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Bizarro is slipping! The big guy’s big brain boost was always expected to be temporary, but somehow, he’s held on for quite a while. After coming to depend on his technological innovations and quick response times, how can the Outlaws survive when things go back to normal? It all starts to unravel in Red Hood and the Outlaws #18. SPOILERS AHEAD

Plot lines converge

I expressed a bit of disappointment a few issues ago, because I wanted a straight line from Bizarro’s first signs of slippage to his final descent back to his normal self (you know what I mean). The altercation with Batman’s Belfry Buds and the covert mission with the Suicide Squad felt like unnecessary diversions from the Bizarro Saga. Thankfully, we get some perspective on those diversions this time around. The big guy planned to get captured by the Batmen, so that the Outlaws would be delivered to Waller, so that they would accompany the Squad on the mission to Harvest’s old lair, sooooooooo that he could secure an enormous quantity of synthetic Kryptonite. Why? If you remember, many months ago, Lex Luthor saved Bizarro from death by giving him Kryptonite, and his newfound mental clarity was one of the side effects. Bizarro has since been using the synthetic K in a sort of Lazarus Pit for the intellect, and nobody’s been the wiser.

Except for Pup Pup.

In a stroke of genius, Lobdell has turned Bizarro’s lovable little Superman doll into his conscience (maybe he should have New 52 Superboy on the other shoulder…). It’s cute, it’s hilarious, and it feels—along with the rest of the book—like a return to the tone that marked the first two arcs of the series. Sure, there are enemies, but the real conflict in RHATO is internal, and the interplay between the team members has been gold from day one.

So anyway, the explanation for the digression doesn’t rewrite history. I still had a hard time taking a break from Bizarro’s story while I was reading those issues. But I do appreciate understanding why now (even if the plan was a bit convoluted), and when I reread the story in the future, those issues won’t feel like complete digressions anymore.

Lots of fun, lots of heart (and a little bit of creepiness)

As I mentioned above, RHATO #18 feels like a return to form (even if we’re missing our normal artists). The opening scene with Queen Bee (I’ll call her what I want) is genuinely funny, and Bizarro’s face-saving intrusion is hilariously illustrated by Sandoval—especially the one-handed carry of the unconscious Bee afterward. Bizarro’s narration is excellent, particularly in the calm, procedural way that he corrects his own grammar. Jack Ryder, aka The Creeper—whose inclusion is spoiled by the variant cover—makes a perfect foil for Artemis’s won’t-suffer-fools personality, and she has a number of entertaining jabs for Ryder.

RHATO has been all about heart, too, and watching Bizarro’s well-intentioned-but-irresponsible behavior is genuinely saddening. He fails to realize that as his speech has gone, so has his judgement and ethical compass, and his decision-making has been tainted by these declines for some time.

[SPOILER]I mean, come on! He’s got Ma Gunn in a freaking bottle![/SPOILER]

Hopefully, Pup Pup will prevail, and Bizarro will tell his friends about what he’s been doing. Also hopefully, Creeper will actually join the team.

An acceptable Soy alternative

Sandoval and Albarran produce some great line work. I really like Sandoval’s aesthetic. Atiyeh colors the art very well, too, although there are a few instances where the inks get a little rough and the shinier, more realistic colors accentuate the problem; but overall, the finishes in the book look fine. Some of Sandoval’s layouts are a little awkward, like this one:

All-in-all, though, the book looks good, the visual storytelling works most of the time, and I didn’t miss Soy and Gandini as much as I thought I would.

Esposito’s letters are solid as usual, and I think this issue might have some of his best SFX work to date. The effects nestle into the artwork very naturally, and they look great. I dig the “ME AM ME” title, too, and the credits are nice and readable (something that you can’t take for granted, unfortunately).

Recommended if…

  • You’ve been waiting for the focus to shift back to Bizarro.
  • You’re team #PupPup4lyfe

Overall

A return to the elements that made the book so entertaining and endearing early on, Red Hood and the Outlaws #18 puts the focus back on Bizarro and his struggle to maintain his heightened mind. The humor is funny, the team is heartwarming, and the tension feels earned. Great writing from Lobdell and solid artwork from Sandoval, Albarran, Atiyeh, and Esposito come together to make this my favorite issue of RHATO in months.

SCORE: 8.5/10

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