Bizarro is dying. The goofy, beloved super-clone has been the emotional glue of the Outlaws since this series began, all while having an innate death sentence hanging over his head. Is this really the end? That is the question haunting Red Hood and the Outlaws #12.
We’re a year into RHATO now, and what was once a “sure failure” has become one of my favorite books on the stands. I have no illusions: some of the things I expected from writer Scott Lobdell came to pass: characters like Black Mask and Jason Todd have uttered some less-than-convincing dialogue at times, and Lobdell’s propensity for extensive catch-up in the narration boxes is evergreen. But from the very start, I saw strong elements in this book that made it easy to look past the shortcomings: Jason didn’t take himself too seriously, Artemis did take herself too seriously (at first hilariously, then touchingly), and Bizarro proved to be one of the most lovable, tragically self-aware characters in fiction.
It seems fitting that we close out a year following Bizarro and the Reds (I call that band name) with an issue that manages to accentuate RHATO’s weaknesses, strengths, and overall goodness. The first half of the book is a struggle. Maybe it’s canon, but Ma Gunn displays a sudden sophistication and depth-of-experience that wasn’t evident in her earlier appearance in the series. For those of us who met her first here, she feels like an entirely different character. I enjoy the idea of the team coming to her for help, but I don’t have the comfort of familiarity I would expect (I know, comfort from Mama seems impossible).
The rest of this opening scene isn’t terrible, but it feels like an information dump that is almost disguised well enough, but not quite. Artemis references the Akila incident from the last arc, and this feels particularly forced. I’m fine with her showing more emotion now—I think Lobdell earned it well in (most of) “Who Is Artemis?”—but her comment feels unnatural in the context—it has a lazy parallel to the current situation, but that’s not a strong enough link.
When Artemis and Jason head into the field later, we encounter what is perhaps the worst offense in the book. Artemis has been fairly consistent throughout this run, but she so spectacularly breaks character that I have to wonder how this made it out of Lobdell’s computer and all the way through editorial and into our hands. Here’s the problem panel:
“His rhymes are for crap”? Artemis does not talk like that. I’m going to ask Lobdell about this, and I’ll let you know if I get an answer.
Of course, that question is easier to ask when it comes sandwiched between praise and adoration, and the rest of RHATO #12 gives me the chance to situate it in just such a context. Once Bizarro gets involved, this entire issue changes, and I am transfixed. All of the hilarity and heart-warmth that the big guy has brought to this title is on full display here, and when all is said and done, he proves himself worthy of his clearer reflection. I’m not going to say anything else about it, because I don’t want to spoil for you the sort of joy that was mine while reading this, but suffice it to say that this is Bizarro at his absolute best.
It’s worth pointing out that, other than Artemis’s character lapse, I actually enjoyed the battlefield banter. In Lobdell’s previous iterations of Jason, I often found attempts at humor to fall short, but I was laughing pretty hard this time—especially at this one:
And all of that says nothing of the artwork, which is as good as it’s ever been. Soy and Gandini capture the dark and grime of Gotham with such exquisite detail that you experience what feels like an inappropriate enjoyment of such a rotten place. This time, they get to apply their skills to a carnival, and even in this somewhat specialized environment, they reimagine that ugly beauty perfectly. This is my favorite art team at DC right now, and I hope they’re working together for a long, long time.
- You have a heart—and a little bit of patience.
Even with a clunky start, Red Hood and the Outlaws #12 manages to deepen my investment in these characters and impress me in fresh ways. If you prefer Tragic-Hero Bizarro over Comic-Relief Bizarro, you’ll love this book, as our beloved, bumbling big guy shows the sort of courage and sacrifice that would make his genetic template proud.