Featuring an Origin Story for Red Hood

If you’ve been collecting these so far, get ready for that decision-making moment when you have to figure out whether you want the whole series just for itself or if you only like the Bat-related issues because after this one, No. 6 has no Bat-family related origin (Huntress makes an appearance in Issue No. 7). If you have all the previous books until now, you’ll have to decide for yourself whether that little gap will cause you to go into an OCD spin. But you have time to think about it because this month: Jason Todd’s Red Hood shares space spinning origin stories with Victor Stone/Cyborg and Mera of Xebel who will one day be the Atlantean Queen.

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Before I talk about the Red Hood piece of this, which is what the focus on the review will be, I want to offer some comments on the other two stories in this comic because if you’re neither a fan of Cyborg nor Mera, the decision to buy this book might be a tough one.

Marv Wolfman gives us a pretty straightforward Cyborg origin (with pencils by Edgar Salazar and inks by Jay Leisten). The art is fairly strong with some nice compositions. Like with many of these origins, montage is used to help push the narrative through various events quickly, but I feel like it gives us a whole story and provides enough character development that it doesn’t feel frivolous. There’s a lot of yelling, though–something really stands out for me about all the teeth you see throughout. But the sequence in which Victor gets blown up and is put through the rebuilding process is especially effective and the fact that the narrative gives ample weight to the father-son relationship makes it generally pretty satisfying. I like Cyborg as a character and find the family dynamic interesting, but his is not a book I’d probably ever read regularly so this was nice, but didn’t particularly add anything to the overall value.

Mera’s origin story, titled “The Mission” was stronger than the Cyborg one–perhaps mostly because this is a character for whom we haven’t really seen much background in the New 52. I have been reading Aquaman since the new series began and so I feel like I know a few things about Mera, her relationship with Arthur, with the Atlantean people, and with the surface world.  It was nice to see an origin story that wasn’t strictly about her upbringing or her role in the underwater realms, but instead focuses on her first meeting with Aquaman. Jeff Parker has been awesome for the Aquaman book and he brings the same qualities to this tale: a little bit of gravitas, a little bit of humor, and a fierce understanding of what can make the guy who talks to fish work as a superhero. We also get to see Nereus being a jerkface and Mera juggling her independent judgment and her loyalty to her people (themes common to the series).  Daniel HDR provides the art and Guy Major notably does colors for this story. The light on the water sparkles beautifully, Aquaman is wonderfully goofy-looking as a young man, and although this was pretty lightweight romantic fare, I liked it!

And now for the headliner:

“Secret Origins: Red Hood”

I confess I approached this with much trepidation because I could not have liked what Scott Lobdell did with Jason Todd’s origin in Red Hood and the Outlaws issue No. 0 any less. I also feared there wasn’t much hope that this might be more than just recycled narrative from that 0 issue origin (which is pretty much what he did with Tim Drake in Secret Origins No. 3.

So was this better? Worse? About the same? The good news is that it neither strictly recycles nor supports that weird mess about the Joker setting up Jason to be the next Robin (which, I don’t know, if anybody was a fan of that I’d be curious to hear why). It’s not clear whether an editorial decision was made to pretend none of that ever happened or to downplay it back out of continuity, but you’ll find no trace of it here, which I think was a solid, laudable choice.

Otherwise we get a fairly straight origin that tries to reconcile the Flashpoint vs. the Lazarus pit problem (not entirely a success on this, but I’m okay with just sort of waffling through the details on all of that hugely convoluted business). I strongly disliked Jason as Robin, but I am glad that he came back and his return is one of my favorite Batman stories. The fact that DC has made such a hash of explaining it all just makes me throw up my hands, though. Still, I try not to let all that confusion ruin my enjoyment of the character otherwise.

But back to the comic: in this version, Jason wakes up buried, crawls out of his grave, gets picked up by Talia al Ghul, trained by Ducra, and wanders back to Gotham to face Bruce.

The narrative is pretty stilted (in Jason’s voice, leaping from point to point–heavily expositional). The art, by Jack Herbert and Vicente Cifuentes, though quite good technically, does nothing to really move the story forward in an interesting way. Where the Cyborg origin made use of the montage, this attempts leaps with traditional Kirby-stye four-square paneling. It doesn’t work and is just as stilted as the narrative.

The figure work and characters look really nice: the opening shot of Jason sailing over a fence with the police in pursuit, the splashy first appearance of Batman, the sprawl of the Batcave, the imaginative downward angle of Joker murdering Jason with the crowbar (very effective!), and the final pin-up worthy Red Hood vs. Batman page are all highlights.

Secret_05_01

Is it just me or is this a weird moment in so many ways?

But there are very odd detail choices throughout: Jason is caught by Batman while stealing drugs from Dr. Thompkins, Bruce just offers him the Robin gig (so random), the Robin costume is depicted under glass (er…Dick didn’t die, so that’s just weird). And okay, I know there have been depictions of all the Bats and Robins similarly displayed in the Batcave, but this just didn’t look right. Then there are panels in which Bruce wears sunglasses on a rainy dark night (huh?), a panel in which Jason faints backwards (a medical impossibility), Jason wears a green and purple robe after coming out of the Lazarus pit (is that meant to be ironic or just a poor choice of colors?), and a silly (intentionally comical?) two-panel sequence in which Jason proudly presents himself to Ducra and then exits in a total silhouette (though his eyes are glowing).

So what’s the final score here?

The Good

The highlights from this book:

  • Another Bermejo cover! This was wasn’t as stunning to me as the previous two, but I do like the steam coming off Cyborg’s back.
  • Solid art throughout from all the different teams. And though I have many criticisms of the storytelling/visual details from Herbert and Cifuentes in the Red Hood origin, I think it is the best overall work in the book. I also have to give props to whomever decided on that overhead shot of Jason’s death because that’s the first time I think I have ever seen that played out in a way that doesn’t focus on the Joker, but on poor Jason!
  • Generally good stories about Cyborg and Mera in addition to the single Bat-family one.
  • Something fresh from Jeff Parker for an underrated Mera!

The Bad

Nothing really new from Cyborg nor Red Hood.

The Ugly

Lobdell’s rehash of Red Hood’s Origin feels pretty much that: re-hashed. I’d call it borderline lazy, frankly. The art saves it from being a loss.

Recommended If…

  • You’re a huge fan of Red Hood and take a completist approach to collecting.
  • You also like Cyborg and/or Mera.
  • You just want to get the bad vibe of Red Hood and the Outlaws No. 0 out of your soul and don’t mind replacing it with something only marginally better.

Overall

I feel like the solid work of the Cyborg and Mera stories help boost this one for me, particularly because I like Jeff Parker’s work with Mera and Aquaman. It also does have a nice Bermejo cover. The larger, splashier images from Herbert and Cifuentes in the Red Hood origin are definitely worth a gander. But if you’re not a fan of any of these characters or don’t have some other reason for investing in them, I think it’s probably skippable.

SCORE: 6/10

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