RHatO 17

I can hardly believe that this is my first time discussing Red Hood and the Outlaws. A controversial series, RHatO has embodied much of what is right and wrong with the New 52. After a rather poor showing in the Death of the Family arc and the accompanying cross over with Teen Titans, Jason Todd returns to Wayne Manor to say his goodbyes and rejoin his motley crew of hangers-on and reluctant friends. With Scott Lobdell leaving the title, can we expect the book to tread water, or is there a final return to form in the cards?

Despite its stunningly offensive portrayal of Starfire, Red Hood and the Outlaws was one of my favorite titles of the New 52 Reboot. Clever writing, fresh ideas, and a sense of connection to our heroes made it a staple of my monthly pulls, however, the book started losing steam after about six months and the loss of Kenneth Rockafort did nothing to better things. I’m honestly thrilled to have James Tynion taking over the book soon. Much as I’ve loved Lobdell’s tenure, it’s impossible to deny that he insists on writing offensive and childish material between his gems. So it’s with a happy heart that I report that this is the best issue of Red Hood in a long while.

The strength of the series has always been the relationships between its characters and the complexity of their pasts. Though it’s pained many to hear, I’ve often heard the book hailed as the replacement for Secret Six. Having read a few issues of Gail Simone’s beloved series, I’d have to say that it’s apt. While I desperately wish that Lobdell could, just once, channel a fraction of Gail’s respect for her female characters, he has done wonders with Roy Harper and Jason Todd (even if they’re not necessarily the same characters they were before the reboot). This issue, Lobdell takes a minute to decompress and reveals that he can pen an excellent after the storm issue.

As is too often the case in this book, it’s Jason Todd’s show. It’s really more Red Hood featuring the Outlaws, but that’s ok because Jason fits the needs of a lead and Roy those of a sidekick far better than the other way around and Starfire’s better off waiting for Tynion. That’s not to say that Jason’s co-stars aren’t well handled; Arsenal’s interactions with Damian prove that, especially with grim rumors hovering over the Bat-Family, they should have been paired up more often. Likewise, (Kory? Kori? Kory.) Kory’s interactions with Jason make for one of the best portrayals she’s received lately. It would have been nice to see more of Kory in this issue, but let’s count it as a win.

Of all the members of the Bat-Family, Jason was the only one to have a significant change in who he was. Admittedly, Barbara and Dick had changes of identity, but chair or no chair, cowl or no cowl, they remained themselves. Jason became a new man. That speaks to what Lobdell was trying to do with his books, but it also shows how cut off from his family the second Robin had been.

A while ago a rumor started circulating about a series called The Robins. The fans went nuts. The reason is simple: we love seeing the Bat-family be a family. Obviously this was not to be, but Lobdell makes sure to solidify Jason’s relationships with his fellow teen wonders. The tension between Dick and Jason that’s been simmering all series is brought to a head in an interesting manner that plays against expectations without feeling like a cop-out, but the main event is Jason and Damian. These two just feel right together, as much fan work will attest. Hearing Jason’s thoughts and words with the latest boy to don the domino mask is a real treat and Lobdell pulls it off. None of this is groundbreaking work but Lobdell plays the hand that Scott Snyder and Grant Morison have dealt him expertly and delivers the kind of thing we’ve been calling for.

We even get scenes between Jason and Bruce and Jason and Alfred. In both cases, what’s unsaid tells the tale, something that’s rather refreshing. Indeed, the last caption box in Alfred’s scene stands out to me as perhaps the most economic of the whole series. But lest you think that this issue is dull, Lobdell does give us a nice threat to round it out, though not necessarily one that holds up well to scrutiny.

I worry that I sound too hot and cold about Lobdell, but that’s precisely the problem. All his mistakes are made worse by the strength he brings to his best moments and all his best moments tainted by the knowledge that he can’t go another issue without sticking his foot down his throat. Still, the one thing that Lobdell has done consistently since he took on this title is think differently. He’s not afraid to separate Jason from the Bat-family when editorial lets him but now that they’re involved he’s milking the situation for all it’s worth.

In short, I’m a big fan of what happens in this issue and how the characters interact. I will say that Lobdell fails to bring anything more out in his dialogue. Lobdell’s dialogue is highly utilitarian, it matters much more what is said than how. A few moments, like those with Alfred break the pattern,  but generally the script is workmanlike. (Check out the opening page, who thought that was an acceptable way to recap, especially since all of that happened in this title and is irrelevant to this issue?)

The book features a trio of artists, generally a warning sign, but, oddly enough it seems to work. I’m not 100% certain who worked on which pages, but they’re generally well done (Damian even looks nearly Asian in some panels! Someone give that artist a medal!) No one is going to be able to fill Kenneth Rockafort’s shoes on this title. His art was beautiful and well-suited to the series. All things considered, this is a pretty impressive job for an obviously thrown together issue. The changes between artists are decently hidden and each one plays to their strengths. My only major complaints would be Roy on the first page and some lackluster portrayals of our villain. While the whole thing is rather nice, the first half of this book is actually beautiful. Especially if we’re in between creative teams, get one of those artists on this title, DC.

There is one sad note about the art though. As in this week’s issue of DC Universe Presents, it appears that Starfire has reverted to her atrocious metal pasties. DC gave me hope that they were heeding fan complaints when they announced that Kory would be hanging on to her space suit, and then again when she appeared in a slightly more respectable vest and shorts combo during Death of the Family, but it seems that it was a short-lived experiment. To be honest, if DC introduced the original Starfire costume today, there would probably still be some complaining, but this thing is really indefensible. A future cover features the vest costume but it’s only relative progress. Let’s hope that Star gets another shot at a modified costume soon.

After a slew of hated choices, Lobdell delivers exactly what the fans have been asking for, accompanied by a team of solid artists. It’s definitely an issue of surprises. If you haven’t looked at Red Hood and the Outlaws, or the controversy scared you away, this is definitely the issue to look at.