s what The Rise of Arsenal does: it doesn’t promote Roy Harper as a character. It makes you hate his ass so much you wish that, as a character, he had died as a result of all that heroin he did. Retroactively, like.7 It torches any hope anybody ever had of liking this whiny loser, and yes I’m calling someone who just lost his daughter “whiny” because if this happened to somebody you know in real life and they went around calling you and all your friends “bad parents” because you’re a working parent or doing a dangerous job or whatever you would slap them across their fucking face, dead kid or no dead kid. I don’t care how many issues are left, because on the Hank Pym Scale of Forever-Unlikability Roy Harper is now at, oh, 8.2 Pyms and rising, and when he inevitably deals with all his issues in a fakey-fake happy-time way by the final issue of this godawful miniseries, probably ending in a scene where he runs triumphantly toward the reader with a big positive smile on his face and it says “never the end!” in a caption at the bottom of the page, it’s not going to make me dislike him less.
- Oh my god it’s SO SHITTY YOU GUYS [↩]
- I mean, we all read those miniseries Warren Ellis wrote for Avatar, right? Right? Of course we did. [↩]
- Which, I have to admit, is kind of awesome coming from the guy who fucked a psychotic professional assassin. [↩]
- Okay, so occasionally Dan Slott writes an “explanation” issue where he comes off slightly defensive, but in fairness, continuity geeks eat that up and sometimes you have to pander to them. [↩]
- That is poetic license. If you cut me, I will actually just bleed real blood. Also I will probably cry. [↩]
- And I do! Fuck Hawkman. And Green Arrow too. [↩]
- Maybe Green Arrow could make a deal with the devil so that could happen. [↩]