It seems to me like Lobdell exited the wrong book. While I found both volumes of the New 52 Teen Titans to be abysmal, author Scott Lobdell’s Red Hood and the Outlaws was one of the most fun Bat titles that I could find. With Volume 2 I was a little put off by the idea of going into space with Jason Todd (a character I think would be more effective on the ground, without a team or, better yet, if he were in a team it should be with Tim Drake and it could just be the two of them getting into adventures) but Red Hood took a backseat in that brief arc and Starfire carried what turned out to be a pretty enjoyable little story.
Red Hood and the Outlaws, Vol. 2: Starfire collects issues #8-14 by Scott Lobdell with art by Kenneth Rocafort, Timothy Green II, and Pascal Alixe. The binding on my copy was way too tight so some of the imagery was lost. One character in the 2nd-to-last chapter vanished entirely into the spine of the book and it took quite a bit of pulling to follow the speech bubble and see who was actually speaking from the paperback’s crevice. The binding was quite a problem with this book because the series’ greatest strength is definitely Kenneth Rocafort’s pencils and you need to see all of that imagery in its entirety. I especially love the cover of this book. It has such a fantastic Drew Struzan movie poster quality to it that I love. Sure, Starfire should really have been front-and-center, but oh, well. It’s gorgeous and I imagine many fans of this series would like this cover to be a poster itself.
Rocafort’s pencils are fantastic. So detailed, energetic, and boosted to the next level of awesome by colorist Blond. I wish that Rocafort would have moved on to a title I actually pick up rather than the New 52 Superman, but oh well. I think he’s one of the best artists with a style that’s very distinctive. Unfortunately, he didn’t illustrate this book the whole way through and with such a unique approach to every page the transition is instantly noticeable. As soon as Rocafort leaves the artistic merit of the book drops from a 9 or 10 down to a 5 or a 6 at the absolute best.
The overall story of the book works out quite well despite having two crossover events latch on over the course of these eight issues. The Night of Owls was tied in almost seamlessly, but the teases of the Death of the Family event stand out as unnecessary and just awful really, but let me start from the beginning…
I really wish DC would institute a recap page at the start of their comics. A recap that can then be omitted when the arc is turned into a trade paperback, you know? I feel that it drags the story down when the opening page or two of every new chapter of a graphic novel begins with narration that has the main character re-introducing himself and often breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience as they summarize what just happened in the previous chapter. Let the story be. Let the story be the story and let the recap be its own separate thing. I would rather have one page of recap in every issue that can be removed when it’s time to print a graphic novel than have an extra page at the start of every chapter that ruins the narrative flow. It doesn’t feel like a novel this way. Imagine if every chapter of Moby Dick started with a different variation of “Hey, it’s Ishmael again! In case you’re wondering how I got on a boat and who this crotchety guy with the peg leg is, let me explain…”
Red Hood and the Outlaws, Vol. 2: Starfire marks the continued adventures of Jason Todd, Starfire, and Arsenal (who don’t really feel like they’re on the run or outlaws at all but who cares, it’s a cool name). They always seem to find themselves in trouble and they have good chemistry together so it’s usually a pretty fast-paced and enjoyable read. The first chapter of Volume 2: Starfire is an action packed done-in-one tale that ties up the loose end of Suzie Su, a gangster Red Hood shot in the previous volume but ultimately didn’t kill. She wakes up in a Gotham hospital and uses her mob connections to instigate a hostage situation that endangers the facility’s children who will only be freed if Red Hood surrenders himself. Since Jason is a good guy deep-down he flies the Outlaws to Gotham and deals justice only to wind up in his hometown the same night as the whole Court of the Owls debacle. Writer Lobdell weaved the crossover event into the grander story pretty well and the tie-in issue that makes up our graphic novel’s 2nd chapter is quite fun and one of the real highlights of the whole collection. Seeing the Outlaws fight a Talon assassin and try to protect Mr. Freeze while Chinatown gets destroyed is all very thrilling and beautifully rendered by Rocafort. Many won’t like the New 52 design of Mr. Freeze (I know I don’t) and you probably shouldn’t think too hard about the Owls’ plan (Seriously, they send one assassin to kill Mr. Freeze? The Talon’s #1 weakness is cold. Why would you only send one assassin guy whose kryptonite is cold up against a the one bad guy in all of pop culture who is most synonymous with ice and all things chilly?), but overall it’s great high-octane excitement.
Once the Owls business is taken care of we get into the true story at the heart of this book and that involves Starfire and her home planet. While out on a date with the stewardess (he met her in the previous volume) Isabel, Jason Todd has a run-in with an old friend of Starfire’s who immediately teleports her, Jason, Arsenal, and the stewardess across the cosmos. After being teleported we are informed that Starfire’s home planet is under siege and she is the planet’s only hope for survival. It all sounds pretty thrilling and like a simple-enough yet absolutely epic narrative worthy of the space-opera cover that Rocafort gave the book. However, the villains have a boring character design, lack any depth whatsoever, and are so easily dispatched that the entire final confrontation felt like a non-event. I love how Starfire got the attention she deserved and she was handled with respect and not just shown to be some dumb sex-kitten. In fact, she was even drawn with battle armor that wasn’t all about showing off T&A! Seeing her past elaborated on and watching her take a turn as leader of the Outlaws was terrific (even though now it seems like… why isn’t she leading the team 24/7 if she’s such a great strategist?), but the actual threat she faced felt half-hearted and I can’t help but wonder if the whole arc was there just as fanservice to those Starfire enthusiasts who were in an uproar after her treatment in the first volume of the New 52 series. This was to be a battle on a really enormous scale and it wrapped up so simply and without struggle that I can say that it’s not something I’ll retain in my memory for long at all.
This graphic novel unfortunately doesn’t go out with a bang. The final issue is filler that features a nonsensical battle with Superman and some really terrible artwork (the round, chubby faces on everyone look horrendous). It’s a chapter that’s there simply to buy time until the Death of the Family crossover starts and this is another thing that dragged down the last third of the book, but I’ll go into detail about that in a spoiler tag since some of you might not have read Death of the Family yet.
The book has a phenomenal energy to it and amusing dialogue between characters that have great chemistry. It’s… It’s hard for me to believe that Lobdell also writes Teen Titans because I see none of the same level of care in that title. Teen Titans is just a chaotic mess, but his run on Red Hood and the Outlaws was, for the most part, quite entertaining.
Kenneth Rocafort’s original character sketches for Suzie Su and Mr. Freeze. Those two pages are the only thing you get. Very measly supplemental material.
Value: Sale Price
I wish I could say full price, but Starfire’s arc needed a better ending. A way better ending! The potential was there but it felt like the folks involved lost interest and just wanted things to wrap up. Add in the sub-par artwork of the fill-in artists and you get a book that’s probably best purchased at a discount as opposed to the full $14.99.
It’s entertaining but takes a major hit when artist Kenneth Rocafort leaves midway through the graphic novel and is replaced by far less capable fill-in artists. Seeing the Outlaws fight in Gotham is a pleasure and it’s great to see the Starfire character finally get treated with the respect she deserves during the interstellar portion of the book, but the ending is very weak and wholly forgettable. The last 1/3 of the book looks ugly and is too concerned with tying itself into the Death of the Family crossover event to be worth your time. Volume 2 had a lot of potential but fell short of being as solid of a read as volume 1.