Showdown in Bizarro’s Kryptonite Kave! Last issue, Artemis stumbled upon the big lug’s supply of brain juice, and B stumbled upon her stumbling upon his secret. He also had her axe in his hand. What? Everything’s unraveling for our lovable once-half-wit in Red Hood and the Outlaws #21.

To know thee is to spoil thee

Red Hood has been DC’s most consistently-good title since the line-wide Rebirth initiative reset (it’s not a reboot) things in 2016. At the core of its success has been the relationships between its three leads, and you could argue that the core of that core is Bizarro. His dopey speech and actions are cute, but his interactions with his friends, as well as some internal monologue supplied along the way by writer Scott Lobdell, have made it clear that there is more to him. He may sound stupid, but he’s not.

Along the way, Bizarro almost died, and the thing that saved his life—kryptonite (yes, that kryptonite)—has the side-effect of enhancing his mental abilities. While he was indeed never stupid, he is now far more intelligent and capable than anybody he encounters. Since that point, Bizarro has been more secretive, attempting to hide from his friends that he has been obtaining kryptonite to sustain his newfound mental clarity. This created an enormous amount of tension for me as a reader, because Bizarro had a purity not unlike the famous Kryptonian from whom he was cloned. I wondered whether or not Lobdell would make Bizarro do something from which he could not come back. The confrontation staged between he and Artemis at the conclusion of #20 made it seem like the question was at last going to be answered.

While I won’t tell you what happens, I can say that I was surprised by it—not so much by the way the situation plays out, because I didn’t have a whole lot of expectations there—but rather, generally surprised by what Lobdell ended up doing. I think you’ll be surprised, too, and hopefully pleasantly so. Both Bizarro and Artemis are given even more depth and relatability along the way, and I love them both more than I did at the start.

Red Hood learned to have a little fun along the way

Another thing that Lobdell has done very well in this run is to give us a Jason Todd that doesn’t take himself too seriously. There are still plenty of tender moments, or times when his past reasserts itself in his mind and haunts him; but, overall, he’s less uptight than before, and he actually has a bit of fun along the way. As the cover of #21 implies, we see him come face-to-face with the Penguin this time, and both the setup and the delivery of that caper are handled very, very well. There’s plenty to laugh at, but also plenty for artists Dexter Soy and Veronica Gandini to play with, including this fantastic number:

Look at all of the glass and other detail in the foreground, but also take a peek at the bay and the city in the distance. Great work by Soy, and gorgeous colors by Gandini. They make an awesome Penguin, too, and the whole issue is just indicative of the high level of quality that they’ve been bringing to the series since the beginning.

Letterer Taylor Esposito is in top form, as well, with a solid showing in general, and a few very tasty artistic moments, as well. Here’s a personal favorite, wrapped in spoiler tags in case you don’t want to see:

Spoiler

The balloons loosely mimic the shape of the cape, but at a more fundamental level, they almost seem just as affected by the wind as the cape. The lettering really does live above the artwork, and not within it, but it’s still neat to see flourishes like this that show Esposito expressing himself without breaking the barrier.

Recommended if…

  • You love great artwork.
  • You love lovable characters made more lovable.
  • You love the Penguin, even just a little Penguin.

Overall

While the plot itself doesn’t move very far in Red Hood and the Outlaws #21, the character work is rich and worth the slower pace. The artwork is as luscious as ever, and the lettering is logical, readable, and occasionally even inspired. If you haven’t already read this, what are you waiting for?

SCORE: 8.5/10