Some readers like an annual that’s a stand-alone, done-in-one tale while others want it to be an extra long special that goes deeper into the ongoing story. If you’re looking for an easily accessible, stand-alone story then I suggest you pick up Batman: The Dark Knight Annual #1. If you’re wanting something that moves the story of the ongoing series forward, you want Red Hood & the Outlaws Annual #1.

Talk about an art upgrade! Actually, Annual #1 is an upgrade all around for this series because the story has finally left all of that All-Caste nonsense behind and we get off the mountain, but the most noticeable change is the artwork. I found the previous two issues of Red Hood and the Outlaws to be quite ugly, but Al Barrionuevo delivers a very good-looking issue and I would be happy to see him take over drawing this series full time. The colors by Javier Mena and Bit also add to this comic’s unique look and it all works pretty well. Perhaps it’s a little too bright in some scenes, but overall it’s a major improvement over what I’ve seen these past two months.

When it comes to the story we turn our attention more toward Roy than ever before and writer James Tynion puts a heavy emphasis on Roy’s early partnership with Green Arrow. The New 52 Roy’s alcoholism is dealt with but not in strong enough detail to be particularly heartbreaking or horrifying and I can’t help but wish we had kept the much more shocking heroin addiction of the early days.

Heroin

That was over 40 years ago. What was the need for altering this tragedy? Do we think that kids today can’t handle all the syringe imagery? Are we afraid to show that an ex-junkie can be a hero? What’s the deal?

The bigger question that bubbled to the surface for me after reading this issue is: Why is someone who can make such awesome robots wasting his time shooting a bow and arrow? Seriously. In the first few pages of this book we see that Roy has implanted Doc Ock arms into the sands of the island’s beach and built robo-turtles, lizards, monkeys, and more. Why bother with a bow and arrow?

Setting my nitpicks about alcohol instead of heroin and fantastical robo-turtles aside, it’s a very strong issue for Roy. Any fan of Arsenal should be pleased with this and I think it’s a must-buy for anyone who is in the least bit interested in the Arsenal/Green Arrow relationship. Starfire and Red Hood, on the other hand, get less attention. Starfire is hardly seen at all, but Red Hood is at least the thing everyone is fighting for. Sadly, this isn’t the Red Hood we all know and (most of us) love. By James Tynion mind-wiping the character a couple issues ago so that we can get some much deserved Starfire and Roy time, Jason has…well… Jason sucks now. He sucks. His decision to wipe his mind in the first place was flimsy at best and now that he’s got a clean slate we have to suffer through a storyline in which Jason needs to find out who he really was! Those kinds of XIII, Long Kiss Goodnight, Bourne Identity sort of plots are typically only interesting when the reader doesn’t already know what we’re getting into, but I suppose with the reboot and all we don’t know exactly what Jason’s past could really be so… who knows? The bigger problem is that by stripping Jason of his bad boy personality and making him all upset about the bad boy that he was, he’s now both uninteresting and, worse, whiny.

We saw at the end of the last issue that there was a bounty on the Outlaws’ heads and we got a glimpse at the New 52 Bronze Tiger and Cheshire. Well, Cheshire is in the Annual in a very big way and she wants Jason more than anyone else on the wanted poster. I rather liked Cheshire’s new character design and thought that she was written to be a fun and formidable character and she has obvious chemistry with Roy. My problem is that she apparently has been given a new and unnecessary ability to teleport/turn intangible like the Martian Manhunter. It just feels like a bit much to me. She was plenty bad ass already without going this far with the super powers (much like how Black Mask was more than scary without giving him psychic abilities), but it does tie her closer to the Alice in Wonderland character.

Far and away, though, the highlights of this book are the answers regarding Roy’s past and the level of action you get. None of the other Annual issues I read today had this many entertaining fight scenes. Watching Green Arrow and Arsenal pair up to combat Cheshire is sure to make a lot of people happy.

Spoiler
Going a little too far with the action, however, is having Red Hood holding on to the bottom of a plane as it flies away. The guy doesn’t have super-grip… but maybe he forgot that, too.

Overall

So as you can see, there’s a lot going on in this issue and that makes it a pretty good annual. I didn’t care much for how Jason was used and I thought that the power-up of Cheshire was unnecessary, but the Roy drama was interesting and the fight scenes are terrific. Tynion and Barrionuevo delivered an action packed issue that’s sure to entertain Arsenal/Green Lantern fans but the Starfire and Red Hood crowd might get a little impatient.

SCORE: 7.5/10