Title: Dick Jokes
Fandom: DC Comics
Pairing: Dick Grayson/Roy Harper (Nightwing/Arsenal)
Spoilers: Up to Outsiders #16; mention of events up to Nightwing #97
Dick Grayson is one of the most famous characters of the DC Universe. As Robin, he's become synonymous with camp crimefighting and dubious mentor/sidekick relationships. Roy Harper, on the other hand, is barely known to anyone who doesn't read comics.
The reason is simple - Batman and Robin were the big-name heroes, the 'elite' whose titles were kept going through the dark years of rapidly falling readership. 'Green Arrow and Speedy' - Oliver Queen and Roy Harper - were never more than the poor man's Batman and Robin and rapidly became background to better known characters, even though their publishing history goes back to only a few years after the genesis of Batman.
It's the essential similarity of background, due partly to the matching timeframes of their creation, that allows Dick and Roy to know and understand each other so well.
Both spent their childhoods outside the mainstream, Dick in the circus and Roy on a Navajo reservation. Both were orphans and, in their early teens, taken in by multi-millionaires who trained them to fight crime using human skills, rather than metahuman powers. (Dick's gymnastic and acrobatic talent translated to multiple martial arts; Roy was trained further in the archery skills he'd acquired while growing up.)
Both had incredibly - maybe unhealthily - close relationships with their mentors that broke down in a spectacular manner as they grew older. For Dick, this meant leaving Gotham entirely to settle first in New York and then in Blüdhaven, and changing his identity to Nightwing in the process. Roy's reaction was rather more self-destructive and he ended up spending his trust fund on a heroin addiction that he eventually kicked. After working for the government, Roy reinvented himself as Arsenal, an expert in weaponry, and returned to heroing.
Although both have lost the 'sidekick' label, they continue to experience friction with their mentors, both suffering an unvoiced - and almost unrecognised - longing for approval and love. It's only in their reactions to this longing that the two really begin to differ.
Dick is a serial monogamist who grasps at any love that's offered, no matter how destructive. He came close to marrying an alien princess, Koriand'r, in reaction to an argument with Bruce. (The wedding was stopped by Koriand'r being impregnated at the altar by her former best friend, the daughter of a demon. There's a reason why comics fen call their fandom crack-addled.) In recent issues, Dick nearly married a murderer who possibly - opinion is divided - raped him. That wedding was only stopped by a phonecall from Bruce telling Dick he was needed in Gotham for a big crossover story among all the Bat-titles.
It's telling that, although Dick says he doesn't want to grow to be a grim loner like Bruce, he is still the most brooding and intense of his generation of heroes. He is very definitely Bruce's 'son'.
An additional difference between Dick and Roy is that Dick finds it hard to blame Bruce for any failures in his own upbringing. He may know intellectually that Bruce has made mistakes but, emotionally, Bruce is Bruce and beyond censure. In contrast, Roy knows, emotionally and intellectually, that Ollie is flawed but still loves him.
Roy is more likely to hide any pain with a joke and a smile than indulge in brooding. He's renowned as one of the most promiscuous characters in the DCU and has had some ill-advised liaisons over the years. One of these - with an assassin named Cheshire, since tried for genocide after she nuked and destroyed an entire country - resulted in his daughter, Lian. Roy has raised Lian from a baby and she is the most stable, important, vital relationship in his life.
My favourite description of Roy is by Jay Faerber, one of the people who has written him over the years: “Roy isn't really the jerk he pretends to be. Deep down, he's a caring, intelligent guy. He just likes to get a rise out of people - it's something he learned from his mentor, Ollie, and maybe his 'attitude' has increased as a way to keep Ollie around, if only in spirit. He can always count on Dick to tell him when he's gone too far, though.”
The last sentence leads on to another reason for pairing these two. Aside from their essential similarities, they have a long history of working together and relying on each other.
In their early teens - the early 1960s for readers - Robin and Speedy were among the founder members of the Teen Titans, a crimefighting team composed of child sidekicks who wanted to prove they were capable of working without their mentors. The Teen Titans underwent various changes in line-up and purpose over the years but the original five founders - Kid Flash, now Flash; Wonder Girl, now Troia (deceased-ish); Aqualad, now Tempest; Robin, and Speedy - stayed so close over the following in-character decade that they are often referred to as a family.
In recent events, a timetravelling robot from the future caused the deaths of Troia and another Titan, Lillith. Shocked and horrified at the loss, that incarnation of the Teen Titans disbanded and Dick devoted himself to his adopted city of Blüdhaven.
It's in the past eighteen months, in the hands of Judd Winick, writer of Outsiders, that the pairing has really begun to gather steam. Although I've loved both characters - especially Roy - since I first encountered them, it's Winick's interpretation of the dynamic that has kicked my shipping up a gear.
After the Titans disbanded, Roy decided to form a new team and persuaded Dick to join and lead the Outsiders. Dick was the only former Titan who Roy approached and he did it as much for Dick's sake as the team's. Roy knew that Dick's method of mourning would be to cut himself off from his friends and to try to stop caring. Roy's plan was to plunge Dick into an environment where people would be relying on him, in the hope Dick would “naturally come to care about the people on this team."
Roy's knowledge of and concern for Dick is reciprocated. Recently, Roy received six bullets in the chest at close range. After several months of rehabilitation, he was physically fit again but had developed an understandable fear of guns – all the more poignant because guns were Roy's 'thing'. Dick's reaction was to instigate a sparring session and pull a gun on Roy.
Dick: “Take it. Take the gun from me, Roy. C'mon, take it. Three months ago I wouldn't have been able to draw it on you. You saw me grab for it. Take it from me.
Roy: “I'm scared.”
Dick: “Well, which is it? You're afraid of getting someone hurt or you're just moaning about dying. Pick one.”
Roy: “This is you helping me?”
Dick: “Not so much. Pulling the gun on you, that was me helping you.”
(The complete conversation is online here, because it's one of the defining moments of the relationship. And it's very pretty.)
Of course, the ship viewpoint is helped a lot by Grace, a member of the Outsiders and a regular bedfellow of Roy's.
(While talking to Roy about Dick): "It's better to have you around pissing him off. Without all the sexual tension. At least the obvious sexual tension. I always thought you boys would make a swell couple in an erotic Butch and Sundance kind of way." Outsiders #11
(While Dick and Roy are squabbling): “Don't you just hate it when Mom and Dad fight?” Outsiders #13
(While talking about Roy and Dick to others in the team): "If Lennon and McCartney in tights are having a marital spat - whatever." Outsiders #16
Grace pinpoints another appeal of the pairing. If Dick and Roy spent all their time understanding and helping each other, the relationship could get a little boring. Thankfully, they both have tempers and, knowing each other so well, know exactly what buttons to push to get a rise. In Outsiders #16, Roy tries to get Dick to stop being so emotionally closed off by bringing up the spectre of Dick turning into a "cold, detached, emotionless loner” like Bruce. Dick instinctively lashes back: “And you're just like the man who raised you. A shallow, self-loathing, womanizing thrill-seeker. Except he was never a junkie."
The pair then spend the next five pages rolling around on the floor, beating the crap out of each other. Not that interesting (except in the purely visual, lecherous sense) apart from the fact that, while equipment explodes in the background, Roy's first reaction is to kick Dick out of harm's way, even before getting out the way himself.
Speaking of the purely visual... They both have bodies that look good in spandex bodysuits. (Or, in the case of Roy's current uniform, leather trousers and a spandex t-shirt.) It's practically canon that Dick has the best ass in the DCU. Roy has absolutely no problems pulling either. These are two very, very pretty guys. (Although I admit that they don't look at their best in the art I linked to earlier. Outsiders has Artist Issues.)
Where do we go from here?
So, let's assume that I've got you intrigued, to the point where you want to investigate these two further. Where, in the sixty years of canon, should you start?
With the growth of filesharing over the internet, it's become possible to read back issues that, at one time, would have been pretty much unobtainable. The best places to look are zcult and suprnova. There are also trade paperbacks available of a lot of the storylines, which can often be picked up from regular bookstores. And then, of course, there is the comics shop itself. Most comics shop employees are fans and happy to help newcomers find what they're looking for.
So, which stories to look for?
Green Lantern v2 #85-86 (1971): These two issues deal with Roy's heroin addiction. They're rather earnest - well, it was the early seventies - but still worth reading.
Arsenal mini-series, four issues (1998-99): This is the mini-series that pretty much defined the current personality of Roy.
Archer's Quest, Green Arrow v3, #16-24 (2002-03): Following Ollie's return to life, he and Roy depart on a road trip to retrieve mementoes of his old life. This arc, available in a trade, clarifies the relationship between Roy and his mentor, both past and present.
Prodigal (1994): Dick is forced to step into Bruce’s boots as the Batman, while Bruce recovers from injuries. Available as a trade
Bruce Wayne: Murderer // Bruce Wayne: Fugitive, (2002): Bruce Wayne is accused of murder and the evidence is pretty convincing. Dick's reactions, compared to the rest of the Batfamily's, are a telling picture of his relationship with Bruce. Both these arcs are available in trade.
It all boils down to Outsiders. There are two trades available - Looking for Trouble and Sum of All Evil - which collect the first fourteen issues of Outsiders. If you're going the individual issues route, I’d particularly recommend #11, #16 and the Secret Files & Origins.
Okay, I confess. There isn't actually a great deal of Dick/Roy fanfiction out there. dcfic_index collects most of the Roy/Dick posted to LJ here.
 Ollie was dead when Faerber wrote this. He got better.
Roy: "My little plan backfired. I figured once we started doing this... that you'd naturally come to care about the people on this team." Outsiders #16