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Positively Heroic

Positively Heroic


Speedy, sidekick to comic book superhero Green Arrow, is much like her peers. She is young, agile, talented, headstrong, dedicated, and even a little petulant. Yet something major sets her apart from, say, Batman's Robin. Speedy is HIV-positive. A longtime DC Comics superhero, Green Arrow uses an arsenal of unusual arrows to combat evildoers. In 2001 a character named Mia, a 17-year-old street kid entangled in prostitution and drugs, was introduced. After meeting Green Arrow, she cleaned up, developed a crush on his arrow-slinging son, and eventually expressed a desire to join them in crime fighting. In a revelation that brought major repercussions for the series' continuity'as well as the real-life mainstream press'Mia was diagnosed as HIV-positive at the climax of December's Issue 43. In Issue 45 she assumes the Speedy mantle and becomes mainstream comics' first HIV-positive superhero sidekick. 'The best part about this story is that this is not about a death sentence,' says DC Comics editorial vice president Dan DiDio. 'This is more about life and living.' Green Arrow editor Bob Schreck and writer Judd Winick were behind this recent development. The two are no strangers to socially relevant, controversial content. In 2002 they were responsible for a gay-bashing story arc in the Green Lantern series (now collected as a paperback book called Brother's Keeper). And Winick based his GLAAD Media Award'winning graphic novel, Pedro and Me, on his friendship with the late AIDS activist Pedro Zamora; they met while housemates on MTV's The Real World in its San Francisco season. HIV-positive characters have appeared sporadically in comics over the years, including Jim Valentino's Shadowhawk, Peter David's run on The Hulk, and Robert Walker's upcoming The Omen, which involves a clan of multicultural HIV-positive heroes. Yet Winick is quick to point out that 'the difference is, this is a mainstream book with a mainstream character who, by the way, is not going to die.' Winick insists that Speedy's being HIV-positive is 'first and foremost' a good story, yet he does acknowledge the development as being an educational watershed, especially for young readers faced with the Bush administration's abstinence-only HIV-prevention approach and bafflingly infrequent public discussion. 'It is an insane time,' Winick laments. '''Abstinence only' is a joke. It is unconscionable, dangerous, and proved not to work. You have to give our young people choice. If in a small way we elevate a discussion on the subject, a discourse, it is worth it. Look what is already happening. We do this story, and now there is discussion on HIV [in the media], which is more than what has been going on for many, many years. It took a superhero [seroconverting] for us to talk about it'and better a superhero than an actual person. Is this appropriate for a comic book? Well, I think the story is appropriate anywhere. I think we should be discussing this more and more.' Speedy's HIV status, while by no means her defining trait, will be discussed regularly with accuracy and detail, according to Winick, from her T-cell count and viral load to combination therapy and its side effects as well as HIV prevention issues. For Winick, researching this data is easy'his wife, Pam Ling, is a physician who works with HIV-positive patients, and 'four of my best friends are positive and on the cocktails,' he says. 'It is like brunch conversation.' This winter Mia will also join the ongoing cast of a second DC series, the ultrapopular Teen Titans, where she will kick even more villainous butt. As for whether her own solo title could be in the cards, Winick says that depends on fan demand. 'I would not be surprised,' he admits. 'She has been a hero all of one month, and she is already joining the Teen Titans. I would love nothing better than for her popularity to grow. It could be an eventuality she would have her own book.'

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