Saturday, September 24, 2011

Review: Red Hood and the Outlaws #1

First off, let me level set: this is the book I was most excited about this week and one of my top 5 for the new 52. Back when it was announced that Jason Todd was coming back from the dead, I thought it was one of the worst ideas ever. “How are they going to make a former Robin who was voted to be killed interesting?” Simple, make him a Batman who kills the bad guys. He’s got the skills, planning, and intensity of Batman, without the moral compass. Is he a hero or a villain? It’s never quite clear, but it’s great fun to watch. So I was thrilled to find that not only did he not get retconned, but is also leading his own team.

Clearly this book is filling the Outsiders gap in the new 52, but has thankfully (at least so far) stripped down it’s cumbersome cast. We open with Roy Harper in a Middle Eastern prison, where he is quickly rescued by Red Hood. We learn a few interesting things here. Roy is much more on the Jason Todd's side of the moral line than Batman's, as he doesn't hesitate to kill.

Yeah, there's no splitting hairs with an arrow to the throat.
Second, he and Jason have been working together for some time, and Roy’s still referred to as a ‘former
sidekick’. Considering the de-aging of everyone in the new 52, that makes Jason & Roy somewhere between 18-22.

The introduction to Starfire is concise and well done. She’s gorgeous, alien, has god-like powers in comparison to her "teammates", and also has no moral qualms about killing.

Be honest, you're looking at the godlike powers.
Oh, and she’s sleeping with Jason, the 2nd Robin, which could obviously lead to some melodramatic issue about how her former boyfriend is Dick Grayson, the 1st Robin, except we’re told that as a Tamaranean she “doesn’t see humans as much more than sights and smells and have a terrible short attention span about all things Earth.” This leads to a conversation between her and Roy that acknowledges there was some form of the Teen Titans before, but underscores that just because she looks like a supermodel, doesn’t mean she thinks like humans at all. This is one of my favorite themes so far in the new 52, that the alien characters actually act alien. They’re not from here, and often don’t have human emotional hang-ups. Which Starfire quickly proves by sleeping with Roy too.

This takes us to the plot of the first arc as Essence, someone from Jason’s past (who looks like a cross between a WildC.A.T.S. character and Raven) shows up to tell him of the decimation of some ancient order called the All Caste whom apparently caste (pun!) them out some time ago.

Jason, unsurprisingly is not bothered by seeing Roy and Starfire in bed together, leaves to check out the secret All Caste headquarters with the issue closing out as he’s predictably surrounded by the killers.

All in all I think this is a pretty good introduction to the team. We get to see their personalities, and a hint of their moral flexibility. It’s obvious they all have a significant past but this is a fresh take.

Missing however is Jason’s acrobatic gun slinging, one of his coolest traits, his detailed planning (he was trained by Batman), Roy’s sarcastic/humorous nature, and his acrobatic bow slinging. Hopefully these will play out more in the future.

Also, the Red Hood mask has a mouth? This looks so ridiculous and takes away so much of the
hard edge of the character that I sincerely hope it does not last.

Pictured: a helmet with a mouth.
Kenneth Rocafort’s art is a perfect fit for the story. His intricate detail and sharp lines work well to convey that this is a harsher and deadlier world these characters are living in. He also does a great job softening this up only when he draws Starfire, pulling her out of her surroundings and emphasizing that no matter where they are, she’s still an alien princess.

pictured: "softening up" the art.
He also is showing potential in his layouts. He’s clearly taking a page from what’s being done on Batwoman with non standard panel structure. It’s not there quite yet but it’ll be interesting to see where he goes. As mentioned before I think his action sequences are not utilizing the versatility of the characters, but hopefully that’s a function of this intro story and not an ongoing deficiency.

This is a series full of potential that is not quite realized here, but like a lot of the new 52, this may be taking a slow burn to more fully develop great stories and characters. If that is the case, then I think Scott Lobdell is off to a fine start, and I want to see where he goes.

By Kephus with 1 comment


I think you're dead on with the Essence/Raven comparison. When this first was announced Scott Lobdell said something about wanting to re-imagine Raven for one of his books, but he couldn't use her for some reason. Looks like he found a way. ;)

I was sort of mixed about this one. I loved the action movie buddy comedy vibe, but I really disliked how Starfire was written. I think it's a good idea to update her from the alien space hippie thing, but as is, she didn't seem to have a lot of personality. I think in my ideal world she'd be written kind of like Jack Harkness. Hopefully you're right and we'll get a chance to see all these characters grow! Definitely looks like you might see some of that crazy Jason Todd gunslinging in issue 2.

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