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Roy Harper: Teen Sidekick, Drug User

The Background

After the first disbanding of the Teen Titans [TEEN TITANS, first series #43], Speedy found himself somewhat at loose ends. Green Arrow had been going through some great changes in his personal life, first lessening his activities as a crimefighter as his life as a financier took up more of his time (so that Speedy ended up active in more cases with his peers than with his mentor), and then losing his personal fortune in a fraudulent business deal and beginning his long-standing romance with Black Canary (which would have more than one parallel with Speedy’s own relationship with Wonder Girl). Without Wonder Girl and the Titans to keep him occupied, and despondent over his guardian’s seeming lack of interest, Roy turned to drugs. While a disbelieving Green Arrow was stunned into inaction, Roy overcame his addiction with the aid of Green Lantern and Black Canary, and thereupon severed relations with the Emerald Archer to go out on his own [GREEN LANTERN #85-86]. He formed a rock band called “Great Frog” in his civilian identity and also began working with various anti-drug programs to help other addicts find a cure as he had [ACTION # 436].

Roy becomes hooked on Heroin – as told in the classic tale
“Snowbirds Don’t Fly” in GREEN LANTERN #85-86 [1971]

Neal Adams Looks Back

[from Comics Scene Magazine #27, 1992 – A Neal Adams Interview]
The classic “Snowbirds Don’t Fly” story: Roy’s drug addiction is revealed in GREEN LANTERN #85-86

His Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories with Denny O’Neil are considered milestones in presenting social issues to the comics-reading audience. Adams never thought of those stories as particularly controversial until the now-famous drug story involving Green Arrow’s young sidekick, Speedy. “I went home and decided I really wanted to do the drug story,” the artist recalls, “so I pencilled and inked the cover, and it’s exactly as you’ve seen it, with Speedy and his works on the table. I took it into [editor] Julie Schwartz’s office, put it on his desk, and he dropped it like a hot potato. “He was very clear that if we did the story, we would have to make Speedy into a heroin junkie. Not a pot smoker, not a pill popper like they did at Marvel; he would have to be a hard drug user. It was an interesting situation. Denny wanted to write the story, I wanted to draw it, Julie came around after he had calmed himself down. And then, Stan Lee did his Spider-Man story…

Within a few weeks, remembers Adams, while DC staffers debated the prospects of doing the drug story, Lee got the jump on them by publishing a drug abuse story in Spider-Man #96-98 (illustrated by Gil Kane) that was a first; originally rejected by the Comics Code Authority, Marvel published the story anyway without the seal of approval.

“We could have done it first and been the ones to make a big move. Popping a pill and walking off a roof isn’t the sort of thing that really happens, but heroin addiction is; to have it happen to one of our heroes was potentially devastating. Anyway, the publishers at DC, Marvel and the rest called a meeting, and in three weeks, the Comics Code was completely rewritten. And we did our story.”

Green Lantern didn’t start out being a “socially motivated” book. It was on the verge of cancellation; Gil Kane had stepped down as artist, and Adams asked if he could do the last few issues. “Julie said fine, and here was Denny O’Neil,” Adams says. “In those days, if anyone could be considered a radical, it was Denny. It was the Ô60s and we were feeling pretty randy. Nothing was really going on at DC and nobody was paying attention to the book, so we thought it would be fun to play with the problems of our day.”

A Milestone Cover

[from Wizard #0, 2003 – A Neal Adams Interview]

THE MOST GROUNDBREAKING, CONTROVERSIAL COVER of Adams’ illustrious comic career sprung not from a script. a plan or an editorial mandate of any kind – it came from his conscience. Adams’ moral sense told him he needed to draw the “Speedy shooting up” image that eventually ran on Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85. So he just sat down and did it, never realizing he’d be earning himself a place in pop culture history.

The artist brought the finished image to Editor Julius Schwartz, who Adams remembers “dropped it like a hot potato.” He then took it to Editor Carmine Infantino, only to get the same result. “The Comics Code Authority won’t allow this, I was told.” DC wouldn’t challenge the authority of the Authority. but – fortunately for Adams – Marvel already had. Stan Lee had just approved the publication ot an anti-drug issue of Amazing Spider-Man [(vol. 1) #96]. The issue hit the stands without the Comics Code seal, an unspeakably bold act on Lee’s part.

“Stan took the ball and nobody said no,” Adams says. “It became the thing to talk about. DC Comics was fit to be tied. They had it in the palm of their hands and they dropped it. “The Code was totally rewritten because of Stan and that cover within the month,” Adams continues. “From that point on, comics were allowed to show drug addiction, among many other things. We couldn’t show, step-by-step, how to do drugs and we couldn’t glorify the act, but we could deal with the issue and the repercussions involved with it.”

With the Code problem removed, the story went ahead. DC handed Adams’ cover to GL/GA writer Denny O’Neil and, requesting only that the Speedy scene appear somewhere within, told him to write.

The rest is history.

Neal Adams on the Stolen Speedy Cover

[from Wizard #0, 2003 – A Neal Adams Interview]

“Neal has always been a dynamo,” says comic great Joe Kubert, a longtime pal and former editor of Adams. “He’s a guy who not only says what he thinks is right, but pushes for it. There aren’t a lot of guys like that.”

In one such instance, Adams confronted DC on its policy of destroying original art. The company owned the printing rights, he argued, not the artwork itself, and therefore had no right to destroy the originals, as was the practice at the time. Without “making a fuss or threatening anybody’s life,” Adams campaigned for the artists’ right to have their artwork returned to them, reasoning that a motivated creator – one who knew his art could be sold for profit – would do better work. His battle, though a victory, was not without casualties.

The cover to Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85, the “Speedy shooting up cover”, disappeared from the art drawers in DC’s offices before the artwork return policy came into effect. ” I could’ve just taken it,” Adams says of the piece, but I was fighting to have it returned and didn’t want to create the impression I was doing it solely for my own benefit. Just taking my art – which was a common practice – would have defeated my arguement.”

Not everyone shared his sense of honor, and by the time Adams won the battle to get original artwork returned, the Speedy cover had vanished, and was recently offered for sale at auction for more than $40,000. The artist doesn’t care so much about the money himself – he was paid only $60 to create the piece – but equates it to savings his children will never see. “College money,” he calls it.

For years, Adams pursued the art that had been stolen from him throughout his career, hoping to catch those responsible. He’s since given up the hunt. “By now, the art’s changed hands so many times that the people who own it obtained it through legal channels,” he says. “They aren’t responsible… l can’t just take it back from them. Bless them.”

A 2007 con sketch of Speedy by Cameron Stuart.

Q & A With Denny O’Neill

The classic “Snowbirds Don’t Fly” story: Roy’s drug addiction is revealed in GREEN LANTERN #85-86

Q: How did [the storyline for “Snowbirds Don’t Fly”] develop?

Denny: The story developed as we were dealing with what we thought were serious social problems. Addiction was, and is, one of the worst, so it had a place in our series.

Q: Why choose to use Roy?

Denny: We chose Roy for maximum emotional impact. We thought an established good guy in the throes of addiction would be stronger than we some character we’d have made up for the occasion. Also, we wanted to show that addiction was not limited to “bad” or “misguided” kids.

Q: Was there any plans to follow it up?

Denny: When the story ended, it ended. We never planned a sequel.

Q: Was DC open to the idea of a teen sidekick drug user?

Denny: Was DC open to the idea? Not sure what you mean by “DC.” We got no interference from anyone above editor Schwartz on the food chain.


by John “Mikishawm” Wells [written in 2001]

A month after GL # 86, Speedy was appearing in TEEN TITANS # 36 without so much as a hint that he’d had any type of problem. And that continued to be the case right up to the cancellation of TT at the end of 1972. Elliot S. Maggin, however, brought Roy back in ACTION # 436, where we learned that he was doing his crimefighting in plainclothes and that he’d joined a rock band called Great Frog (still part of continuity as recently as the current TITANS series).

At the end of the story, GA tells Roy that he’s headstrong and Roy responds, “Look who’s telling ME not to be headstrong — the ego-king of the western hemisphere … I still need to be a loner for awhile. Got to sort things out … get my head together. You can dig that, can’t you ?” Biting his lip as Roy walks away, Ollie thinks, “Yeah, I can dig that … son.”

Maggin used the civilian-clad Roy again in an 18-page Green Arrow/Black Canary pilot intended for early 1976’s FIRST ISSUE SPECIAL # 14 but the title’s cancellation put the story in limbo. In the meantime, TEEN TITANS was revived with # 44 in the latter half of 1976. Here, the Titans expressed their happiness that Roy had beaten his drug habit, confirming that, regardless of the order in which they were published, GL # 85-86 occurred AFTER TEEN TITANS # 43.

One month before TT got the ax again (with # 53), Julie Schwartz finally pulled the GL/BC pilot from limbo and ran it in late 1977’s GREEN LANTERN # 100 (with one page cut).

In March of 1978, Gerry Conway did another Green Arrow/Speedy meeting, set immediately after TT #53. Already depressed about his team’s break-up, Roy concludes in the epilogue that “we’re still a good fighting team, Ollie … but I guess that’s ALL we are, now. Too much bad water under the bridge … too many things we SHOULD have said once, but DIDN’T … now, it’s just too late, you know ?” “Yeah, kid,” Ollie answers. “I guess I’ve ALWAYS known.”

After that, Roy showed up at Wally West’s high school graduation (DC SPECIAL SERIES # 11), discovered his kinship to Jim (Guardian) Harper (SUPERMAN FAMILY # 192-194) and reunited with the Titans for a case (BRAVE & BOLD # 149) before Marv Wolfman reestablished him as a drug agent in 1981’s BEST OF DC DIGEST #18.



End of transmission. About this author:  Bill Walko is an author and artist and the man behind He's been reading and drawing comics since he was 5 years old and hasn't stopped since. Read more from this author

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