New 52 – Batman and Red Hood #20 review

Remember how Talia placed a bounty on Damian’s head and a whole mess of assassins jumped at the chance to shoot a 10 year old boy for five-hundred million dollars? Yeah… Batman didn’t forget about that and now he wants Red Hood to tag along with him as they track down every last bounty hunter who dared even think about putting a bullet in Damian.

Last month’s issue was met with mixed reactions from many of us, but one thing I think we could all agree on was that Tim Drake was woefully underused. This latest arc is all about Batman going through the five stages of grief with each issue guest starring a different member of the bat-family. With Tim getting consistently shafted in the New 52, whether you enjoyed issue #19 or not, it was a missed opportunity for Drake to illustrate his worth. This same problem doesn’t happen with Red Hood in this moth’s installment, Rage. Jason is present for 12 of the 20 pages and plays a very important role. We also learn how he and Batman ended up in Ethiopia, which was a rather confusing plot point and frustrating editor’s note in last month’s Red Hood and the Outlaws #19. As for the other 8 pages, those, like last month’s issue of Batman & Robin, are dedicated to Carrie Kelly.

This character is really Carrie Kelly in name only. Without the world of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, she’s a completely different person than who we remember. LethargicJ said it rather well in last month’s comments section:

CK is a character completely specific to one story. She is a reflection of her time (both when she was written and the future she was set in) and her creator. You can’t just give some random girl a pixie cut, some weird glasses and go here, it’s CK! No, it’s not. This reminds of when they brought Wendy and Marvin into Teen Titans.

Her scenes felt out of place in this issue. Last time we saw her, Bruce paid her for the lessons she had given and would have given to Damian all while denying that the boy is, in fact, dead. It went along with the theme of Bruce’s denial. When she and Bruce confront each other this time the only one of them to show anger is Carrie. What’s with these young women talking so disrespectfully to Bruce/Batman lately? Are the writers just trying too hard to show that these female characters are strong? First it was Harper Row lecturing Batman about loss in Batman #18 and now Carrie Kelly is waltzing into Wayne Manor like she owns the place and trashing the father of the kid she used to teach. That takes some serious balls. I like the idea of the book having more of a female presence but not if all the characters are going to be this entitled and annoying. And I know she’s not a character that female fans gravitate to or cosplay as, but where the hell is my Leslie Thompkins? Huh? Where’s Leslie? if ANYONE outside the immediate bat-family should be helping Bruce heal, female or not, it’s Leslie muthaf***in’ Thompkins.

As for the Jason Todd segment, it’s essentially all action with Bruce and Jason attacking the snipers. However, it felt off to me because I can’t imagine Bruce being cool with Jason firing guns at the snipers, even if he Jason is only aiming at the hands, knees and elbows. Batman hates guns. Although Jason and Bruce are probably the closest after Death of the Family, I can’t see the Dark Knight approving of live ammo even when he’s this distraught over Damian’s death. On the other hand, we do see Batman do something very horrible and over the line though and this might make you more accepting of Batman’s current state of mind and acceptance of Todd’s own methods.

I can’t help but feel that maybe Jason wasn’t the right choice for rage. Perhaps we needed a character who could react in such a way that we see how messed up Batman’s actions are the way Tim was horrified in “Denial.” When Batman does the terrible thing in this issue, it’s quickly glossed over by Jason. He’s cool with it. His casual observance makes the scene feel almost ordinary and we move on quickly to the next scene without a second thought. Maybe it would have been better to use Jason for the acceptance stage, if anyone knows something about coping with death it would certainly be Jason. Nightwing on the other hand would be mortified by what Batman does here and I think we all enjoy a good Batman vs. Nightwing fight. Bruce has it coming after knocking out that tooth!

One of the lowest points for me came in the scrap between Bruce and Jason. First of all, we learn that Bruce doesn’t know how Jason ever came back to life when I thought that this was common knowledge among the bat-family. Second, Batman sounds like an over protective mother giving a guilt trip when he says “If you cared about me and what I’ve lost, you’d want to dredge this up!” That’s not a very Batman way of getting what you want.

What’s next, is he going to say “I’m not mad, just disappointed”? But truthfully, I think the artwork in their brawl was the book’s biggest failing. Had the fury and brutality been captured in a more shocking way the theme of rage might have resonated more. This goes for the fight between Bruce and Jason as well as the one between Bruce and the assassins.

Lastly, there was a really clunky transition to the book’s final page. It comes completely out of left field! Does it get me excited for what’s to come? Yes. Was I confused when I first read it? Absolutely! I had to flip back once or twice to make sure I hadn’t skipped anything or that my comic wasn’t missing a page. And with there being such an emphasis on shadows, if it wasn’t for the coin I would’ve thought I was still looking at Bruce Wayne. But again, I’m very excited to see what Tomasi and the gang have in store for us with Barbara and Two-Face next month. This is actually the first time that Tomasi has used a member of the traditional rogues gallery in a story. Pretty amazing that this team was able to wait 20 months before bringing out the big guns. How do you suppose Two-Face made it out of Arkham?

The artwork for this issue was actually shared between the usual team of Gleason/Gray and fill-in artists Cliff Richards and Mark Irwin whose contributions are peppered throughout the last half of the book. While Gleason has been knocking it out of the park lately, I found many of the shots with Bruce to make the man look way too much like a neanderthal for my liking and the over-reliance on shadow in many of the scenes, while typically used to great effect in establishing atmosphere, appears to have been done this time to cut corners. If it wasn’t for the obvious plot being there as a clue in the final page reveal, I would’ve thought that a certain villainous character was actually Bruce again since Gleason had drawn him in such heavy shadows and with such a wrinkled grimace throughout this and the past few grieving issues. Richards and Irwin, on the other hand give us far more detailed faces on their pages, but are lacking in the action and atmosphere department. As you know if you’ve read the Born to Kill Saga, Gleason and Gray know how to draw Batman kicking ass better than almost anyone so it was a shame to see the bulk of the action scenes passed on to other artists even if they did do a passable job. John Kalisz, as always did a superb job with the colors and gave the fill-in pages a consistent look.

Overall I was disappointed. For an issue titled “Rage” there really wasn’t very much of it. Sure, there are some punches thrown between friends, but it lacked the brutality to back up such a heavy theme. It was a battle that didn’t look any worse than the average sparring match you see in the cave and the dialogue didn’t have much punch to it either. Combine that with how annoyed I was with Carrie Kelly and we have something that let me down. It’s not a bad comic, by far, but the series has been flying high since the annual and with a cover as jaw-dropping as this one I was hoping for something at least half as amazing to be in the book’s interior. However, I will say that the final page of this comic has me, again, pretty hyped to see what comes next as we explore the bargaining stage with Batgirl.

SCORE: 6/10