There’s a lot going on in Red Hood right now. Jason and his team of students are on their first field trip and things seem to only to be getting wilder the longer they’re out. In their exploration of a destroyed S.T.A.R. Labs facility they discovered another teen meta and then suddenly found themselves face to face with a whole crew of monstrous S.T.A.R. Labs employees. Meanwhile, Bizzaro and Artemis are dealing with their fair share of crazy as a bottle containing Ma Gunn toppled to the ground and released a suddenly sentient Pup Pup!
The story opens in medias res with Monster Arm -yes, that’s his name- pontificating about how he and his gang of monsters became who they are. Jason lets him monologue and then promptly shoots him in his arm, using it as an object lesson about how if they want to succeed as bad guys, his students shouldn’t get caught monologing. This starts a clash between the students, and the monster crew that makes for some humorous moments and gives the team another chance to fight together.
Lobell injects humor and plays with typical hero and student tropes– like the advice to “never monologue”– throughout the whole issue, but especially during the fight and its aftermath. This is something he’s been doing throughout this arc, but it feels more prominently in this issue. From the way the kids joke with one another, to how comfortable they’ve become fighting as a team, it seems to have the feel of a teen superhero movie, like Sky High (though, you know, with villains). The humor dial is turned up in this issue as well, tied hand in hand with the tropes. There’s always been some elements of humor to Red Hood, but I feel like this issue had a lot more than I’ve seen in a while.
Further adding to the tone is Kenneth Rocafort’s art. He adds a lot of visual humor that makes the moments of surprise and subversion really pop. Take when Jason shoots Monster Arm after he’s done talking. Babe In Arms’s zombie mom is wide eyed with shock at this. It’s such a silly look for the character that it made me laugh. Later, when the story returns to the rest of the Outlaws, he uses Pup Pup’s physical form in situational humor, like when Bizzaro grabs him in surprise.
Jason has a much larger presence this time, actively teaching his team, and generally coaching them. Some of it is done through standing back and allowing them to make their own decisions, like when he lets Devour choose to finally jump into the fray. Other times he calls out suggestions, like directing one of Cloud Nine’s attacks. This doesn’t just apply to the fight, but the aftermath too: he proactively asks for the team’s advice, and while he seems to agree with their desire to kill their attackers, he holds them back. This active look at him teaching is something I was excited to see in this arc, and I’m really glad we got more of it this time.
For all the enjoyment I got out of Jason teaching, it’s the students who I felt really worked here. Compared to the last two issues where things felt awkward and rough between them, they started working as a unit here. They played off of each other’s strengths, like how Babe In Arms and their Zombie Mom sent a metal monster in Devour’s direction. Generally they’ve stopped fighting among themselves, and have started to look and act like a team. If this were a movie, they’d be at the point in the montage where the team starts winning all their training fights. There’s even this nice victory hug after the fight as they officially welcome Doomed onto the team.
Not only do they work better together, but their interactions gave me the feeling that they knew each other before Luthor turned them over to Jason. At one point Devour calls Cloud Nine by Clara, her given name. This makes for a moment of familiarity I hadn’t expected from these kids. We were introduced to them by their code names, and up until now I’d assumed they had little contact previously, but it’s possible they were together before this. It helps give these relatively new characters another layer of history and depth. I also can’t help but wonder how this might impact things later on in the story, will it help them stick together or cause strife as things from their past come to light? It’s just speculation on my part, but it’s something to think about.
As for that moment where Devour reaches out to Cloud Nine Rockafort spends those two pages really showing off Cloud Nine’s powers in some stunning scenes. He creates a dynamic storm surrounding her, one that she eventually becomes. Then there’s one panel zoomed in on her face where her eyes are lightning and her hair has become a storm. From this panel alone you can tell she’s been taken in almost fully by it, without having to show the entire storm again. The next time we see her, she’s trailing clouds as her body returns to normal. It’s really cool and a great display of just how powerful she is.
Despite its strong points the part of the book with Jason and his students isn’t perfect. While the issue highlights the team and Jason’s teaching skills, the actual fight feels like filler. There isn’t any weight to it, and it’s lacking in stakes. The team is able to defeat them easily, with no real injuries or close calls. The monster-hybrid S.T.A.R. Labs employees read as random to me. Even with Monster Arm’s explanation of how they came to be, they do nothing to further the story itself beyond adding some insight into what was happening to Doomed.
In addition, Lobdell leans a little too heavily into humor this issue, and while it has it’s funny points, there are a few moments that are grating. Specifically, Jason’s quips about being unsure about if he’d used a word right or not. The first time I laughed, but the second felt insulting to Jason’s own intelligence. Compared to ‘didactic’, ‘tenuous’ isn’t a word I’d think Jason would doubt the meaning of. He was Robin, has been shown to be a bookworm (both pre and post death), and is smart enough to have run multiple criminal organizations. Having him doubt this just rubbed me the wrong way.
The second half of the story focuses on Bizzaro and Artemis, and Lobdell wastes no time clarifying that both Ma Gunn and Pup Pup were released from the bottle when it shattered (though the whereabouts of Ma’s house are still a mystery). The reason for Pup Pup’s sentience is also explained: As It turns out, the personality Bizzaro programmed into the Outlaw’s HQ zapped itself into the doll. I could question this, but Smartzzaro created a lot of unbelievable things (like trapping Ma Gunn in the bottle!), so his machine transferring itself to a doll makes about as much sense as anything. Plus! We get more Pup Pup this way, and I’m not going to complain about that.
With the reveal of Pup Pup I was expecting an answer to how the Outlaws would get home, and while we got one I was a little disappointed in it.
Ultimately Lobdell beams them back to Earth. The ship disintegrates and then they’re in Mexico? I would have expected them to land back in Gotham, since that’s where they disappeared from, but no matter where they ended up, this method feels like a cop out. We’ve been getting hints of their return for three issues now. Instead of pulling a deus ex machina to bring them back, I feel like Lobdell could have spent less time with them meandering around the base (or less time on Jason’s side of things), and dedicated that time to bringing them back properly.
As much as I’ve loved the inclusion of the Outlaws back into the story, why even bother with bringing them back to Earth this way? It makes the pages of build up seem like wasted space. As if Lobdell wanted to include them but couldn’t fully commit because he was still working out Jason’s new team. I don’t mind him keeping them away for a bit, but either give me a better payout for their time in the old HQ, or just send them back to Earth right away and make them have to find their way back home.
Generally I think both parts of the issue work well together. Jason’s team has finally finished their first outing, and things are heating up with the Outlaws. I feel like the story is finally set up so that they’ll all cross paths sooner rather than later. Let’s just hope that the meet up is a good one.
- You’ve been waiting for the new team to work together
- The humor in Red Hood is something you enjoy
- You’ve wanted more answers on the Outlaws side of things
After two rocky issues I feel like this arc is starting to fall into a solid groove. There were some strong character moments with the team in this issue, and Jason’s teaching style has finally started to come into focus. The continued inclusion of Bizzaro and Artemis has expanded to include Pup Pup and is finally moving forward. Even though some of the humor missed the mark for me, and parts of the story felt like filler, I feel like the issue was still a fun and enjoyable read.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.