Jason Todd’s friends are gone! Bizarro’s heroic sacrifice has stranded he and Artemis in some bizarre reality—and left Red Hood all alone. Without his team to steer him back towards the side of the Bat-angels, Jason is returning to his former ways, and evil better not get in his way. (Some of) you asked for it, and now (some of) you’ve got it—the brutal Red Hood has return, in Red Hood and the Outlaws #26Mild spoilers and major proctological considerations follow.

Not what I wanted

This comes as no surprise to regular readers here, but I really, really liked this series as it was. It’s been one of my favorite books of the past two years, and I’ve enjoyed every issue. Jason reverting to lethal justice and flying solo was not what I wanted.

However…

But I don’t every time get what I want, and sometimes that’s actually the best possible scenario. RHATO #26 is some of Lobdell’s best writing on this book—which is saying something, because he’s had some great ones, and even a genuine masterpiece with his flashback on Willis Todd. Jason’s backsliding is not arbitrary—the perfect storm of Bizarro’s decline and discovering (some of) the truth about his father was an understandable push. The Jason of Under the Red Hood came off as entitled and unrelatable—at least to me—but the Jason here is reacting to a pain I can comprehend. And with Annual #2 revealing that Bizarro and Artemis are still very much alive, the stage is set for a reunion at some point, and the Hood’s journey back from where he is right now should make for some great stories.

So yeah, the writing. It’s just tight. There’s not more dialogue than there needs to be, and what’s here is almost entirely effective. With Jason killing the crap out of criminals again, his bravado seems less like bravado and more like simple statements of fact, and his attempts at humor genuinely make me laugh—at least until the darkness of them settle in.

The scripting is tight, too: Jason’s on a bus out in the middle of ‘Merica, looking for connections to the Underlife. If that name isn’t familiar, it’s the organization at the center of the strife in DC’s excellent new series The Silencer. Jason and bestie Roy Harper picked up the scent in the annual, and now the Hood is tracking it down. Anyway, he encounters an FBI agent along the way, brawls with some local Underlife-connected crooks and crooked police, and there’s your story. It’s a simple, action-packed book with a clear, understandable plot—richer if you have the wider context of the story, sure, but nevertheless a great jumping on point for new readers.

Pete Woods turns out to be the perfect collaborator for Lobdell on this new chapter. Other than a stray panel here or there in the fight scenes, the storytelling is clean and effective. And those fight scenes are dynamic and brutal, with great perspective and motion. If you had any doubts about Jason going back to his Red Hood roots, they’ll be dashed by a road flare, a knife, an American flag, and, of course, a crowbar. I’m not titillated by violence, but I do marvel at how expertly Jason takes down whole groups of enemies, and how expertly Woods renders it all. Jason is a student of Batman, and even with his less agreeable techniques, you can see it in the way he fights—and that’s a testament to just how well Woods is doing his job.

Letters for this issue are provided by ALW’s Troy Peteri, and after seeing Taylor Esposito’s aesthetic sensibilities for 25 issues and two annuals, it was a bit of a shock. He’s using a more compact font, which will probably read just fine in print, but feels a little small to my eyes on a standard-sized iPad. It does look nice aesthetically, though, and the balloons are laid out logically and effectively. There are plenty of SFX, and again, I’ve got to unmoor myself from what Taylor was doing and recognize that there’s nothing wrong with a different approach. Peteri’s approach to SFX is a bit more conventional; whereas Taylor would take some artistic license, masking effects to make them integrated with the figures and scenery in a panel, or lay out BLAMs and BUDDA BUDDAs in the path of bullets leaving a gun, Peteri opts for SFX sitting exclusively above the artwork and (with an exception or two) being less integrated in general. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Peteri’s approach—it more than likely represents a difference of philosophy—I just need to adjust to it after seeing one approach used for so long.

Regardless of my need for adjustment, Peteri does fine work, and his aesthetics are actually a really good match with Woods’s art. The dialogue font may be smaller, but it feels girthier, too—a nice complement to the thick line that Woods uses to outline most of his characters.

Recommended if…

  • You’ve been following Jason Todd’s journey throughout this series, and you want to see the beginning of the next phase.
  • You’re one of those people who’s been demanding a more brutal Red Hood.
  • You’re a proponent of avant garde proctology.

Overall

Red Hood and the Outlaws #26 marks a major tonal shift for the series, but it got here honestly. With a new art team joining Lobdell, and an action-packed, reasonably-self-contained story, this could just as easily be a #1. Fans of the post-Rebirth Red Hood stories will want to follow Jason’s ongoing journey, but newcomers will find this an easy starting-point. The script is tight, the artwork is dynamic, and Red Hood and the Outlaws continues to be some of the best that DC has to offer.

SCORE: 9/10