No more Mr. Nice Guy. Jason Todd has been playing by Batman’s rules for a while now. Aided by his briefly-intelligent friend Bizarro, and the mighty Amazon Artemis, Red Hood cleaned up a lot of crime in his city, and everything seemed like it was going well. But the good doesn’t last in Gotham, and a perfect storm of personal and team problems has swelled, pushing Jason over the edge. Now the Penguin lies in critical condition with a bullet in his head, and the Dark Knight is coming to call Jason out. Is this it for the Outlaws? Find out in Red Hood and the Outlaws #25. Spoilers ahead.
The end of an era
For twenty-five issues—just over two years of storytelling—Scott Lobdell has taken us on an action-packed, emotional ride with his team of misfit heroes. Warming to Bizarro happened early and easily. As we learned more of Artemis, and saw past her hard exterior, she, too became more than comic relief. And through both of them, we saw a side of Jason that managed to make even me—no fan of the second Robin in any way—a believer. And so now, with the group breaking up for the foreseeable future, I am saddened.
But it is a sorrow free of bitterness. Lobdell gave us a great ride, and he brought us to this point organically. The trouble with Bizarro has been brewing for some time, and it was never clear that it would ultimately tie into the demise of the team. It didn’t feel like we were marching toward an inevitable conclusion—it just seemed like we were taking part in the life of the Outlaws. Whether or not Lobdell had such an end planned at the start, it doesn’t feel like an arbitrary agenda that the story just had to accommodate; rather, it blossoms naturally from the events of the past two years in a way that is satisfying even as it is sad.
All of Jason’s character growth survives, too. Folks have been lobbying for a more brutal Red Hood, and it looks like we’re getting him; but the catalyst is more complex than “screw you, Batman, your rules don’t work.” Lobdell instead gave Jason a very personal motivation—one that just about anyone can identify with—and made it the spark that ignited Red Hood’s violent regression. Coming to terms with what happened in that warehouse with the Joker is one thing; coming to terms with what happened to your parents—the foundation of a screwed up life like Jason’s—that’s another thing entirely.
The showdown(s) with Batman are pretty great, too. In summary, Jason doesn’t stand a chance, and Bruce beats the crap out of him. Die-hard Jason fans may not like how one-sided the action is, but after two years of Bats getting his bottom handed to him in Detective Comics, it’s awfully nice to see the best of the best actually fight like it. Maybe some folks will have a problem with Bizarro and Roy getting the drop on him, but I’m okay with it—he may outclass Jason, but he did train Jason, so it’s not like he can just fight him on autopilot.
The action here—and everywhere—is rendered beautifully by three teams of artists, including the team that’s most identified with this series, Dexter Soy and Veronica Gandini. I haven’t been scrutinizing solicits, so maybe this is already known, but I get a sneaking suspicion that they won’t be on the book much longer. And while I would be sad if that were true, this would be a heck of a way to go out, with a whole lot of our three Outlaws and plenty of highly-detailed bombast. The other artists—including Trevor Hairsine, who drew one of my favorite issues of any comic this year with RHATO #23—do a fine job, as well, but you’ll forgive me if I’m fixated on the crew that helped Lobdell define this series.
Taylor Esposito is in his usually good form, too. With all of the action this time, the dialogue isn’t as dense as it’s been at times in the past; but Taylor takes it in stride. The balloons are readable (and it goes by pretty quickly!) and aesthetically well-situated in the panels, and he gets to pull out a fair bit of SFX—something he’s rather good at—from his toolbox.
That backup, though…
I enjoyed the backup on several levels. The obvious reason is because of what it means for Jason personally, but beyond that, I thought it was clever of Lobdell to bookend this first big arc of storytelling with Fae Gunn—a scary, gun-toting crone at the start, but a forlorn, sympathetic friend (and much more) by the end. And because Lobdell succeeded in making me care about Jason in the first place, this all matters so much more than it otherwise would have.
- You’ve been sticking with RHATO from the start, and you want to see how the past two years of storytelling come to a close.
- You like nice things.
- You miss seeing a Batman who really knows how to fight.
Red Hood and the Outlaws is the unsung hero of DC’s now-defunct Rebirth initiative. It gave hope and optimism to a set of characters that most folks didn’t think deserved them. It gave us heart-warming relationships, plenty of laughter, and pages and pages full of excellent comic artwork. Red Hood and the Outlaws #25 is a touching conclusion to the series’ first two years; and while it’s sad to let go of how things have been, I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in store next.