Red Hood and the Outlaws #9 review

Red Hood 9

Hot on the trail of the Bow of Ra, the Outlaws race to Qurac. But as Jason and Artemis face the demons of their past, a hostile present awaits. Can this unlikely band of friends find success—and closure—among the ruins of their innocence? Find out in Red Hood and the Outlaws #9Some mild spoilers follow.

Old habits die hard

Readers waiting for Lobdell to fail will likely crack a smile at the opening narration, as it seems like maybe he’s slipping into old habits. But honestly, the tell-too-much voiceover has popped up a few times since the series began, but it never lingers the way it (often) did in Lobdell’s Teen Titans. And, say what you will, the info dump does an excellent job of catching newer readers up on what’s happening, all in a relatively small bit of page real estate.

Parallel stories

In RHATO‘s first arc, I thoroughly enjoyed when Lobdell injected some parallels between Jason’s current and prior experience. Whether it was his time in Ma Gunn’s, the attempted stripping of the Batmobile, or his rebirth in the Lazarus Pit, I found the links dramatically interesting, and Soy and Gandini knocked their visual representations out of the park. So while the artistic bridge between the times is less pronounced this time around, I was delighted to see Lobdell go in a similar direction here.

For starters, we’re in Qurac. Now, you can be forgiven if you didn’t realize that this was where the Joker crowbar’d the mess out of young Jason Todd. Pre-New 52, that happened in Ethiopia. And in researching this, I can’t find anything from the New 52 mentioning Qurac as the specific location, although the Middle East is generally referenced. Regardless, whether or not he has canon (such as it is) on his side, Lobdell establishes the nation as the site of Jason’s murder, and then goes ahead and sets this installment of RHATO there. So right off the bat, there’s a lot of baggage for Red Hood to work through before they encounter a single hostile.

A payoff for Artemis

But Jason isn’t the only one staring down a troubled past. Artemis is haunted by the ghost of her closest friend. As we saw last month, she had to take Akila’s life after she was corrupted by the Bow of Ra. And as #9 opens, it seems that the bow is in the hands of the Quraci dictator—an anguishing possibility for Artemis to consider. She killed her best friend to save the world from the untamed power of the Bow; with the Bow in the hands of an already-evil man, it seems like Artemis killed her friend for nothing.

That’s an interesting thread all by itself, and if it was the opening of this series, I’d probably still be on board. There’s a lot to explore in such a concept. But Lobdell has done such an excellent job of building Artemis up into a complex, compelling character, that her distress carries a weight far greater than the particulars of the plot. We care about Artemis because of eight issues of hard work by this book’s creative team. Now that her tough facade is cracking and she’s showing some level of vulnerability, we’re already on board because we know her. When sarcastic-yet-charming Artemis no longer has the heart to poke fun at Jason (okay, maybe she still pokes a little), we pay attention.

Welcome back, Dexter Soy

It seems perfectly fitting that, as Artemis reveals another dimension of herself, Dexter Soy returns to help realize it visually. Soy’s work on this book has been consistently excellent, with page after page of dynamic layouts, detailed backgrounds, and outstanding character aesthetics. Paired—as always—with the incomparable Veronica Gandini, Soy’s work here is as good as it’s ever been, with lush environments and stunning figures. The pacing and framing are likewise excellent, driving the story forward with nary a wasted panel in sight. And with respect to Mirko Colak, can’t nobody draw Lobdell’s lovable Bizarro quite like Dexter Soy.

Inconceivable

Yes, Red Hood is that good. Give this book a chance. Put aside your (justifiable) biases. Read this with a fresh perspective, and I think you’ll be hard-pressed to come up with reasons to dislike it. As for me, I can’t help myself. Bring on the next installment.

Recommended if…

  • You dig the humorous, heart-felt goodness that has defined RHATO from the start.
  • You’ve missed Dexter Soy’s distinct visual style and want to see him (and by extension, Bizarro) go nuts.
  • You think Artemis is awesome, and you want to continue getting to know her better.

Overall

Beyond all comprehension, Red Hood and the Outlaws remains one of my favorite books on the stands. Even as the balance shifts heavier toward gravity than humor, Lobdell’s character investments pay off, Artemis proving as capable of sustaining dramatic interest as she is of evoking belly laughs. And with Dexter Soy returning on pencils, RHATO reasserts itself as the most unique, surprising title in DC’s stable. If you’re not reading it, you’re missing out.

SCORE: 8/10

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