Red Hood and the Outlaws #14 review

Red Hood 14

Bizarro’s life has been saved, but Lex Luthor warned there would be side effects. And like most things concerning the big, lovable lug, these side effects go the opposite way you might expect. Can the Outlaws adjust to a hyper-intelligent Bizarro? And how long can this last? Red Hood and the Outlaws #14 starts to answer these questions.

Still the same Bizarro

This arc’s whole concept could easily have manifested as a train wreck. Most folks associate Bizarro with his (apparent) dunderheadedness, so removing that for a season could be disastrous. As good as RHATO has been, I think I’ve been subconsciously bracing myself for cheesy “smart talk” and something wholly unrecognizable from the series I have been championing for a year.

It’s good to be wrong.

Yes, Bizarro is now highly-intelligent. Yes, he’s inventing all sorts of crazy stuff that changes the way the Outlaws fight crime. Yes, he does say some stuff that feels like pseudo-scientific babble. And yet, at the core of this issue, we still get the heart of Bizarro that has sat at the center of this unexpectedly delightful book. It helps that Lobdell has at times deliberately stated and at others strongly implied that Bizarro is not a completely brain-dead nincompoop—that he is in fact a warm, loving creature who knows much more than his confused faculties will allow him to communicate.

Here, we get to see this Bizarro use his newfound capabilities for the good of his team, but also for the good of others—even some people who we might say don’t deserve his aid. And he does all of this while acutely aware of Luthor’s statement that these capabilities will not be permanent. We get several very sweet moments this time around—moments I won’t spoil here—and Bizarro’s commitment to use his limited time in service to others warms my heart. Lobdell manages to change Bizarro profoundly while perfectly retaining his core essence, and it’s an admirable achievement.

Art is hard to do…and to talk about

After reading this for the first time, I found myself missing series regular Dexter Soy. I’ll say flat-out that I don’t think this issue looks as good as any of Soy’s issues. It isn’t merely different—it’s lower-fidelity and less consistent. There are several panels that look really good, and most never look flat-out terrible, but after growing accustomed to the slick finishes of Soy and Gandini, this is a little jarring.

But after talking with someone about this, I was challenged to think a bit more about what’s not working here. I’m not going to ignore my senses or give the book a pass, but I want to at least understand where the problems are and not attribute fault to folks that don’t deserve it. It’s easy to see artwork that you don’t like and blame it on the penciler, but there’s also ink and colors, and all of those things working together give you the final result.

Joe Bennett can clearly deliver nice pages. He’s been doing it for years, and he’s done it recently in several issues of Deathstroke. I’ve also seen uncolored pages of his from another project, and they are exquisite. He lays things out nicely, and I like his character work and scenery. So what’s going on in RHATO #14?

I think there are several problems. For starters, after the opening action sequence, the middle of the book is fairly thick with wide perspectives. So as the first step in the process, Bennett has to draw smaller characters and their faces. By the time the inks and colors get applied, you have a final product that looks a little rough and lo-fi. These sorts of perspectives don’t ruin a book automatically, but when there’s too much of them in too short a span, it’s hard to feel connected to the work, at least for me.

I also think that this middle section of the book really suffers from a color treatment that isn’t doing it any favors. There’s a glossy sheen on many surfaces, and probably too much lighting jiggery-pokery in general. I still read a lot of stuff from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, and I’m often struck by how much better most pencilers in those decades looked with a simpler color process. If you colored Jim Aparo’s work on Knightfall the way this book is colored, it wouldn’t look that great, either. There is absolutely a place for this sort of color, but I think that place is with line art that achieves a higher degree of realism. Have a look at the way Jeromy Cox colored Bennett in Deathstroke #3—still has lighting effects, still has a lot of color, but the character work looks a lot simpler, and I think that works much better with Bennett’s style than what we have here.

I’ve seen great work from all of the artists involved in this book, so I’m not attacking any of them. But the artwork did feel like a step down for me overall—much more akin to some of those early Rebirth issues of Aquaman or Action Comics, where the aggressive publishing schedules forced editors to pull together several and varied teams to meet deadlines. By contrast, RHATO has most of the time featured Soy and Gandini, who have worked together for quite some time and clearly know each other’s process well enough to produce consistently stunning finishes.

It’s still a great issue, though, and the artwork doesn’t come close to sinking it. Bennett’s layouts are still quite good, and he supports the strong emotional moments well enough, even if he doesn’t knock them out of the park.

Recommended if…

  • You love Lobdell’s Bizarro as much as I do
  • You’re invested in RHATO and can forgive a good-but-not-great finish on the artwork this time
  • You hate Victor Zsasz

Overall

The artwork dips a bit with a substitute team, but it still works, and the story helps lift the whole affair higher. Bizarro may have experienced a change, but he is still the same lovable guy at his core, and Lobdell does an excellent job presenting both sides of that coin (and making them work together) here. Red Hood and the Outlaws remains one of the best books on the stands, and it continues to add new layers of richness to what was already a diverse and satisfying experience.

SCORE: 8/10

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