Jason Todd has been many things since Red Hood started it’s rebirth run: hero, outlaw, Iceberg Lounge owner, and now, teacher. When Lex made his offer I was surprised. I was expecting something like powers, or maybe the Joker’s head on a plate. Instead, Lex played on Jason’s vanity, he promised to let Jason do something better than Bruce could. To let him teach and train a group of young metas.
One of Jason’s goals since becoming Red Hood has been to prove that he and his methods are better than Bruce’s. He’s attempted to show this in the way he fights crime, by cleaning it up from the inside out and by attempting to control it. Now, Luthor has provided a new opportunity to be better than Bruce by giving Jason a chance to train a new generation. How to fight, how to survive, and, most importantly, how to not make the same mistakes he did. Maybe he can even keep them from dying! If he can, then he’s shown how much better he is than Bruce.
I like the idea of Jason as a teacher. His interactions with Bizzaro in early issues showed us his softer side. We learned that he is capable of patience and leadership . It’s a great balance to the tough guy attitude Jason carries so often, and adds a layer of depth to the character that is needed for him to carry his own book. This is a side of Jason we haven’t really gotten to see since Bizarro and Artemis left, and I’ve been eager to revisit that dynamic again. Unfortunately, Jason can’t really show his softer side in front of his students.
These students are not normal metas, trying to be heroes. These kids are supervillains in training. They’re not going to respond to good intentions or tenderness. These kids are cutthroat, or Lex wouldn’t have picked them. No matter how Jason feels about them, or his own personal intentions, he needs to be tough to keep his authority. And he is. Early in the issue, we’re treated to an all out rumble between Jason and his students. He’s all about drama. From his choice of setting, a dilapidated holo-battle ground, to using the student’s attacks against them to take each other out. He is teaching them, but also effectively gaining their respect and proving his own strength.
So, why did Jason agree to train a group of villains? Is he the super villain that Lex seems to think he is? Did he jump on the first offer available to further prove he’s better than Bruce? Or does Jason have an ulterior motive that we haven’t learned yet? One thing I can say for certain, is that he cares about what happens to these kids. There’s a nice moment when he’s talking about why he agreed to Luthor’s offer that illustrates this well. Rocafort shows in one panel, with a flashback and close up of Jason’s face, the only reason Jason needs to say yes.
Right now, there’s four(ish) students: DNA, Cloud 9, Babe in Arms, and Devour. I’m disappointed that the kid from the last annual, Vessel, wasn’t in this issue. In the annual, Jason very clearly tells him they’ll be late for class, and the setting seems to match the one they’re in here. Leaving him out confused me, and it’d be a shame to show him once then leave him out of future stories. I really don’t want him to be a tool used to just check in on Artemis and Bizzaro. He and Jason had good chemistry for the short time they had in the annual, and I’d love to see more from him. Anyway, when it comes to the quartet we have, Lobdell plays on a lot of typical hero/villain and school tropes in this intro, ranging from a roll call to the notorious, “if you beat me, you’re ready” tactic. It’s honestly a great way to introduce readers to the group, while also revealing their personalities and abilities. My first impression of these wannabe super villains was that they are brash know-it-alls who aren’t used to working together, nor are they ready to take over the world. They are also a bit zany, both in powers and personalities. But they’re fun. Which is something I feel like this title has been lacking for a while, and it’s nice to see it added back in. Despite how wacky the students are, they possess serious motivations, and conflict between them and Jason in future issues is inevitable.
There are a number of interesting possibilities that can come from this. Since Red Hood started in Rebirth I’ve loved seeing Jason as part of a team, first with Bizzaro and Artemis, Roy, and even Bunker and Wingman. I think his character works best when in association with others, and I’d love to see Jason turn the tables on Luthor and win these kids to the side of good, and create a long term team with them. Another fascinating option, is the idea of Jason failing. It’s possible he is not victorious in his attempt to teach these kids better than he was taught, and he could end up failing one or even all of them. Teaching is a heavy responsibility that Jason has little experience with, and there are many pitfalls he might be unaware of. It’s easy to see this situation mirroring that of Jason and Bruce’s tumultuous relationship. How would he react to this? How would the students?
While the setup for the team was interesting, the pages spent introducing characters The Block and Dr. Shay Veritas, who you may remember from a story Lobdell did for the New 52 Superman series. As a reader recently interested in Superman, I had no idea what was going on, and I had to stop in the middle of reading to go googling for answers. Lobdell has a habit of calling back to things he’s done previously, like Jason’s tie with the All Caste and references to his Teen Titans run. I don’t mind referencing past events, and I wish more authors would practice continuity in their writing. It can make a story feel fuller and more fulfilling to faithful readers. Unfortunately, the call backs in Red Hood have been more than simple call backs. They feel like full continuations of previous stories that often require readers to have knowledge of those events or stories or else you can’t enjoy the book you have in your hands! This kind of thing only adds frustration to readers, especially when it demands pages of backstory to explain one thing, like we had with The Block. At that point, it’s almost better to simply create a new setting. Lobdell could have easily used any other location, including a new one, and the story would make as much sense as it does now. Worse, beyond her inclusion in the flashback, Dr. Veritas doesn’t show up again, even though she is supposed to be important to The Block. What does she get from hosting them? She’s trapped there, so playing house to a group of super powered villains in training doesn’t seem like the safest thing to do. Her excuse of them not being “good or bad” doesn’t answer the question of why she said yes. If we were given a reason such as The Block being a good place to keep training away from unwanted attention, or that Dr. Veritas has been promised something, or that she’s going to be a sort of co-teacher then I could accept the pages spent on their backstory easier.
Generally, I believe the time spent explaining everything about The Block and Dr. Veritas could have been better spent telling us more about the motivations of the students and their history. Lex hand picked them, but from where? What about these kids said “future rulers of the world”? Why did they say yes to this offer? We got some good motivations from Jason’s side, and I’d love to see the same attention given to this team. However, Jason and his class aren’t the only ones to feature in this book. We’re also treated to a few pages checking in on Artemis and Bizzaro. I’m delighted to see them in this issue! The annual got me excited that perhaps they’d show up again soon, and I’m glad they weren’t forgotten about in the wake of this current arc.
I think Rocafort’s art worked well in the few scenes with Artemis and Bizzaro. His pencils really shine in the quieter moments between the two of them, and his addition of movement lines is particularly impactful here. Especially when showing Bizzaro being surprised by his almost-memory. He also just does a great Bizzaro, I love that he chose to keep Bizzaro’s beard from the Annual, instead of cleaning him up. It’s a fun, scruffy, addition to the character’s design. I hope that we’ll continue to track their progress parallel to Jason’s. I’d love to see a reunion after this Year of Villain story is over. The book has always felt stronger with the Outlaws all together.
Rocafort’s artwork was very playful in places. His panels often land at odd angles and are both skewed and outlined in bright colors like green and orange. He adds a lot of bursts of shapes and lines through the book that add to the idea of things being lighter and more fun. I loved how the way everything was laid out mirrored the story going on, in a slightly off and different way.
I have a few problems with Rocafort’s characters and backgrounds. In general, everything tends to feel a bit busy to me. He creates a lot of lines, and details within figures that can make things feel muddled. In a book that has the team together often, and has so much action, this technique really didn’t work for me. The fact that the students are all in the same red uniform made group shots feel blended together. His faces also feel very similar. They’re round, and the eyes are usually accentuated. They’re large, and bright, and on anyone but Cloud Nine they look a little alien.
I do want to point out how much I enjoyed Troy Petrie’s lettering, and Steve Firchow’s coloring this issue. Characters like Cloud 9 and DNA have really unique speech bubbles that feel very in line with the characters. It was a lot of fun to read their speech this way. It helped keep conversations clear, and also helped fill out the characters a bit. Details like this made them stand out, and gave personality to their voices in a nice way. In addition to coloring the text bubbles, Firchow brought the new team to life with bright and interesting colors. Various panels are outlined in bright color, that match the color scheme of the new team, and sometimes correlate to the character features. It adds to the fun atmosphere carried through the book.
- You want to see what Jason does with his offer
- Jason as a teacher interests you
- You’re a Lobdell completionist
This was a good introduction to a new arc and a new set of characters. Jason fits the role of teacher well so far, but things are set up with the possibility of going south fast. There were a few things that didn’t work for me, like the time spent on The Block and Dr. Veritas that I felt could have been used for more character work with the new team, and the muddled nature of some of the group shots. Still, I’m hopeful that this will be a strong arc for Red Hood Outlaw and something readers can really enjoy. If you’ve been waiting for a good jumping-on point, this is a good opportunity to hop aboard.