I’m just going to come out and say it. This is a weird story. It’s not bad, but it’s definitely not great either. It’s just ok. Weird and ok. And underdeveloped. Look, it’s a plethora of things, but it’s really just a sign that Bizarro and Artemis are making their way back to the title… And I couldn’t be happier! Or perhaps I should say, “Me am more happy?”
When DC first launched Rebirth, I had no faith in Scott Lobdell or Red Hood & the Outlaws. To be fair, I didn’t really have much of a reason to expect anything worthwhile. Both iterations of the title that came during the New 52 were terrible, and Lobdell hadn’t written anything that I’d connected with in a long time. But to my surprise, Rebirth’s Red Hood & the Outlaws started strong! I felt it had to be a fluke, so month after month, I kept waiting for Lobdell to completely miss the mark. It didn’t happen. Instead, with each issue, I grew to really love visiting Jason, Artemis, and Bizarro. In fact, there was a point where I stated time and time again that Red Hood & the Outlaws was the best Bat-book on the stands!
But then, for whatever, reason, DC and/or Lobdell decided they wanted to completely change directions for the title. Jason was going to become a bad guy again, he got a new costume design, and Artemis and Bizarro were shoehorned out of the book. Now, to be fair, I’ve always said Jason works best as a villain or an actual antihero, so I didn’t mind this. Having him as part of the Bat-family has never really set well with me, so I welcomed the change in his character… But that change never came. He didn’t really go bad. He didn’t break his code. Everyone around him just talked about how he’s a bad guy. It’s one of my least favorite tropes in comics (We’re going to tell you how bad he is, but he’s never actually going to do anything bad.) If this weren’t enough, Lobdell then decided to bring back characters and elements that were detested from his New 52 run. *Sigh* Needless to say, the book has been on a slow decline.
But now, through the powers-that-be, Bizarro and Artemis are coming back! Where have they been? What are they up to? Why haven’t they sought Jason out? All of that is answered here. And while I welcome their return, this issue is only ok because every ounce of it is underdeveloped.
Before Bizarro disappeared, he’d become hyper-intelligent and created the Quantum Doorway – a portal that would transport you anywhere. After a bout over Gotham, Artemis and Bizarro were sucked through a doorway and haven’t been seen since. The beginning of this issue tries to play on the fact that they may be dead, but I never felt like they’d died, so the attempt fell flat. Also, who is this Vessel kid that confirms to Jason that Artemis and Bizarro are alive, and where did he come from? I don’t remember him at all…
Anyway, as it turns out, our Outlaws have been on a separate Earth this entire time. We get to see their arrival here, and it’s definitely a strange, new world. The Hall of Justice – now called the Hall of Punishment – is destroyed and has large, orange spikes coming out of it. B and A decide to check it out in hopes of finding some heroes or some answers. Unfortunately, it’s abandoned. In fact, the Hall is now a museum in commemoration of Hero Day – the day that all of the heroes randomly lost their powers and abilities, and normal humans gained powers and abilities.
A security guard shows Artemis and Bizarro through the museum explaining the events of Hero day, how the world changed, and how people with grudges turned on heroes. The more he talks though, the more it becomes clear that there’s something off about this guard. Why? Well, he’s actually responsible for the orange spikes, and he’s the one who killed the Justice League.
Up to this point, I’m all in on this story! I love the set-up and reveals, as well as the world-building that Lobdell has created. We’re getting an interesting story that is here for the purpose of telling a story rather than relying on shock value. Sadly, Lobdell has the unfortunate task of needing to tell too much of a story without a proper page count to support it.
After the encounter with the security guard – which contains a rather humorous ending – Lobdell has to jump the story forward by a few months. This is where everything begins to feel underdeveloped. We meet a plethora of characters, some good, some bad, and our heroes are in an all-out revolt to try and overthrow the current leaders. This is where things start to turn weird, but not necessarily in a bad way. We’re introduced to a number of characters like Jack Knife, who is clearly a take on Joker as a “good guy,” Lex Luthor as a giant brain creature, and even General Lane as a metahuman.
All of it is interesting, but everything progresses so quickly that there’s not really a foundation to the story. Considering what Lobdell has to work with, I’d say he actually does a really good job of telling this story, it’s just that the confinement of the page-count doesn’t allow for the story to be told properly. It would have been great had there been a backup story in the pages of Red Hood that let us keep up with Artemis and Bizarro for the past year, and then had this full Annual devoted to wrapping up that story to bring them back. But alas, that didn’t happen, and we have what we have.
Adam Pollina covers the line art for this issue. Overall, he delivers some pretty good work, but I found his faces highly inconsistent. That definitely took me out of the story more than once, but it’s one of my only complaints. The characters themselves are nice and crisp, and I really enjoyed Pollina’s use of scenery. You can tell he really put as much thought into the background and surroundings as he did the characters, and I appreciate that. It makes the world we’re reading look and feel real and lived in.
From a storytelling aspect, Pollina does well with comedy, but does have some opportunities with action. The flow and transition of the action panels weren’t great at times, and while it wasn’t necessarily confusing, it was lacking natural energy. This, again, may have less to do with Pollina’s ability though, and more to do with the pace of the story.
The real win for me is Steve Firchow’s colors! Despite a large portion of the book being heavily shadowed, his colors are still vibrant. I love his use of light here as well, especially when related to the orange-ish gold spikes found in the Hall of Justice. It’s clear he’s not afraid to incorporate some bold colors within his books, and I like the overall richness it brings to the story!
- You want to know what Artemis and Bizarro have been up to.
- Bizarro has a beard.
- You want to see Joker as a rebel “good guy.”
- Bizarro straight up throws a guy into the sun… Just saying.
Red Hood finally looks as though it will return to it’s better days by bringing Artemis and Bizarro back into the fold. While that excites me, this story is just ok. Lobdell starts the book off strong, but after taking time to establish the story, he’s forced to rocket through the rest of the narrative, leaving out most of the set-up. It’s entertaining, but the substance is lacking. In the end, it’s just a decently weird story. Forgettable? Perhaps, but at least it wasn’t boring or bad.