Red Hood and the Outlaws #15 review

Red Hood 15

Crime in Gotham is no more! Bolstered by Bizarro’s new-found intelligence, the Outlaws have cleaned up the streets. But when Gotham’s other protectors launch an investigation to figure out why, things get a bit more complicated for our heroes. “Bizarro Reborn” continues, in Red Hood and the Outlaws #15. Spoilers ahead

Not my preferred approach…

I’d like to think that the longer I do this, the better I get at separating my feelings about the direction a creator takes from the execution of that choice. And so in an effort to be as fair as possible, I’m going to get something out of the way up front that will most likely apply to next month’s issue, as well: I think that this sudden move to include other teams—the Belfry crew from Detective Comics in this issue, and the Suicide Squad in the next—is a mistake. RHATO’s success has flowed from the relationships between its titular heroes, and injecting other big-ticket characters into the mix in the midst of a very poignant arc seems like bad decision-making. I know that Jason Todd fans have been clamoring for interaction with the wider Bat-family, but I don’t think this was the time to do it.

…but it’s still the same book I love

I may not agree with the direction, but I still enjoyed most of this issue. All four creators pitch in for an excellent page depicting Bizarro’s plight:

Lobdell also begins to weave a thread about some subterfuge on Bizarro’s part, and given previous experience, I can only assume that his deceit is in pursuit of a nobler goal—something benefiting Jason and Artemis, most likely. If Lobdell attempts to plant a seed of doubt, it doesn’t work for me, because I’ve seen too much of Bizarro to believe that he would betray them.

The scuffle with Batwoman, Batwing, Clayface, Orphan, and Azrael manages to be (mostly) fun. Moments like these benefit immensely from Lobdell’s decision to make Jason take himself (and others) less seriously. Some of the one-liners make me cringe, but Jason’s demeanor throughout this run has created a context in which Cringey Barbs® (I call that band name) seem less like poor writing and more like a pretty good capture of the way bratty children squabble.

Unfortunately, the Detective crew’s dialogue homogenizes a bit throughout the battle, so if you’ve been following that title, you may find their speech a bit off-kilter. There’s also a gag thrown in rather inorganically, with Artemis turning away from Azrael to quip at Orphan about “ninja children.” Turning from Azrael is foolish as it is, but Lobdell doesn’t even pay off the joke later. I was all ready to see Artemis frustratingly proclaim that, for Orphan, she would make an exception, but it never came. So I can’t even say that the poorly-timed comment was in the end worth it.

My biggest beef with Batwoman, Inc., though, has to be their direction on the last page, post-takedown:

Now, I like the takedown. It seems somehow fitting that, even with a Superman and an Amazon, poor Jason would still lose to the rest of the family. Batwoman and her crew should be able to pull such a thing off, because they spend much of their off-time in high-intensity Bat-training. Their victory is in-character, I think. But why oh why on earth would they then decide to turn the Outlaws over to Amanda Waller? We’re not talking a stint in Belle Reve here. Given who the Outlaws are, it’s pretty obvious that Waller would fit them for brain bombs and tell them to Squad-up. I’m having trouble believing that Batwoman would give them up to that sort of fate.

The Soys are back in town

After a short break, Dexter Soy returns to RHATO, and it’s great to have him back. He and Gandini are one of the best teams on any of DC’s books, and it’s refreshing to see his excellent environment and character work return. Soy doesn’t just get by on aesthetics, though—this issue is a great example of visual storytelling, even in spite of a few hiccups along the way. Here’s one of my favorite examples, as Bizarro considers the human brain:

Forget the word balloons for a moment, and just look at the other artwork. The perspective moves from wide to narrow, almost as though we’re walking toward him, and with each panel we’ve come closer. The natural progression of our “feet” and the natural progression of our eyes are in harmony—as we progress down the page, we progress toward Bizarro. We also move from seeing the strength of his massive frame at the top to the vulnerability of his wide eye at the bottom. The composition really is outstanding.

Now put the balloons back on there, and notice what Esposito is doing. So much of a letterer’s task is about guiding the reader through the story. A casual observer might suppose that the contour of the stack of balloons merely gets out of the way of Bizarro’s elbow, but there’s more at work here.  Esposito, like Soy, is working here in progression, leading your eye not only down the stack of balloons, but also side-to-side—at first to the right, into screens of information; and then, as Bizarro’s mind cracks, that final balloon in the stack veers left: away from the screens of information he can no longer understand, and toward the best panel where the confusion grows. This is absolutely marvelous, and whether you know it or not, it makes a page like this effortless to read and absorb.

There are a few moments where Soy’s  storytelling isn’t as crisp, and then the aforementioned “ninja kid” moment, where he, too, contributes to the confusion by shifting Azrael around without any transition. Overall, though, the line art here expertly propels the story along, and with Esposito doing his thing on top of it all, RHATO #15 reads incredibly well.

Gandini, for her part, has gotten so good at coloring this book that it’s easy to take her for granted. Her colors are as detailed as Soy’s environments, and her characters feature exquisite blends and textures that I find very immersive. She plays well with light, too, avoiding the candied sheen that plagues a number of other books I read. Look back up at the page of Bizarro in his lab to see what I mean. Amazing stuff.

Recommended if…

  • You’ve been itching to see Jason play with the rest of the family, and the annual wasn’t enough to scratch that itch
  • You need more Soy in your diet

Overall

While I wish that “Bizarro Reborn” stuck to a smaller cast, and I have some issues with dialogue and character decisions, I largely enjoyed Red Hood and the Outlaws #15. The Bizarro saga still thrums along, the artwork is both attractive and highly functional, and I still want to see where it goes. I’d say that’s a good book in the end.

SCORE: 7.5/10

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