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After Artemis gives him a savage beating with everyone’s favorite blunt instrument—the truth—Jason Todd comes face to face with a truly terrifying prospect: a clone of the world’s most powerful being in the hands of Black Mask.

Why Bizarro?

Before Jason or Artemis can do a thing, Black Mask shows up and gasses them. But as the next few days unfold, it becomes clear that this Superman clone is not quite what Sionis was expecting. Desiring to maintain his cover, Jason observes for a time, but as his compassion for Bizarro grows, keeping up appearances becomes increasingly difficult.

And it’s really that last point that makes this issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws a success. The artwork is still some of the best you can get in a very high-quality DC line, and Lobdell continues to mine the comedic potential of a Red Hood/Artemis battle-of-wits; but the one thing that really sells me on this installment—the thing that makes this rise above some nagging flaws—is Jason’s care for Bizarro. There are some genuinely touching moments here.

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It doesn’t hurt that Lobdell wisely avoids most of the well-known Bizarro tropes. His speech is still underdeveloped, but more like a toddler than some kook saying the opposite of what he means. This particular iteration has a connection to Forever Evil—another story with a sympathetic Bizarro—and much of what works here falls right in line with that version of the character.

Soy and Gandini are vital to this characterization, as well. Bizarro has somewhat exaggerated proportions, but he manages to look more menacing than goofy (think Solomon Grundy), thanks to his posture, well-defined musculature, and Gandini’s sober color palette. The artists provide visual cues for how we ought to interpret the character, and Lobdell does well to avoid duplicating their efforts.

Still a little heavy-handed at times

Things aren’t quite as smooth in other spots. There’s a striking spread in which Soy does an excellent job establishing Jason’s feelings of kinship with Bizarro, but much of the voiceover lacks nuance, and I feel like I’m being doused with a firehouse of information. To be fair, what’s here might be perfect for someone who has little experience with the Red Hood, so the lack of artistry may be deliberate; nevertheless, I want something else from this scene, and I suspect there could have been a happier medium for new fans and those of us already up-to-speed on Jason’s past.

There are some other parts that are a bit harder to accept. Catching new readers up on history is one thing, but at several points, Jason bluntly tells us about stuff we learned only a few issues ago. If a writer feels a need to recap, that’s fine—but it ought to be done in such a way that we aren’t getting an unadorned summary. If a recent issue is relevant to what we’re reading today, then there should be an organic way of surfacing that connection in dialogue.

Better together

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There are other, more minor complaints I could enumerate here, but I won’t. Honestly, my overall experience of Red Hood and the Outlaws #3 is a very positive one. This is the last book I though I would enjoy going into Rebirth, and I have been delighted to have my expectations shattered. Beyond just being entertained, I find myself invested in what Lobdell, Soy, Gandini, and Esposito have built, and I’m optimistic about the future. Each issue has gotten better as Jason gets the chance to interact with a new Outlaw, so the promise of more of that makes me happy. Bizarro, the character that had lots of folks worried about this book, has now been introduced, and he is not only tolerable, but likeable. If you’ve been holding out on reading Red Hood, you’re running out of reasons.

Recommended if…

  • You want to read a story in which Jason Todd cares more about someone else than he does about himself.
  • You liked the “tragic fool” take on Bizarro in Forever Evil.
  • Artemis belittling Jason is your new blueprint for a great Red Hood story.

Overall

Red Hood and the Outlaws #3 is a sum greater than its parts. I have a number of problems, some more significant than others, but when I reread it, I can only smile. Consistent excellence from its artists, and lots of heart and humor from its writer make this book one that I’m looking forward to each month.

SCORE: 8/10