Red Hood: Outlaw #44
Written by Scott Lobdell
Drawn by Paolo Pantalena
Colored by Arif Prianto
Lettered by ALW’s Troy Peteri
Review by Kris K
Red Hood, aka 2nd Robin Jason Todd, changed from villain to anti-hero with his own series with the New 52 reboot. Jason has been able to consistently hold a series since, perhaps surprisingly. Red Hood’s series have had their ups and downs. Interestingly, Scott Lobdell’s run reaches back to the New 52 inception with Red Hood and the Outlaws #1. Few DC writers stick with a series so long.
Initially, Jason Todd debuted as the 2nd Robin. Batman caught him stealing the wheels off of a compromised Batmobile. Logically, Batman saw the petty thief as a good candidate for Robin. Jason needed the save too. His parents were drug addicts, and Jason relied on himself to get by. He did live in a foster home run by secret criminal leader Ma Gunn, but I will let you decide how much good that did him.
As a Robin, Jason constantly rebelled against Batman. He rarely followed orders, and he bit back a fury not present in the previous Robin. Many readers found Jason grating, so after a very dark vote-by-phone, readers elected to end the life of the young sidekick. In Death in the Family, Joker beat Jason to near death with a crowbar, Joker cackling wildly. While the crowbar beating merely left Jason near comatose, Joker finished him by imploding the building Jason was in on top of him. Batman buried Jason like a grieving father. Jason’s Robin costume remained in the cave like a shrine. Jason remained dead for about 20 years.
Jason returned from the dead after Superboy Prime smashed his way out of his dimensional cell. Change rippled through the DC Universe space time. Arguably the biggest change, Jason resurrected in his coffin, roughly 6 months after his death. Using a belt buckle, Jason broke out of the coffin and dug his way out of his grave. He limped 12 miles until two motorists found him. He remained a shell of a human.
Talia al Ghul found Jason. She spent a year working him. He remained in a near catatonic state. So, she snuck Jason into the Lazarus Pit. Jason returned, and Talia assisted him with escaping. Talia turned Jason into a weapon with one simple fact: Joker lived. Jason, either driven mad from the Lazarus Pits or the betrayal of finding out his murderer lived to kill again and again, trains to defeat Batman and conquer Gotham.
Jason trained for years, and then he returned as the new kingpin of Gotham in Hush. He waited to definitely show himself though, until Under the Red Hood. Jason took over large swaths of Gotham from Black Mask by murdering his men and destroying his goods. Todd ran drugs too, but he kept rules, most notably, no selling to kids. The Red Hood worked a new hyposthesis: the only way to stop the chaos in Gotham was to run it with an iron fist. Crime lived eternally, but its felonious form remained maleable. Bruce Wayne defeated Red Hood, as did Dick Grayson when he donned Batman’s cowl.
When New 52 launched, DC rebranded Red Hood as an anti-hero with his own series, Red Hood and the Outlaws. With other DC screw up, Arsenal, (I use the term lovingly) and Teen Titan icon Starfire, the trio fought everything from ancient demons to aliens to Ra’s al Ghul. Starfire left the team, and the two guys formed a mercenary group. They fought criminal mimes and other colorful ne’er-do-wells.
An important additon to the Red Hood mythos emerged in New 52. While training to take down Batman, Jason joined the All-Caste. The All-Caste, an ancient clan of warrior monks who fight evil immortals known as the Untitled. The Untitlted all but wiped out the All-Caste, leaving the Red Hood and rival/lover Esence as the two surviviors. Along with the War on Crime, Jason now wars on the ancient evils, the Untilted.
These dual wars lead Jason to create a Dark Trinity with Artemis and Bizarro in the eponymous story arc, Rebirth Red Hood and the Outlaws Volume 1. The relaunch branded new life into the character. After stopping the Qurac government from obtaining an ancient Greek weapon, Red Hood and Artemis debate putting Bizarro down for his good and the good of those around him. They cannot though, and as he detiorates, they seek the help of Lex Luthor to save him. (Lex Luthor made this Bizarro as a Superman clone.) Luthor saves Big Blue, but he also upgrades him. Bizarro rises to super genius. He creates a Flying Stealth Fortress and countless tools and gadgets. The trio take down crime effortlessly, but Bizarro deteriorates again back to his normal state. The fortress explodes, and Artemis and Bizarro are cast into another Earth.
Red Hood, losing his team, and a close friend in Heroes in Crisis (No spoilers on who), Red Hood and the Outlaws becomes Red Hood: Outlaw. He changes his costume, starts carrying a crowbar and sword, and resumes his violent ways. Jason kidnaps Penguin and takes over the Iceberg Casino, until he loses it to an escaped Penguin again. He also meets various mutated meta-teens, and when Apex Lex offers him a chance to lead them, he does. Artemis and Bizarro return to the proper Earth, and they join back up with the Red Hood. Red Hood now lives with his Dark Trinity, meta-teens, reformed Ma Gunn, and a sentient Superman plush. (Don’t ask.)
Anyways, Red Hood: Outlaw #44 opens back in Qurac. Jason Todd’s ex-lovers Isabel Aridila and Essence have joined in the same body. While flight attendant Isabel is on layover, an Untilted attacks her. Essence takes over and kills the creature. A few blocks over, Red Hood and Bizarro work with a government agent, General Glory, to stakeout the Untilted. The Untitled plan on hitting a protest in the town square. Jason and B work undercover in a food truck, offering up wonderful Bizarro content. (The world needs, but does not deserve, a Bizarro Food Truck one shot.) While we no longer have Genius Bizarro, we do get to enjoy Philosopher Bizarro. Bizarro found peace and spirituality while away. Artemis works incognito as a bodyguard for the dictator, at the lead of General Glory.
The writing remains the same Scott Lobdell level. Lobdell writes Jason well. His Bizarro always entertains, and his Artemis fits the character. Unfornuately, the series has recently felt meandering, mostly due to the impact of “Apex Lex” and the Justice Leage influence. Because of this, Red Hood hops constantly around from arc to arc without much to tie it together. While the concept promises so much potential, it never feels truly tapped. Always a B-Level comic, with the potential for so much more. Through the years, particularly while Jason ran the Iceberg Casino, the series elevated itself to the top wrung. The series, though, fails to sustain the peak quality in plot and character growth. While Lobdell certainly created the Red Hood as a hero, I look forward to a fresh voice with the character.
The new art direction by Pantalena leaves one disappointed. While the talent exists, the execution feels outdated. The women wield a bludgeoning sexuality as Pantalena draws them like its the late 90s. Every panel with a woman focuses on her curves in absurdly tight clothing. Artemis’s hair, which was partially shaved in a militaristic style befitting her, magically grew back to model level perfection. Artemis literally gave a verbal explanation of this, basically equating to Amazon Hair Trick. Overall, the changes feel like a step twenty years backwards in the worst ways. The colors fit the Red Hood and DC’s palettes, managing to be both colorful and gritty.
Verdict: Check it out. While I may have my criticisms, they are born out of a fan who loves the characters and sees promise in every issue. Jason and comany manage to exist as their own microverse, almost completely devoid of the Bat and his Rogues. While their world is small, it is definitely theirs.