Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Red Hood and the Outlaws 14, originally released November 21st, 2012.
Shelby: I’m in an interesting position reviewing Red Hood and the Outlaws. I didn’t start reading this title until the last arc with Kori and her home planet. I missed out on those first few issues that Drew and Patrick raved about. Even without reading those first issues, I can understand what they liked in this book; these are three very unique characters, and together they form a very unique team. But I feel like all the last handful of issues has done is show me what this book could be instead of just living up to its potential.
Superman comes a knockin’! On the side of Kori’s spaceship, that is; he needs to speak with the princess. Everyone thinks that’s a bad idea except Isabel, so Red Hood et al get teleported to Kori’s island home. Superman finds them immediately because duh; a fight ensues. Isabel, again the voice of reason, tells everyone to chill the fuck out and just listen to what Superman has to say. Turns out, Supes was just wondering if Kori had been approached by Helspont like he was back in the annual. Much to everyone’s surprise, she had. Superman asks her to give him a call if she hears from them again, they all give him crap for not asking for help, he gives them crap for being criminals, etc. Everyone piles into the spaceship to give Isabel a ride home, which turns out to be in Gotham. Jason sticks around for some sexy time; when he gets out of the shower he discovers Isabel has overdosed, and is dying. He freaks out, having flashbacks to his mother, and the TV starts talking to him. Not because he’s crazy, but because it’s The Joker, telling Jason the paramedics and police are already on their way. The police break down the door just as Jason tells the TV he will kill it if Isabel dies.
The art, oh the art, in this book. I know every month we talk about how much we miss Kenneth Rocafort on this title, and this month is no exception. Pascal Alixe goes a step further, though; it’s not just that the art isn’t Rocafort’s, it’s that is really not all that great, period. He draws his men wide, I mean super, super wide: we’re talking virtually no narrowing from the chest down to the waist. Isabel has this constant wide-eyed, pouty mouth look, which reduces her to sexy dame even when she’s actually contributing to the team. And the dudes’ faces…where to begin… This one is probably my favorite, because that is obviously Superman in drag.
Now, while I would happily attend a superhero drag show, that just looks goofy as hell. Turns out, no one is safe from Alixe’s face weirdness: Jason looks like a disappointed mom, Kori’s face is just kind of fat, and I don’t know what the hell is going on with Roy.
Stylistic hang-ups aside, these just aren’t all that good. I think it’s the lips; one of the hardest lessons I learned about drawing the human face is there aren’t any lines that define the lips. It’s just skin that’s a different color than the skin around it. That’s a hard thing to translate to traditional comic book style, I get that. But, seriously, these just look goofy.
For the sake of fairness, I will admit there was one page I found to be very impressive.
The composition and coloring of this page is pretty much perfect. A jagged swath of Joker’s purple and green cuts through Jason’s red background, and the mirroring paired with the orientation along the diagonal calls to mind playing cards. It’s an awesome image for a fairly shocking reveal. It’s not that surprising that Isabel would fall victim to the Joker, but I was still shocked to see her seemingly dead. I’ve really come to like her as a character; Lobdell very cleverly uses her as an in-story foil for the bullshit comic book tropes we see over and over. This issue is a perfect example; Superman shows up and immediately everyone starts fighting, because that’s what happens when more than one superheroes are in the same room. Everyone assumes the other is there to fight, so they fight. But before I could roll my eyes and call “cliché,” Isabel does it for me, telling Superman he obviously should have just called or something, and everyone else that they are overreacting, and should probably just listen to what Superman has to say. Her civilian voice is great for grounding the story when things get a little out of hand, and the humor of her situation lines up perfectly with the voice Lobdell has established for the title.
That’s not to say everything is awesome about this story. I have a big problem with Jason’s dislike of Superman. Correction: I have a big problem with Jason’s reasons for disliking Supes. Jason claims to dislike Superman because he’s an all-powerful alien who could “drop-kick the moon out of orbit on a bad day.” He doesn’t see any reason to think that, simply because Superman claims to be a good guy, they should trust any one being with that kind of power. That’s all well and good, except that Jason hangs out with an incredibly powerful and unpredictable alien. Kori is great and all, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say her morals aren’t nearly as strictly defined as Clark’s are. He goes on to say that, as a criminal, he doesn’t have any love for Superman, which makes sense. Hell, even just disliking Superman on principle would make sense for Jason; I can’t see those two getting along, personality-wise. But Lobdell makes a big deal of Jason distrusting Superman because he’s a powerful alien, and that is a pretty dumb reason. Jason’s logic would make perfect sense coming from anyone but him.
This title has not been doing itself any favors lately. The art is all over the board; I know it’s tough, Rocafort left some pretty big shoes to fill, but this issue is kind of a mess, artistically. The story has been ok. It’s not terrible, but I feel like I’m just seeing an idea of what these characters could be. Kori, Roy, and Jason are a pretty unique team, and Lobdell has given me enough of them in these last few issues to tease me with the potential this book has. I just don’t know if it’s living up to it. Patrick: Yeah, Alixe’s faces are something else. Looking back through the issue, it’s remarkable how frequently he draws these characters in profile. That’s like the one angle he’s got down pat. Seriously, dig it:
It’s not the most dynamic way to stage anything, and there are even a few occasions where it doesn’t make sense — like that last image is of Jason yelling at the TV, which is presented at an angle, so his line of sight wouldn’t line up with the thing.
Alixe’s also got the problem of being married to Rocafort’s distinct designs. The Tamarian body armor that everyone is wearing is full of characteristic Rocafort doodling — which uses a lot of baroque right angles and extraneous squares. It made sense when those embellishments acted as an extension of Rocafort’s panels and borders, but without that context, they just serve to muck up the visuals. (I noticed the same is true — to a lesser extent — with the design of H’el under the pencils of Supergirl and Superboy‘s art teams, though it’s not nearly the problem it is here.)
From a storytelling perspective, 80% of this issue suffers from something that’s not Lobdell’s fault. The powers that be have decided that issues 15 and 16 will be Death of the Family crossover issues, so even though we’re back from Kori’s adventures fighting the Blight, we have a whole issue vamping for time before the Joker can show up. We also know that Superman’s going to be tied up fighting a different all-powerful alien whose name sounds like “Hell” because we know about the H’el on Earth crossover. So, all of that business in the first 14 pages is just set up for adventures we’re not going to get to until much later. Also, it’s all information that you got if you read the Superman Annual, but I can understand why readers of Red Hood and the Outlaws might have skipped that one.
As is usually the case with this series, this issue is strongest when it focuses on Jason. Example: Jason’s able to loosen up and be an engaged sexual partner only after Isabel has seen him in action as the Red Hood. This development has been allowed to play out at a surprisingly patient pace in the background of Kori’s space opera. He doesn’t need to insist that they wear costumes, and there’s no violence component to it, the scene is just an honest expression of what makes Jason feel good. Part of that is being with a girl he’s identified as so smart and so brave (it probably helps that she has a similarly cavalier attitude toward superhero weirdness). But then the Joker strikes, and here’s where I want to start a different conversation.
Shelby’s already pointed out the uncharacteristically clever art that draws parallels between this incident and Jason’s mother’s OD. Further, it fits the Joker’s current MO to revisit the same crimes upon his enemies. That’s all good — totally on-point and exciting. But it bugs me that it turns out Isabel is only here to be victimized. She’s dangerously close to becoming just another girlfriend in the refrigerator. Now maybe that’s bullshit, and I’m judging Lodbell unfairly (this team is one-third female, and we did just come back from a story that centered on her), but it does seem like this fits a little too comfortably in that shitty pattern. I’ll invite future discussion on this in the comments.
I just wish this series could recapture some of the sleek charms from early in its run. These characters all have such dark histories — ranging from sexual slavery to drug addiction to… however we want to classify Jason’s many issues — but they keep slugging through because, what other choice do they have? Drew once compared this team to the “Dukes of Hazzard” of the DC Universe, and I’d love to see them return to that: never meanin’ no harm […] making their way the only way they know how […] fightin’ the system like modern day Robin Hood.
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?