The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character
Roy Harper Jr.
of the Justice League of America
previously known as "Speedy" and then "Arsenal" of the Teen Titans and Outsiders
The superhero now known as Arsenal was for many decades known as "Speedy," a heroic archer who was originally introduced as the teenaged sidekick of the adult hero Green Arrow. Apparently since the inception of the character, whose real name is Roy Harper, Jr., the key ingredient to his origin story is that Harper was the son of a forest ranger who was orphaned and raised by Navajo Indians.
Ethnically, Arsenal is not a Native American. Yet in the DC comics in which he appears, it has been clearly shown that the traditional Navajo religion (or at least his perception of it) as his own belief system. This means that although Roy Harper is not a Navajo Indian, his religious affiliation is traditional Native American religion, specifically traditional Navajo religion.
Although most contemporary Native Americans as well as most Americans generally might find laughable the notion that being rasied by Navajos would necessarily lead to becoming an expert in archery, one should remember that "Speedy" was introduced in 1941. This was a time when Westerns were still very much in vogue and the mystique surrounding Native Americans was stronger than it is today. The time was also less removed from the generations during which Native Americans really did hunt on the plains of America using the bow and arrow.
Interestingly enough, although Speedy was raised by Native Americans, there was no hint of this in his original superhero costume, which was modeled after traditional British Robin Hood imagery.
A scene which serves as an example of Roy Harper Jr.'s Native American beliefs is in the funeral story "Who Was Donna Troy," from Teen Titans/Outsiders Secret Files 2003, published by DC Comics: New York; written and penciled by Phil Jimenez, inked by Andy Lanning; page 3:
GARTH/AQUALAD: Pallais help me. Look at those pictures. We were so young.
WALLY WEST/THE FLASH: Hey, you seen Roy?
GARTH/AQUALAD: I think he's uncomfortable that we're all here together. The Navajo raised him to believe death is a private thing.
[In another part of the room.]
LIAN HARPER: Daddy, why didn't you get a pit-chure? [picture]
ROY HARPER JR./ARSENAL: We don't take things from the dead, Lian. I just wanted to make sure this funeral was done right--so her spirit wouldn't haunt us and so it could go . . . where the Amazons wanted to go.
LIAN HARPER: Dead? Donna's not really dead, Daddy. She'll come back like Uncle Ollie [the Green Arrow] did. You'll see.
ROY HARPER JR./ARSENAL: Sometimes we're lucky that way, Lian. But I don't think Donna's coming back. But that's okay-- Because when we die, our spirits rejoin the world and become one with nature. What we have to do now is remember her. We have to talk about her all the time. We have to tell people how much her life meant to all of us. And how pretty she was and how much we loved her.
LIAN HARPER: Daddy, I don't understand. Donna was your heart and you love her and now she's become a ghost or something. How will your heart be happy?
ROY HARPER JR./ARSENAL: Because, Etai Yazi, you're my heart. And I love you. And because now, Donna is a part of the world beyond--
From: Robert Greenberger (editor), "The Outsides" (capsule biography page) in Teen Titans/Outsiders: Insiders trade paperback (DC Comics, New York City, 2006), page 5:
Arsenal Idolizing Green Arrow, orphan Roy Harper had mastered archery when he was a teenager on a Navajo reservation. Harper became billionaire Oliver Queen's ward, and his guardianb named him Speedy because of the quickness he exhibited with his bow. Renaming himself Arsenal, Harper went on to work for the U.S. government, lead the Titans, and fall in love with the assassin Cheshire. Together they have a child, Lian.
From: "Arsenal (comics)" article on Wikipedia.org website (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arsenal_(comics); viewed 29 October 2005):
The original Speedy's real name was Roy Harper, Jr.. He first appeared in More Fun Comics #73 (November, 1941), where he was identified as the orphaned son of Roy Harper, Sr., a forest ranger who had died saving a Navajo medicine chief named Brave Bow from a fire. Brave Bow raised the younger Roy himself, training him at archery. Roy Jr. took to this training eagerly, and idolized the archer superhero, Green Arrow. As a teenager, Roy is given the opportunity to perform at an archery competition judged by Green Arrow, where he assists the hero at foiling an attempted burglary, even proving himself to be a faster shot than the hero. Following the death of Brave Bow, Green Arrow asked Roy to serve as his sidekick, an offer Roy jumped at, taking the name Speedy. Roy became the ward of Green Arrow's alter ego, millionaire Oliver Queen.
...Roy adopted the new name of Arsenal and rejoined the Titans, serving with them through several incarnations for a number of years before forming a new Outsiders group with fellow Titan alumnus, Nightwing (formerly Robin). Lacking any superpowers, his main assets are his expertise with ranged weaponry (i.e., firearms and bows) and his excellent physical condition.
From: Andrew A. Smith (Scripps Howard News Service), "Comics superheroes of many faiths", published 3 February 2000 in The Houston Chronicle (http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/religion/446482.html; viewed 30 November 2005):
So, if you were going to dress up like a bat and fight crime, what church would you attend? ...Which is not to say that comics are a Christians-only playground. Most superheroes haven't had a faith established, but those that have are all over the ecclesiastical map... Roy Harper, the former Green Arrow sidekick called Arsenal, grew up on a Navajo reservation...
There is a powerful scene in which Roy Harper is in a desperate situation and prays vocally to God, asking for the Lord's blessings for his daughter, Lian. Almost immediately he realizes what he needs to do in order to save himself and his JLA teammate Vixen from the situation they are in. See: Justice League of America #11 (September 2007), pages 18-19.
Webpage created 29 October 2005. Last modified 24 July 2007.
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