Happy Valentine’s Day! If you’ve longed to see Jason and Artemis take their relationship beyond insults and jokes, then it looks like your ‘ship has finally come in, because Red Hood and an Outlaw are going out on the town. But Bizarro’s still up to stranger things, and he may not be able to hide them from his friends for much longer. Whose irrational fantasy will crack first—Bizarro’s or Jason’s? Find out in Red Hood and the Outlaws #19SPOILERS AHEAD

Long red hair and a little black dress

Nothing may ultimately come of it (see my interview with Scott Lobdell from last year), but there is clearly some attraction between Jason and Artemis. Lobdell says that they’re just too broken to make a relationship work, and I think he’s right—but that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t want something that they can’t have. They’re the loners of their respective “families,” and there’s something very powerful about finding someone who has walked a lot of the same paths as you have. And then there’s this:

Jason thinks she’s hot. And he’s maybe a low-level masochist.

Artemis finds something appealing in Jason, too, because, when the jig is finally up, she doesn’t completely wave off their date. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

How do you solve a problem like Bizarro?

Bizarro has been wicked smart for a while now. After returning to life—courtesy of Lex Luthor and some Kryptonite—he saw his mental faculties rise to meet his physical capabilities, and he’s been using this new-found brainpower to devise all sorts of innovative dinguses to help his friends fight crime in Gotham. But Luthor said from the beginning that the smarts were a side-effect of the resurrection—a side-effect that would wear off in time. But Bizarro would not easily relinquish his mental clarity, and so he has been obtaining synthetic Kryptonite through dubious means and bathing in it when his friends weren’t looking.

It’s easy to get hung up on Bizarro’s questionable methods and project them onto his motivations. But beneath everything else, he’s still the same lovable lug who would do anything for his friends. He doesn’t cling to his new abilities because he wants them for himself; rather, he knows that they enable him to better protect his friends. And while his mental capacity has increased, he still lacks the emotional and moral maturity to draw the right lines between grayer notions of right and wrong. Heck, we all lack that sort of maturity at times, doing things that our loved ones would never approve of, all in an effort to benefit them in some way. Once again, Pup Pup tries to instill this maturity in Bizarro, but when he hits a nerve, the big guy pitches a fit.

The Batcave is a great place for a date

The date, such as it is, is very well-done by Lobdell and Takara. Jason and Artemis look like they’re having a genuinely good time, and the dialogue is pleasant when they’re just talking, and a real hoot when Artemis loosens the reins on her sarcasm and lets it show a bit. Unfortunately for Jason, the date is largely a ruse. It turns out that Artemis has concerns about Bizarro’s behavior, and she devised this night out as a way for she and Jason to have a private talk about it. Jason has concerns, too, and they both agree to work toward getting to the bottom of it, if they can.

Unfortunately for Bizarro, he has a new enemy, who draws him out, reveals his knowledge of Bizarro’s clandestine bathing habits, and leaves him unconscious. Things were already interesting, but my interest has multiplied. I’m anxious to learn more about this new villain in the coming issues.

Sharper dialogue

I already praised the banter during Jason and Artemis’s date, but the whole issue reads quite well. When I compare this with some of the earlier issues in the series, I can see Lobdell’s dialogue improving. It was never terrible, and at times it was excellent, but there’s a consistency here that feels new. Jason and Artemis have become so well-defined in RHATO, and Lobdell does well not to make them saying anything that feels out-of-character.

Different artwork

Different doesn’t always mean bad, and it doesn’t here (overall), either; but, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t prefer Soy and Gandini’s work to Takara and the pair of colorists assisting him here. The colors are way too busy on the first few pages, particularly for Takara’s inky style. I’m not sure Artemis’s color on that first page would look good on any line art, but it looks completely out of place in this context. Things thankfully get flatter after a few pages, and I don’t have much to complain about aesthetically beyond missing Soy’s incredible detail.

Takara shines brightest in his sequential work. His storytelling is strong, and other than the two panels at the bottom of the Luthor page, it’s always apparent what’s happening from page to page. We even get a great visual queue that Bizarro’s conversation with Pup Pup is all in his head. I think my favorite sequence is probably when Bizarro tracks down Solitary: he enters the bar, signals for everyone to scram, and then they all run past him in fear. It’s crystal clear what’s going on. Bizarro’s disguise also makes me think of Ben Grimm, so that’s a plus, too.

Taylor Esposito is as solid as ever. Lettering is super-hard to do right, but it probably sounds boring when someone talsk about it. But Esposito’s ability to lead the reader by balloon placement and still maintain an unobtrusive relationship with Takara’s composition is not something that just happens, and it deserves praise.

RHATO rolls on

We’re coming closer to the end of RHATO’s second year, and there is no other book—except perhaps Superman—that has so consistently delighted. Lobdell’s characters are all incredibly flawed, but incredibly lovable, each in his or her own different way, and following their journey has been a genuine joy. #19 is another engaging step in that journey.

Recommended if…

  • You’ve been waiting for Jason and Artemis to take things to the next level. Sort of.
  • You think Pup Pup beats the crap out of Jiminy Cricket (he does).
  • You like new villains.

Overall

The finishes are a little rougher around the edges than usual, but Red Hood and the Outlaws #19 nevertheless looks very good. Paired with an excellent script by Lobdell, this latest installment in the saga of three redeemable irredeemables pushes the story forward, providing plenty of laughs and a few heartfelt moments along the way.

SCORE: 8.5/10


I love hearing from readers! Drop me a line at mrwarshawreadsthecomics@gmail.com or leave a comment here.