LOOK AT THAT GRUNDY. So majestic.

Jason Todd is on the warpath. His father’s letters have awakened at least some affection, and he’s got his crosshairs set on one of the Gotham villains he feels was responsible for getting dear old Dad put away. Will his promise to preserve life stand under the weight of such loss and anger? Find out in Red Hood and the Outlaws #24. SPOILERS AHEAD.

What are you watching, Bizarro?

Our story opens on what at first seems to be a rather humorous scene: the unified Red Hood and the Outlaws—Jason, Artemis, Bizarro, Arsenal and Starfire AND PUP PUP AND THE CREEPER (!!!)—jumping into battle against some major bads. We obviously expect such a thing to be a fantasy, and the inclusion of Pup Pup in the roster gives us a fairly huge clue as to whose fantasy it is, long before we see a mentally degraded Bizarro sitting in front of a screen watching himself become the hero of the story.

I was prepared to write this scene off as nonsense—humorous, yes, but a bit arbitrary. Why would Bizarro have such a film, after all? The easy, unsatisfying answer is that, when his mind was heightened, he was capable of making all sorts of things, so why not this? Not a very good answer, right? But as I thought about it more—particularly in light of the scene later in the book where the movie gets interrupted—it occurred to me that this is a rather humanizing window into the soul of the super-smart Bizarro. Of course, we saw plenty of evidence that he still loved his friends, and the tragedy of his downward slide was relatable; but, this video is something else. It’s a fanciful dream. It shows that knowledge does not eradicate fantasy. It reduces smart Bizarro’s dizzying intellect to one aspect of him, rather than something intimidating that separates him wholly from the rest of the world. He dreams, he fantasizes—just like us.

The fantasy isn’t completely removed from reality, either. While its details contain all sorts of embellishments, the idea that Bizarro (and Artemis, too, but this is B’s story) has saved Red Hood from the path of death that he previously walked—that idea doesn’t sound too far-fetched at all. With Bizarro—particularly in his less intellectual mode—Jason has had the opportunity to be many things that his own father was not, but especially one: present. Bizarro needed a loving influence—a voice that told him that he was more than just a monster—and Jason (and again, Artemis, but this isn’t about her father, is it?) was able to be that. In the context of this series, Bizarro has been Jason’s shot at redemption and reformation. Lobdell hasn’t suddenly made Jason place a higher value on the life of the criminals he faces, but he has given Jason a reason to value his own life—and freedom—more.

Crossing the line. Again.

But everything comes apart here in issue #24. Bizarro’s intelligence nudged out much of his innocence, and with it much of the (obvious) need for Jason as a father figure. So when Red Hood discovers the truth about his own father, anger trumps his reduced parental usefulness, and he storms off looking to play judge, jury, and executioner once again. On Penguin’s face.

Now, I don’t think any of us doubt that Cobblepot will pull through, but that doesn’t undermine what Jason has done here, and it certainly doesn’t rob the tense moments (leading up to the trigger) of their tension. The scene is written such that we can tell where it’s headed, but there’s a moment of recognition—and resignation—from Penguin that still manages to make us give an oh snap when the broken monocle falls, bringing the Outlaws’ world crashing down, even as their invisible base hurtles toward the city streets below.

All of this is rendered expertly by Soy and Gandini. As usual, the action is dynamic and engaging, and the storytelling is impeccable. Look at the page where Jason crosses the line, for example. Notice what Soy does with the eyes. Jason has allowed anger to drive out his humanity, and under the Hood, his eyes look positively inhuman, cold. Compare that to Cobblepot’s eye in the next panel. He’s not innocent, but there is a basic human innocence to the realization in that look, a realization that focuses as the eye goes wide in the next panel, that dawns in the eyes of the shocked GCPD officers below, that goes dark as the gun fires. And at the end of it all, we have not Jason Todd, but the Red Hood, eyes glowing slits, the token of Cobblepot’s shattering lying bloody at his feet. What a masterful page.

The scenes with Bizarro and Artemis are drawn by Alisson Borges, and while her aesthetic is not necessarily the best complement to Soy’s, her storytelling is a fitting match. The distortion of her character faces also seems apropos for these pages depicting both the figurative and literal fall of Brainzarro’s enterprises. As ever, Gandini is the great unifier, helping to preserve the book’s visual identity, even as she’s done in many prior issues where Soy was completely absent. Her approach to rendering remains fairly consistent throughout, and with the exception perhaps of Bizarro’s face during movie-time, it fits Borges’s aesthetic quite well.

Recommended if…

  • You’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop. For the whole closet full of shoes to drop.
  • You’ve been hoping Jason would get some of his edge back.
  • You thought the Pupstice League was really cool all those issues ago, and you want to see another team-up from the mind of Bizarro.

Overall

After a very disappointing Batman #50 last week, and an underwhelming (and potentially infuriating) Superman #1 this week, it’s a pleasure to once again have plenty of good to say about Red Hood and the Outlaws. Even as Lobdell takes the team in another direction, nothing feels arbitrary, and the fall—rapid as it may be—feels natural, and all emotions earned. Soy, Borges, and Gandini deliver incredibly strong, incredibly complementary visuals, and Esposito is, well, Esposito—with the clean, readable dialogue, and fun, functional SFX that we’ve come to expect. This book will never get the respect it deserves, but Red Hood and the Outlaws #24 is the best book DC has published in a few weeks.

SCORE: 8.5/10