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If you’re just joining us, Jason Todd is having a bad day. Black Mask has injected Bizarro with a techno-organic virus, and now the crime lord can control the imperfect super-clone with his mind. How am Red Him going to get out of this one? Mild spoilers ahead.

A big fight, a big axe, and a big ego

As Jason and Bizarro square off, it quickly becomes evident that the big guy is holding back, fighting against Black Mask’s control. Artemis steps in to help, and Jason hatches a plan to wrestle control away from the villain before he uses Bizarro to cause serious damage to Gotham.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #5 is a fairly simple installment. It doesn’t feature the character development or exploration of Jason’s past that have been present in earlier chapters. The draw here is the battle, and while it is rendered very well by Soy and Gandini, the visuals suffer from the plot’s treading water. Previous issues elapsed more time, so we got to see Gotham—and our cast of characters—in different light. But with the narrow space and time we’re dealing with here, Gandini’s palette (necessarily) remains very similar throughout. Soy’s shots are likewise focused on the battle, and we don’t have any real establishing shots that set the scene (although he still puts in an incredible amount of detail to his environments). There are some great panels, to be sure, and it is far from boring; but the artwork this time is not quite as dynamic as it has been.

I actually care about these people

In a different context, this would be a tough chapter to sell, but Lobdell has spent four issues doing a pretty good job of making me care about these characters. Instead of feeling bored, I felt tense and excited. Even though it’s a virtual certainty that Jason and Artemis will free Bizarro from Black Mask’s grip, I can’t help but anxiously wait for their success and fear even that tiniest shard of a possibility that they’ll fail. When the outcome of a story matters, it makes no difference that you already know it—the hurt and the joy of its anticipation and consummation are as real on the first or the fiftieth experience of it.

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I love this panel in general, but I love Soy’s attention to detail. A suitcase and a picnic basket on top of the car, the other side of the car’s frame in silhouette through the window—he’s creating a rich environment every time.

I’ve read a number of complaints about Jason’s character now that he isn’t killing his enemies. But I like him better as the “errant child looking for [his] father’s love” that Black Mask sees beneath the surface. I recognize that Jason had a following back when he operated more like the Punisher, but I found him unbearable, and his position toward Batman bratty and unsympathetic. I’m a big fan of how Lobdell is shaping him in this series so far: he cares about others, and that makes me care about him.

I said earlier that this issue lacks character development, but that’s not entirely true. Beneath her hilariously tough exterior, Artemis also cares about others more than herself. She does not want to see Black Mask unleash the might of a mind-controlled Bizarro on Gotham (or the world), and in spite of her constant insults, she does not want to see Jason hurt by Black Mask, either. Artemis is the comedic heart of Red Hood, but if Lobdell continues to write her patiently (as he has), she could very naturally develop into the most endearing member of the team.

The mask comes off

At long last, Red Hood and the Outlaws #5 delivers what we’ve all been asking for (“we” referring to the multiverse of personalities that exist within the great orrery of psyches that twirls inside my head): Black Mask at last removes his freaky-deaky strap-on mask and shows himself in pure, unadorned, skully goodness. Okay, so he’s got some purple, glowy patches from the techno-organic virus swirling through his veins, but he still looks a lot more like classic Roman than what we’ve been getting so far. I like it.

What I don’t like, or at least, what I don’t understand, is how or why he’s doing this here at the end:

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To me, that looks like the antidote to the virus. When I first read this, I wondered if maybe it was the virus itself, and he was getting ready to inject Jason so that he, too, could be in thrall to the Mask. But I checked last month’s issue and saw that the virus was injected with a much different-looking device, and that its color was essentially the same as the glowing splotches on Mask and Bizarro. So it’s not the virus. It is clearly the antidote. So, how did he get it in his hand? And why would he be threatening Jason with the antidote? I’m officially confused.

There were a few other parts that either confused or bothered me, so here they are:

  • “Fifty shades of grating” is a really stupid line. It reminds me of Foley’s “he’s as dumb as he dresses” line from The Dark Knight Rises; it is no doubt meant to portray the character speaking it as goofy, but it ends up backfiring and commenting on the author, rather than the character. Sorry, Scott—this one’s a stinker.
  • When Jason levels his pistol at Mask and contemplates ending it, he suddenly has a scope on top. It wasn’t there before. Where did it come from?
  • Jason’s line at the end isn’t nearly as bad as “fifty shades of grating,” but it’s kind of silly, too. I would rather he didn’t say anything.

I’ll take the next one now, please

I have my complaints, but I still enjoyed this very much. The simplicity of Lobdell’s plot and his overall approach—give me characters I like and put them in situations that make me worry about them—makes Red Hood and the Outlaws easy to pick up and hard to put down. And even with this issue’s artwork not quite reaching the heights of its predecessors, I still say this is one of DC’s best-looking and most visually distinct books.

Recommended if…

  • Red Hood and the Outlaws has been working for you so far—this one is very much in line with the rest of the series, and its success depends on what Lobdell and co. have developed up to this point.
  • You like Lobdell’s take on Artemis. Everything lovable about her in the past few installments gets dialed up this time. She’s a riot.
  • You’ve been longing to behold Black Mask in all of his glory.

Overall

There’s not as much meat in this month’s Red Hood, but there’s still an awful lot of flavor. While some of Lobdell’s attempts at humor fall flat, and the artwork doesn’t have quite the range it has shown before now, this is still a very enjoyable book with a lot to love. Soy and Gandini’s people and places continue to look great, and the characters that I’ve enjoyed from the beginning are all here, even if their internal arcs don’t get as much attention this time as we’re used to.

SCORE: 7.5/10