Today, Mikyzptlk and guest writer Pivitor are discussing Red Hood and the Outlaws 16, originally released January 23rd, 2013. This issue is part of the Death of the Family crossover event. Click here for complete DotF coverage.
Mikyzptlk: As we all know, there are A LOT of comics out there competing for our dollars. Books like Scott Snyder’s Batman or Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman attempt to push the boundaries of reader expectation and deliver tales that are legitimately astonishing to behold. I’ve given two examples from one publisher from barely over one year of publishing, but there are even more possibilities just as astounding from publishers such as Marvel, Image, Vertigo, IDW, Oni Press, Archaia, and more! That said, not every comic is great, and with so much out there to consume, it’s getting harder to convince myself to continue to spend the $2.99 a month on a book that lacks the quality of its competitors.
The issue picks up with the Outlaws (minus Red Hood) and the Teen Titans (minus Red Robin) battling against “Jokerized” homeless people. Since everyone feels that these people can still be saved, Arsenal uses his “Analysis Arrow” (I actually liked that bit), to determine a cure for the Joker-venom plaguing its victims. A warehouse nearby has the appropriate chemicals, so Arsenal directs Starfire, Kid Flash, Solstice, and Wonder Girl to pick up the drugs while he and Bunker stay behind to keep the Joker-Zombies (Jombies?) at bay. The drugs are retrieved by Kid Flash and then everyone is cured by…Kid Flash…again. Oh, and then there were two epilogues awkwardly shoved in at the end. Here’s the one with the Joker, since, ya know, this is a tie-in remember?
So, let’s break down what I didn’t like about this issue. First of all, Scott Lobdell offers us a structural mess. While I appreciate the fact that Arsenal takes center stage, the stage he’s on is shoddily built. We start smack dab in the middle of the action, which is fine, but we are then treated to some awkwardly positioned asides. Out of nowhere, Arsenal starts reminiscing about his past and tells a story (to no one) about how Killer Croc (yes, that Killer Croc) helped him to find a new pad shortly after his falling out with Green Arrow. The purpose behind this is to lead to the realization that he’s come far from being an addict, and that he does have great potential as a hero and even a leader. This is all great, and while I enjoy seeing Arsenal realize he’s worth more than he gives himself credit for, this could have all been accomplished within the action of the current issue by having Arsenal display a bit of self doubt in the beginning. As things go more and more his way, Lobdell could have transitioned Arsenal to having more confidence in himself as we see at the end of the issue. As it is, his flashback feels forced and simply interrupts the flow of the issue.
Speaking of interruptions, we are given yet another scene that simply crops up out of nowhere. I’d call this an epilogue, but it happens on page 14. Hugo Strange is introduced by an omniscient narrator who also comes out of nowhere and we are told that he’s up to something that I’m sure we’ll be finding out in another issue. The problem is, I’m not so sure which one. Normally, these kinds of asides are used at the end of a story arc to set up whatever will happen in the next. However, at the actual end of the issue, we are treated to what I can safely call an epilogue. Actually, I’d need to call it “Epilogue One of Two.” “Epilogue Two” contains the Joker sequence I showed you above, so here’s “Epilogue One.”
Okay, so wait, what’s the next arc going to be about? Will the Outlaws face off against Hugo Strange or Deathstroke? Maybe both? But what about the Joker and his twisted plots? I was told to stay tuned for that at the end of this issue I thought. Maybe the next issue will feature all three villains? That’d be nuts! Then again, none of them really seem to have anything to do with one another so that’s kind of weird. My point is, I found it confusing to have three distinct set-ups all in one issue. The Joker epilogue makes the most sense since this series is still caught up in DotF, but the other two asides simply felt thrown in and out of place.
I also had problems with some of the logic behind this issue. Should Arsenal really have sent the two most powerful heroes along with the only speedster and…whatever the hell Solstice is to get a few crates, when the opposition was a gang of super strong Jombies? Surely Wonder Girl or Starfire could have stayed behind to lend some additional muscle. Especially when you consider that Kid Flash did, well, pretty much everything. Not only did he save the medicine from being destroyed, but he administered it to all of the victims! Although, I guess the others did help him carry the crates back.
All in all, is it fair to compare a book like this to Scott Snyder’s Batman? Maybe, maybe not, but my $2.99 is hard earned just the same. It’s issues like this that’s making me think I’d rather spend it on something else. Well, I’d love to continue my rant, but I have to leave something for our new guest writer, Pivitor! How ya doing Piv? I’ve long enjoyed the various comments and conversations you’ve shared with us, so I’m looking forward to what you have to say about this issue. What was your take? Was I too harsh on poor old Lobdell or did you take issue with this particular…issue. I didn’t get into Timothy Green’s art at all (cheap action figures anyone?) and I had some additional problems with some of the characterization featured here. What say you Piv? Am I off my rocker here?
Pivitor: Nah Mik, you’re not off your rocker. Red Hood and the Outlaws is a book that uses breezy, irreverent character interaction mixed with a few well-placed moments of poignancy to cover for its slip-shod plots and pacing, and while it’s never been a literary masterpiece, when it works Red Hood is a fun little book. Unfortunately, when it doesn’t work (which has been increasingly often since Kenneth Rocafort’s departure from art duties), we get issues like this one.
You already highlighted a lot of the problems I had with this issue, and I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but the multiple epilogues were so distracting I feel the need to go back to them for a second. Hugo Strange’s aside came out of nowhere, and was so jarring that I worried for a moment that the main story had ended already and that a back-up story was starting. Then I thought that it was an ad, like those Subway ads featuring the Justice League from a few months back. It’s probably the most distracting scene transition I’ve seen in years. Also, Mik, you mentioned not knowing when these epilogues will be touched upon, and I’m worried about that too. Scott Lobdell is only writing Red Hood for two more issues before James Tynion III takes over, so is he planning to address both these epilogues in that very limited timeframe? Or is he just going to abandon one—or maybe even both—of those plot threads? The outlook looks grim regardless.
Still, the most problematic aspect of this issue for me was the Joker’s plan itself. The idea of keeping Jason and Tim’s allies busy by infecting civilians is perfectly fine, even if Joker’s methods (as seen in Teen Titans #15) are distractingly complex. When it came time find a cure, however, Lobdell completely lost me. Even with Roy explaining it away, even with booby traps set to protect them, just the fact that Joker had conveniently pre-packaged needles loaded with the cure to his toxin just sitting around in a warehouse for the “Teen Outlaws” to pick up is ridiculous. The miraculous convenience of it all kills any possible tension, and it robs the Teen Outlaws of some agency by basically having the Joker solve their problem for them. Even worse, it just plain doesn’t make sense. The Joker’s out to keep the teams distracted for as long as possible, right? Then essentially handing them the one way to end the attack is completely counterproductive. It’s insane, even for the Joker!
Furthermore, was the distraction even necessary? Red Robin had already told the Titans he was leaving town before the Joker kidnapped him; the only reason the Titans even knew he was kidnapped at all was because Joker left them a note (Teen Titans #14). Instead of purposely luring the Titans to Gotham just to divert them with an elaborate distraction, couldn’t the Joker just have not alerted the Titans at all and saved everyone a lot of time? Honestly, this entire tie-in was unnecessary, and that’s probably this issue’s biggest crime.
As for Timothy Green’s art, I found it hit-or-miss, but with a bit more hit than miss. Green’s bright cartoony style is a nice change of pace from the dark, gritty art that plagued this book during the Outlaws’ outer space travels. Unfortunately, any good will he builds up is completely overshadowed by a few sloppy panels, a few unnatural facial expressions, at least one drawing of Wonder Girl with conical breasts that look sharp enough to cut glass, and, well, whatever this is:
Seriously, what’s going on here?
However, there are a few moments I enjoyed. Mik, you mentioned having problems with some of the characterization, and while I can’t blame you—I could write a whole review just on my problems with Roy and Croc’s bromance alone, and sadly, Starfire and Solstice are complete nonentities—I still feel like characterization is the issue’s strongest point. Wonder Girl’s grumpy impatience and Kid Flash’s flippant joking are in-character and gave me some laughs, but the real highlight of the issue for me is the scene where Arsenal first glimpses Bunker’s hidden potential as a hero.
It’s a proud moment for our young rookie Bunker, but it also manages to fit a surprising amount of insight about Roy into a mere two panels, especially compared to some other clunky attempts to do the same earlier in the issue.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to save the issue, which is a shame. With Jason and Tim both off facing Joker, pairing up their two teams seems like an inspired idea, but forcing the team-up to be related to the Joker’s plans and making that plan as convoluted as possible instead just turns this into the least essential Death of the Family tie-in since Joker and Catwoman’s bizarre little chess game.
Pivitor has been obsessed with superheroes since he first saw the Adam West “Batman” series as a child. He spends way too much time online, especially on Twitter and Tumblr. You should also totally check out his potentially embarrassing old fanfiction, his “Flash Family: The Animated Series” pitch, and his band’s music video (he plays bass!).
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?