Snowbirds Don't Fly
|"Snowbirds Don't Fly"
"They Say It'll Kill Me... But They Won't Say When"
|Publication date||August-September – October-November 1971|
|Title(s)||Green Lantern vol. 2, #85-86|
|Main character(s)||Green Lantern; Green Arrow; Speedy; Black Canary|
|Inker(s)||Neal Adams, Dick Giordano|
"Snowbirds Don't Fly" is a two-part anti-drug comic book story arc which appeared in Green Lantern/Green Arrow issues 85 and 86, published by DC Comics in 1971. The story was written by Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams, with latter also providing the art with Dick Giordano. It tells the story of Green Lantern and Green Arrow, who fight drug dealers, witness that Green Arrow's ward Roy "Speedy" Harper is a drug addict and deal with the fallout of his revelation. Considered a watershed moment in the depiction of mature themes in DC Comics, the serious tone of this story is set in the tagline on the cover: "DC attacks youth's greatest problem... DRUGS!"
In the first part (Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85), Green Arrow (Oliver Queen) runs into muggers who shoot him with a crossbow. Strangely, the weapon is loaded with his own arrows. Tracking down the attackers, Green Arrow and his best friend, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, find out that the muggers are junkies who need money for their addiction, and are surprised to find Queen's ward Speedy (Roy Harper) among them. They think he is working undercover to bust the junkies, but Queen catches him red-handed when he tries to shoot heroin. It becomes evident that the stolen arrows are indeed Queen's, which he shares with Harper when they fight crime together. In the second part (Green Lantern/Green Arrow #86), an enraged Green Arrow lashes out at his ward. In shame, Harper withdraws cold turkey, and one of the junkies dies of a drug overdose. Queen and Lantern tackle the kingpin of the drug ring, a pharmaceutics CEO who outwardly condemns drug abuse, and visit the funeral for the dead junkie.
Depiction of drug abuse
Throughout the story, Adams and O'Neil portrayed the junkies as victims rather than criminals. In the story, both an Asian and a black junkie complain of vicious racism that makes reality unbearable for them, and turns them to drugs to escape reality. The teenage Roy Harper laments to Hal Jordan that Jordan's generation has told the younger generation many lies, especially about segregation and the Vietnam War, so he has no reason to believe their credo that drug abuse is bad. Harper complains that he felt abandoned by his mentor Queen; so when their friendship tapered off, he took refuge in drugs. Less sympathetic in his depiction is the dealer who supplies the drugs, a wealthy narcotics CEO named Saloman Hooper. Harper painfully withdraws cold turkey, assisted by Queen's girlfriend, Black Canary, while the Asian junkie dies of an overdose.
Adams stated that during the 1960s, the Green Lantern comic book was on the verge of cancellation, which gave Adams and O'Neill a great deal of creative freedom, since many thought the book would not survive anyway. They decided to concentrate more on "socially motivated" topics, and in spring 1971, Adams decided to "make Speedy into a heroin junkie." Then, Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 (May-July 1971) was published by rival comic publishing house Marvel Comics, which featured Spider-Man tackling crimes related to drug abuse. It was the first comic to be published without the rigid Comics Code, which prohibited the depiction of drug abuse, even in a totally condemning context. Adams said: "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 (referring to a drug crazed man featured in that Amazing Spider-Man arc), 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."
His colleague Dennis O'Neil added that in his opinion, drug addiction was the worst social problem, so it fit well into the more socially oriented stories Adams and himself wrote. Concerning the choice of the drug abuser, he said that "we chose Roy [Harper] for maximum emotional impact. We thought an established good guy in the throes of addiction would be stronger than we [sic] 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. O'Neil also added that nobody vetoed this choice up in the DC hierarchy.
Awards and recognition
The "Snowbirds Don't Fly" arc won the 1971 Shazam Award for "Best Individual Story". In addition, New York Mayor John V. Lindsay wrote a letter to DC in response to the issue commending them, which was printed in issue #86. In 2004, comicbookresources.com author Jonah Weiland called the "Snowbirds Don't Fly" arc the start of an era of socially relevant Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics, a slant which eventually opened up the DC world to other minorities (e.g. homosexual characters) and climaxed in the character of Mia Dearden (Roy Harper's successor as Green Arrow's/Oliver Queen's sidekick "Speedy"), who is not only a victim of child prostitution but also later portrayed as HIV positive: but in spite of her sad fate, she is explicitly portrayed as a positive, pro-active hero by writer Judd Winick.
- McAvennie, Michael; Dolan, Hannah, ed. (2010). "1970s". DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle. Dorling Kindersley. p. 146. ISBN 978-0-7566-6742-9. "It was taboo to depict drugs in comics, even in ways that openly condemned their use. However, writer Denny O'Neil and artist Neal Adams collaborated on an unforgettable two-part arc that brought the issue directly into Green Arrow's home, and demonstrated the power comics had to affect change and perception."
- "Roy Harper, Teenage Sidekick, Drug User". Teen Titans Library. Retrieved January 8, 2012.
- 1971 Academy of Comic Book Arts Awards
- WINICK ON "GREEN ARROW," MIA'S HIV STATUS AND MORE