It’s brothers, the Big Top, and the Beast! The Russians have returned to Gotham, and Jason, Artemis, and Bizarro have infiltrated a circus with connections. But when the Beast (née KGBeast) shows up to fulfill a contract, the team will need to cash in on a family connection if they hope to stand a fighting chance. Nightwing (temporarily) joins the Outlaws, in Red Hood and the Outlaws Annual #1!
A well-earned good time
Perhaps no book at DC is more deserving of (and more suited to) an annual than RHATO. Scott Lobdell and a very talented band of artists (who, in typical form, sit out the annual, with the exception of letterer Taylor Esposito) have been killing it on this title since Rebirth began, and I was delighted to learn that he would have an opportunity to do this. And you know what? It’s pretty great.
RHATO is always at least partly about having a good time—if not for the characters, then for us. There is often a fair bit of lightheartedness, even when Lobdell explores a longer, more complex plot. Even at its tensest moments, this annual leans hard into that sort of whimsy, and it’s a highly-enjoyable break from the series’ normal tone. In a month where the industry celebrates legendary creator Jack Kirby, it’s particularly appropriate to get an oversized issue full of classic comic book escapism and huge, larger-than-life characters.
Sarcastic Artemis is my favorite flower
While the narrative takes a break from its usual flavor, the characters remain true to what Lobdell has previously established. I’ve loved Artemis’s sarcasm since the first issue, and she’s allowed a few more zingers this time than we’ve been getting lately (though that was for good reason). For readers (like myself) who have historically had a hard time with Jason Todd, Artemis is the perfect compliment. She cuts Jay down at the slightest sign of navel-gazing or self-importance, so he’s never able to get fully wound up into the sort of near-sighted whining that has at times characterized his post-crowbar appearances. I think I’m actually starting to like him…
Bizarro is, well, himself. Look, if you don’t read RHATO, you don’t get it, but Lobdell has consistently given us the best version of this character—a better version than I’ve seen from anyone else. His heart is bigger than his enormous body, and you can’t help but love the guy. I won’t spoil it for you, but there is a moment in this issue that is at once hilarious and incredibly endearing, and I dare you not to smile as you come into contact with such innocent, naked goodness.
Lastly, Dick and Jason have some great moments this time around, too. If you’ve been waiting for Red Hood to connect with the rest of the Bat-family, this is a step in the right direction. Lobdell enriches their history a bit in flashback, but their interactions in the present are the real draw—a rather well-crafted display of brotherly pride and longing. The eventual team-up, while short, provides a satisfying payoff in the end, and the post-battle banter gives hope that these two might be able to work toward a closer relationship in the future.
Kirkham at his best
I mentioned King Kirby above, and without question, it was the artwork that initially inspired the comparison. When I look at Kirkham’s big, beefy shots of the Beast or Bizarro, I can’t help but think of Kirby’s Ben Grimm or Darkseid. Kirkham handles the softer, more emotional moments expertly, too, but I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the glorious spectacle once the fists start flying. Prianto’s colors are a perfect match, joining with Kirkham’s exaggerated characters and packed layouts to provide a sensory overload—but in a good way.
Even the letters this time around represent some of Esposito’s best work on the title. The credits look outstanding, instantly evoking the circus, and I love the character intro overlays. And while his SFX are always top-notch, they just seem to shine that much brighter in an issue that so openly celebrates the meat and potatoes of superhero comics. There is something bizarrely comforting about a picture of the Beast, machine gun lit with a trio of BUDDAs.
Come and get it
Even if you haven’t been reading RHATO, this is a great place to jump in and see what all the fuss is about. It’s such a good time, and it’s so well done all around. Come have some fun with the Outlaws this week, and then stick around in the future for one of the best books DC is publishing.
- You love enormous, enormously-fun, enormously sweet comic-booking
- You’ve been eager to see Jason reconnect with his Bat-colleagues
- THE BEAST
Kudos to Lobdell, Kirkham, Prianto, and Esposito for knocking this one out of the park. It’s got action, heart, and laughs in spades—a perfect bonus story while we wait for the next regular issue. Whether you’ve been on board since the beginning, or all of the positive buzz has made you curious, make this the week that you check out Red Hood and the Outlaws—you won’t be sorry.