Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review: Red Hood and the Outlaws #1

Before we review this thing let’s briefly talk about Jason Todd.

Jason was the second person wear the identity of Robin, after Dick Grayson.  Initially a carbon copy of his predecessor Todd’s background and personality was altered following the companywide reboot (Sound familiar) Crisis on Infinite Earths.  The new version of the character was disliked by fans so greatly that DC held a phone poll to let fans decide if Jason would survive the events in the classic story A Death in the Family; they voted to kill him (Although years later the validity of the vote is in question as apparently some asshole in California called hundreds of times with the vote of “Kill Him”).  Batman would consider Jason’s death his greatest failure and use it as a reminder when dealing with new sidekicks and partners (This is partly why he treated the Spoiler so bad, presumably).

However Jason was brought back to life seventeen years after that phone poll (In real time) but now he was an antagonist to Batman rather than ally.  Todd, calling himself the Red Hood, initially became a brutal vigilante who took things 100 times farther than Batman usually would.  Over the years Jason suffered from inconsistent writing as DC couldn’t agree whether he should be a straight up villain or an antihero.  During the events of Battle for the Cowl Jason finally become an irredeemable, and crazed, villain and that was pushed to even further depths in Grant Morison’s very good Batman and Robin where he basically became Dick Grayson’s (As the New “Batman”) archenemy.  The point is that the way his character development has ultimately worked the last few years the Red Hood has become a psychotic super villain who is obsessed with destroying everything Batman stands for an replacing him as the new, monstrous protector of Gotham.  A role, I must add, that he was excellent in.

So let’s give this guy a solo title, shall we?  Because...why the hell not!
Jason Todd in his natural state
I’m not the biggest fan of villains getting their own superhero books, though it’s certainly not something that should never tried once and a while.  Secret Six is the best example.  But under normal circumstances I wouldn’t touch Red Hood and the Outlaws with a ten foot pole.  However it also stars Arsenal who’s been one of my favorite characters since 2003 during Judd Winick’s run on The Outsiders and I was hopeful that the horrifying changes to his character over the last few years would be undone in this reboot.   Anyway this comic was written by Scott Lobdell and drawn by Kenneth Rocafort and his title “I Fought the Law and Kicked It’s Butt”.  And no, after reading the story I don’t think that title makes a whole lot of sense.

Full review after the jump.


Roy Harper has both his arms again, but no daughter
One step forward, two step backs I guess
Roy Harper, aka Arsenal, has been imprisoned by the country of Qurac as a “reward” for helping them overthrow their dictator.   Luckily Jason Todd, the Red Hood arrives to free him and their escape attempted is aided by Starfire An Unreasonable Facsimile of Starfire (Koriand'r).  While the three are relaxing on the beach following the jail break Jason is visited by an old acquaintance that has brought with her disturbing news.

I feel the artwork of this comic is full of problems but I will say that it did lend itself pretty well to the style of the book at times to the point that if it wasn’t for some of the more annoying aspects of this book I’d say it really worked.  I also like the Red Hood’s new costume; since I despised his look in Batman and Robin and was glad to see they took him closer to when he first appeared back in 2005.  Of course the Bat insignia on his chest is really stupid as the book is supposed to establish that he is moving on away from his obsession with the Bat-Family.  Also the new character Essence actually looks kind of interesting and I’m a bit intrigued about who, or what, she is and what exactly her relationship to Jason.

That right there was an example of me reaching to find nice things to say in this review because frankly THIS COMIC SUCKS!

Sucks?  But they kill so many people!  It must be good!
First of all I was taken aback by the random violence, *Ahem*, I mean “ACTION” in the book’s intro wherein Red Hood, Arsenal and Starfire kill a ton of soldiers.  I’m partly confused by the fact that the scene seems so pointless but I’m mainly shocked by the idea that Arsenal and Starfire are participating in the bloodbath.  The “Out of Character” moment with those two is a problem and I’ll get into that more in a bit but I really want to convey that the only reason thus scene exists is because “it’s cool”.  There’s nothing wrong with that assuming there still some substance in the story.   There is not.  This is style over substance, but again more on that in a bit.

While Jason Todd isn’t really portrayed in a way that doesn’t fit within his established character both Arsenal and Starfire are varying degrees of annoying.  Roy’s character was all but ruined during the events of Justice League: Cry for Justice and Justice League: The Rise of Arsenal when his young daughter Lian Harper was killed off and he relapsed into drug addiction as a result.  DC “fixes” this issue by de-aging Arsenal to a point where he’s probably only sort of recently beat his original drug dependence (This isn’t actually stated in the book; I’m inferring this from various interviews with Scott Lobdell) which not only erases the bad stuff from the last few years but also over twenty years of character development.  So if you’re new to DC Comics you might not care or notice but if you’re a long time fan of the character…um…I guess there are lot of other superhero comics you can read instead.

Starfire is worse though as it seems that the writer took one aspect of her character, her promiscuity (And then she wasn’t really promiscuous to begin with) and amp it up so that it’s her only trait, or at least her biggest trait.   So the naïve alien who’s views on sex and love were extremely emotionally based suddenly shows up here as a sex kitten who literally bangs dudes she just meets whose name she doesn’t really care to recall (From her point of view).   I actually wouldn’t care about that too much as there, on paper, isn’t anything wrong with a character really liking sex (After all I’m a huge Grace Choi fan and she did similar things with Arsenal in the Outsiders) but it alters fundamental aspects of Kory’s character.  Worse she doesn’t seem to remember that she was once involved (And in love) with Dick Grayson or her time as a Teen Titan.  According to Jason it’s because she doesn’t view human beings as people and thus doesn’t bother to commit them to memory (Or she has amnesia; it’s very unclear) which itself seems crazy as shit, since that NEVER was part of her character.  Now this might be something that will be explained and even rectified in future issues or it could just be the new reimagining of Starfire in the DCnU.  If it’s the latter than this comic ultimately represents everything wrong with the reboot.  It almost feels like for every well written Batgirl comic or Batwoman comic we get shit like (I’m not reviewing it but apparently Catwoman # has similar problems).

"Math is hard"
So this new version of Starfire doesn’t recall who Nightwing is and therefore has no problem teaming up with the man who tried to destroy one of her closest friends the last few years.  Fine.  But why is Roy doing it?  He’s Dick’s best friend and I don’t’ recall him having too much to do with Jason in the past.  He actually mentions he’s surprised that Kory would work with Todd because of this but he himself doesn’t seem to mind hanging out with a murderer who several times tried to KILL HIS BEST FRIEND!!!  If Travis or Iron Eagle, two of my real life buddies who comment on the site every now and then, had a dude try to run them over more than once and that same guy said “Hey Beta, do you want to catch a movie” my response would to be to kick him in the balls!  Arsenal should AT THE LEAST do the same thing!  I guess in the DCnU Roy Harper is actually just as big an asshole as Jason Todd.

At first I assumed that Red Hood’s recent activities had been retconed, but they actually straight out say that he had in fact been Dick’s enemy (And as far as we know the Batman books are one of the few that didn’t have any significant changes). There are some continuity problems here as it’s very confusing. To make things worse Roy names off several classic members of the Teen Titans to Starfire (Who of course doesn’t know who the hell he’s talking about because SHE’S GOTTA GET THAT DICK) as the group they used to hang with which is weird since I thought the Teen Titans didn’t exist in the universe yet.   If nothing else how does that gel with Cyborg, whom Roy mentions, apparently being a founding member of the Justice League?  I’m really confused by this and I wish DC would release some sort of timeline to explain how this al fits in because right now this whole “Superheroes Only Appeared Five Years Ago” thing seems really ludicrously improbable.

Remember that time Jason kidnapped a child then went on a killing spree?
DC sure hopes you don't!
 Also, though the artwork wasn’t the worse as I said, what the hell is up with the images of Starfire in a bikini?  This isn’t sexual independence for women; this is titillation for male readers pure and simple!  Yay feminism?

This actually reminds me of early Image Comics when a lot of titles were style over substance with heavy reliance on sex and violence to distract me from the fact that the comic wasn’t well written.  Seriously if the characters were called Blood Hood, Dead Arrow, and FoxyFire I’d swear I’d fallen into a time warp and was trapped in 1993.  In addition this comic punishes me for being a longtime fan by having characters I’ve known about since I was a kid portrayed in vastly different ways without the benefit of natural character development. This book is extremely hard to read for me as it seems to be catering to a less mature audience, preferably ones who aren’t already fans of the characters (Which seems odd to me). It’s possible the title will get better as things go on, but I sure as hell ain’t spending any more money on it.  If you thought this was a really awesome comic you may want to think about taking Beta is Dead off your bookmark because we are not on the same page at all.

I give Red Hood and the Outlaws 1 Adorable Panda out of 5.


Pros

-The art isn’t always terrible

-Essence seems like an interesting new character

Cons

-It’s Sex and Violence and not much else

-The comic creates more continuity questions in the New DCU than it does answers

-Both Starfire and Arsenal seem really out of character

-It’s really hard to forget how horrible a human being the Red Hood is

3 comments:

  1. I agree with most of what you said, bro, but ironically that’s not my biggest gripes with the book so to speak. First off, why would Roy and Khori be throwing in with Jason in the first place given the fact that Jason beat Tim within an inch of his life in the Titans tower, tormented Dick and Ollie, kidnapped Mia and blew up her high school and was a total jerk-off to Donna and Kyle during the Countdown saga? Not to mention that Jason is a remorseless killer and sociopath so I don’t see these two cozying up to him-especially Roy. If anything I can see these two being foils to him by trying to hunt him down and bring him to justice for all his crimes. This book would have been better if some other characters had thrown in with Jason instead such as Azrael( Jean-Paul), Harley Quinn, Grace, Thunder or Freight Train( A character that’s ironically more hated than Jason). Or better yet, why not have a new Outsiders book instead? Those are just my thoughts

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  2. (Also veeery late to the game on this. Sorry)

    I just got into comics over the last three months, so the literal HOURS I've spent combing through history, cannon, and retcons has made my brain hurt and I've just decided to take what I know and apply it to my own personal head cannon. I have a bit of a soft spot (read: obsession) with Jason and was annoyed at the fact that he played such a gruesome villain after his resurrection, so seeing him portrayed as much less psychotic and perpetually angry was what made me want to read this comic. I will admit that I know next to nothing about Arsenal other than what some TV shows and good ol' Google have told me. I like his character a lot in this continuity and do see, given his past and the fact that he "fell from grace" as much as Jason did, it made sense that they teamed up. As for Kori, I have no real idea other than some execs at DC probably realized that she wasn't in the reboot yet and they shoved her in there at the last minute.

    I personally love the witty dialogue and Rocofort's art style, but I definitely agree that this series is pandering to the Young Male demographic. I'm only two volumes in, and it gets a little better, but there are still moments where Lobdell makes it painfully obvious who he's wanting to read this series. Which is a shame, because Starfire was well-loved by fans of the 2003 Teen Titans cartoon and they could have done lots of great things with her character. She does get a little better (I was relieved when she spent most of vol two in something that covered her entire body, even if it was skin-tight), but nowhere near as fun as she was in that television show.

    Regardless, I was glad to see Jason get some non-condemning character qualities and there's even a nice little flashback of him and Tim in one issue that made me smile. It's not going to win any awards, but I don't think it's worth tossing in the trash necessarily.

    (Side note: I keep forgetting that the N52 has the whole "superheroes have only been a thing for five years" gimmick and yeah THAT MAKES NO F*CKING SENSE. Not given the context of any of these comics so far.)

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    Replies
    1. So I wrote a long reply to this but then Blogger blew it up. So I'm give the super short version of what I originally wrote:

      Red Hood's inconsistent character is my major problem. I don't mind that he became a villain when they brought him back;i t made sense at the time. They should have had a redemption story but instead they pushed him farther and farther into crazed monster territory, which was a mistake. But since you can't un-ring a bell the writers needed to properly explain why/how Jason went from child kidnapping murderer to aloof antihero without just screaming "REBOOT" and then running away.

      Also if you've really only been into comics for three months I must say I'm very impressed with your knowledge and understanding of the medium.

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