Bizarro’s secrets continue to erode, exposing more of the shocking truth to his friends at every turn. What will Jason find out from Ma Gunn’s mysterious granddaughter? What will Artemis find out from Luthor? And what will Bizarro find beneath the moon on a clear night? You’ll find some answers in Red Hood and the Outlaws #22.

Waiting for resolution

It feels like it was ages ago that Artemis, the “third-rate” Amazon of Bana-Mighdal first walked in on her friend Bizarro’s secret stash of synthetic Kryptonite. It seems like an even longer stretch since poor, lovable Bizarro first began trudging the long, slow distance of his mental decline. Early on, I complained that we were getting too many diversions from “the good stuff”—that tussles with Gotham’s Angstiest Heroes and the Suicide Squad were unnecessary, unwelcome interruptions of the emotional drama that I really wanted to see. I’m starting to think I was wrong.

Lobdell has indeed made us wait—and he makes us wait again this time—but the waiting has made the tension greater and my sincere empathy for the fictional Bizarro stronger. He has carried the burden of keeping secrets from and telling lies to his friends for so long, and we have been right there with him, wondering if this was the moment when Jason or Artemis would find his glowing bath chamber—or when his between-treatments mental lapses would catch the watchful eyes of his friends. The waiting has become a key component to that emotional drama that I had thought Lobdell was putting off.

Other threads

There are other points converging. Penguin will perhaps play into this somehow, though we cannot yet say how. If he is simply an entertaining stop along the way, that would be alright, too, but I can’t help but feel as though he’s got more to do with where things are headed. Young Faye Gunn’s connection is more obvious, since Bizarro imprisoned her grandmother to keep her from planting seeds of suspicion in Jason; but there seems to be more to the young Gunn, as well. This issue also further develops a connection established many moons ago—one far more fundamental to Bizarro’s story and place on the team.

All of these other threads—threads that seem of secondary importance to the central struggle—may or may not come to much more than what we see now; but, in the meantime, they serve to make life go on for the Outlaws, stretching that unnerving-but-effective waiting just a little while longer.

A hero’s heart

And what a painful stretch it’s been for Bizarro. The denial and dishonesty was hard to read all those issues ago; but the acceptance of inevitability and mournful expectation are almost unbearable. The big guy knows what’s coming, and his lapses are more frequent, but the heart endeared him to us is still there. And there two scenes in #22 that just wreck me. I won’t spoil them here, but you’ll know them when they wreck you, too.

Visual mix

The artwork this time around largely maintains the quality to which we’ve become accustomed, but there are some lapses in consistency at times. Series regular Dexter Soy gets an assist from Alisson Borges, and while their character aesthetics are fairly complimentary, their environmental and background work is further apart. This is sometimes smoothed over by Gandini’s color, which we see from cover to cover; but there are still enough points of divergence for me to notice. Soy also has an odd lapse or two in anatomy and perspective—something I can’t recall seeing from him in any other issue of this series. The layouts are good enough to hide this on an initial read, but it starts to become more evident the closer I look.

Overall, though, RHATO #22 is still very high-standard work in the art department, from lines to colors to letters. Taylor Esposito continues his solid work on the series, and gets to kick in some nice flourishes along the way—there’s an absolutely marvelous WHAAAAAPT early on that’s been bent to follow the path of Jason’s kick. These are the sorts of inventive things that he’s brought to the table since the series began, and he’s as much a part of its visual identity as Soy and Gandini, even if it’s sometimes harder to detect or articulate why.

Recommended if…

  • You’ve been following Bizarro’s saga closely.
  • You’re a fan of Soy and Gandini’s aesthetic sensibilities, and Esposito’s impeccable lettering and creative SFX.
  • Penguin!

Overall

Another well-illustrated, well-lettered, well-written heartbreaker, Red Hood and the Outlaws #22 moves us one more small step closer to the unraveling of Bizarro’s brainy new world. There’s a bit of fun, some intrigue, and lots of heart-felt drama. If you haven’t been reading, find a way to catch up. Red Hood is still the most consistently high-quality book in DC’s post-Rebirth lineup.

SCORE: 9/10