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by Jim Greeno

Arsenal
Written by Devin Grayson
Pencils by Rick Mays

As one of the two Devin Grayson projects leading up to the new TITANS monthly, ARSENAL #1 will not disappoint any new reader looking for insight and background on one of the Titans original members. For longtime readers and existing Arsenal/Speedy fans, however, it will serve as another minor departure from past Titans continuity.

ARSENAL #1, written by Grayson and penciled by Rick Mays, follows the exploits of Roy Harper and his daughter, Lian, and their eventual encounter with the villainous Vandal Savage. The setup in the first issue of this four-issue miniseries moves along quite nicely with an even blend of action and characterization.

It seems that Mr. Harper and his daughter are descendants of the mysterious Vandal Savage, who needs replacement body parts to maintain his "immortality". The idea is simple: Savage needs Lian Harper to perpetuate his life, and it's up to Arsenal to stop him.

The comedic overtones in the book are extremely well done. Particular scenes between Roy and a prospective babysitter and Roy's use of a pacifier as a weapon during an attack were amusing, and served as excellent reminders of Arsenal's history as a wise-cracking sidekick and member of the Teen Titans. Every effort is made by the creative team to make Roy aloof yet likable. His general devil-may-care attitude may turn readers away, but his unwavering dedication to his daughter and mentors will reel them right back in.

The guest appearance of Black Canary provides the opportunity for readers to revisit Arsenal's childhood with Green Arrow and his subsequent heroin addiction. Though Canary is depicted more as a peer than a maternal figure to Roy, it becomes obvious that they share a very close emotional bond that has become stronger since Green Arrow's death. The past look into the drug-riddled events that brought them closer together was handled with great care, as new and old readers alike will find it easy to understand Arsenal and Black Canary's profound respect and admiration for one another.

The end of the issue sets up the action for the rest of the mini. Arsenal learns that his daughter needs a kidney transplant, and his newfound connection to Vandal Savage may be his only way out. This is a nice twist for the story in that Arsenal and Vandal Savage will be hunting one another, and the life in the balance means very much to both of them.

Grayson's approach to Arsenal is refreshing, even if she misses the mark in regard to his past characterizations. Roy Harper has always been portrayed as a fallible hero with little interest in responsibility. This part of his personality changed, however, as a result of his decision to raise his daughter full-time. Stories in Action Comics Weekly, New Titans, Teen Titans, and even the Grayson-written Batman Plus Arsenal have illustrated that change in great detail.

Yet there are scenes in Arsenal #1 where Roy allows Lian to play with his unloaded guns, and where he does not accompany his daughter and the doctor in the emergency room. One may argue that the former was obviously meant as a funny scene to show new readers how new to parenting Roy is, and the latter was a plot device for Arsenal and Canary to spend time alone to discuss the past and discover Roy's connection to Vandal Savage.

Though those are true interpretations, both scenes still regress Roy's role in his daughter's upbringing. This is the same man that left the latest incarnation of the Titans because it was too dangerous an environment for Lian. This is the guy that took on a world class assassin to get custody of Lian in the first place. This is not a man that would let his child play with firearms.

However, this is one of few flaws in Devin Grayson's story thus far. The dialogue is extremely well written and engaging. Her grasp on the characters, for the most part, is right-on and refreshing at times; especially with Black Canary, whose appearance in this issue was definitely one of the high points. Also, her efforts to capture Arsenal and Canary's wit and humor made the book a welcome, uplifting read.

Though the Lian's-in-trouble angle has been used several times before with Arsenal, Grayson has promised a few twists, a guest appearance of the new Green Arrow in #2, and another new costume for Roy Harper. So there's plenty to look forward to.

Rick Mays' art was wonderful. He has adopted much more of a manga feel to his work in contrast to some of his past efforts. His excellent use of facial expressions is reminiscent of Maguire and Bolland, and the action sequences were fluid and easy to follow. The blend of styles he uses should appeal to a wide variety of readers, but those that don't appreciate the manga look may be disappointed.

All things considered, Arsenal #1 was a good start to a much needed background story for Arsenal. With Nightwing and Flash having their own series, Tempest's well received mini, and Donna Troy's recent turn in Wonder Woman, Arsenal gets his turn to shine before the debut of TITANS in January. This story is well on its way to setting Arsenal apart from his past with Green Arrow and his fellow Titans, allowing him to finally stand on his own as a major player in the DCU that has been around for almost 57 years.

It's about time.

My vote: 7 out of 10

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All characters are ™ DC Comics
This column is © 1998 by Jim Greeno.
The scanned covers are © 1998 DC Comics.

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