Yesterday the comics world was taken by surprise when it was the Associated Press and not a general comics site that spoiled the storyline in Wednesday's release of "Green Arrow" #43 - Mia Dearden had tested positive for HIV. CBR News caught up with series writer Judd Winick Wednesday to learn more about his plans for Mia and where he's taking the character. A word of warning to readers concerned about spoilers, there are a few in the text below.
First, some background. Mia Dearden first appeared in Kevin Smith's run early in the current volume of "Green Arrow." She was born into a troubled family with an abusive father. Mia ran away from home when she was still very young and ended up in Star City, home to Ollie Queen AKA Green Arrow. In Star City she hooks up with Richard, her new boyfriend, who quickly becomes her pimp, turning Mia to a life of prostitution. Eventually, Ollie saves Mia and takes her under his wing, training her with a bow and letting her stay at his home.
When Winick took over the title from writer Brad Meltzer, he started to think about what to do with Mia Dearden, keeping in mind her rather sad beginnings.
"I guess [Mia's HIV status] is something I came up with," Winick told CBR News Wednesday evening." "I have no idea if Kevin was ever planning on doing it, but when I [read Kevin's stories] I actually thought this was a natural direction that this would go. Kevin Smith had done an AIDS storyline in 'Daredevil' before, he's never been one to shy away from stories with a social message or any kind of social agenda. I thought this was a place he might go. We got Mia as someone who had an abusive boyfriend; she'd obviously lived on the streets and was getting by as a prostitute. It's not an unlikely progression."
When Winick approached DC Comics with his idea, the writer said DC was behind the idea 100%.
"DC was enormously receptive right from the start. They thought it was a good idea. Bob Schreck spearheaded this, of course. Dan Didio was behind it and so was Paul Levtiz. Dan was hoping that someone was going to do an AIDS related storyline somewhere in the DC Universe, he thought it was very relevant. It was just sort of happenstance when Bob told Dan we were planning on doing this. So we were ahead of the curve."
While the subject of HIV and AIDS has been discussed in mainstream comics before, this story is a bit different as we now have a starring hero, not a throw-away supporting character, who's infected with the virus and Winick plans on portraying her life and struggles with HIV in as realistic a way as possible.
"On my watch, and hopefully on the watch of everybody who'll work with DC, there's no intention of having Mia take ill as a result of HIV," said Winick. "She will never die of AIDS related causes on my watch and hopefully on anyone else's watch. The point of this character is she's living with HIV, as many people do. There are people who have been living for 20 years through combination drug therapy and live relatively unencumbered lives. Some people are on the combination drug therapy and it's an enormous hassle and there are tons of side effects and terribly uncomfortable. It runs the gamut. This character is not about Mia dying of AIDS, it's about how she'll be living with HIV as many, many people do.
"We have every intention of Mia living a long and healthy life. Keep in mind that we have DC characters that have been around for 60 years and haven't aged a day. We sort of have to keep them in amber and we just kind of fudge and mess around with things like how did Nightwing grow up? Well, he did and Batman's only about 34 years old!"
Socially relevant storylines involving Green Arrow date back to the early 1970s when writer Denny O'Neil and artist Neal Adams tackled the subject of drug abuse in "Green Lantern" #86, which co-starred Green Arrow. In this issue we find Ollie Queen dealing with the realization that his side-kick, Speedy AKA Roy Harper, has a drug problem himself. Since then, Green Arrow comics have tackled numerous socially relevant storylines, Mia's HIV status being just the latest. This social relevance found in the title played into the writers decision to take over the title in the first place.
"I'm accused of having a greater social agenda than I actually do," said Winick, the writer of "Pedro & Me," a chronicle of his time spent on MTV's "The Real World" with Pedro Zamora, who died after a public battle with AIDS. "I've done a smattering of stories that are socially relevant and I'm considered the soap-box guy. I've done one story arc in 'Green Lantern' featuring a gay character who was a survivor of a hate crime. Sunfire was gay in 'Exiles.' And there's other stuff sort of there that people like to hang their hat on, saying I'm just this big commie out there pushing an agenda. It's only a handful of stories.
"That being said, I've always liked that aspect of Green Arrow. He's always been the sort of socially conscious super hero and that makes for good stories and a good character. When asked does this story belong in comics, it's right there! These stories have been told in 'Green Lantern' and 'Green Arrow' for decades. They have a very long history of telling stories that have some sort of social conscience."
Mia's story will get even bigger, when she takes on the mantle of Speedy and becomes a hero in her own right, not only as Green Arrow's sidekick, but as a member of the Teen Titans, beginning with "Green Arrow" #46. Along with "Teen Titans" writer Geoff Johns, the duo plan on helping the new Speedy explore her life as best they can.
"Geoff and I are friends and we talk about everything we're doing," said Winick. "Our storylines blend into one another on 'Outsiders' and 'Teen Titans,' anyway, so Geoff has known about this for a while. I've been planning on doing this ever since I took over the title and Geoff found out about that not long after. When we launched 'Outsiders' and 'Teen Titans,' one of the thoughts he had was, 'What do you think about her joining the Titans?' I thought that would be awesome. We immediately worked out the cross-over and that happened very quickly. There's a rhyme and reason to it. It may seem like it's happening too soon, but as we discuss in the issue…basically Ollie lays it out. He wants her to join the Teen Titans. Why? Because Roy had helped form the original Teen Titans and [Ollie] thought it was a really important part of [Roy's] growth experience and him as a person, being with this group of young people who are super heroes. It was good for Roy. That's especially important for Mia on the level of her becoming a superhero, not because of her HIV status. [Ollie] felt that she should be around other people who are doing this. It shouldn't just be Ollie, Connor, sometimes Roy and maybe Dinah. That's family and she needs friends. That's what Ollie tells her."
Many have criticized mainstream comics for being less than friendly to female characters, especially when awful things happen to them completely out of the blue. In the case of Mia, Winick contends the HIV storyline is a natural progression of her back-story, not some random occurrence.
"Let's not forget, she's a superhero," added Winick. "She's HIV positive, but she's not Captain HIV with a big logo across her chest. She's Speedy! She's going to be Green Arrow's sidekick and she's a 17-year-old girl. These are the things that lead as far as I'm concerned. One aspect of her character is she is HIV positive. She takes medication every day, she lives her life and does her thing. Yeah, negative things happen to her, but also, in my opinion, as we point out in the book, it made possible some positive things. Green Arrow would not have allowed her to do this unless she had tested positive. That's what we're coming to. She's able to plead her case better and convince him to allow her to do this because she's HIV positive. It shows just how serious she is."
Winick added that readers should not expect every issue of "Green Arrow" to deal with Mia's HIV status. It's a part of who she is, but it's not the total sum of her life.
"We deal with it through the conclusion of this story arc. In issue #46 it's dealt with in a minor way when she joins the Teen Titans, but in the next six issues I don't think it even comes up. It's mostly about her in costume fighting the fight."