Today, Patrick and Spencer are discussing Red Hood and the Outlaws 19, originally released April 17th, 2013.
Patrick: Drew and I were pretty big fans of Red Hood and the Outlaws when we marathoned the first 8 issues to prep for the Night of the Owls. We’ve enumerated our reasons for liking it so much in an alarming number of articles since then, always apologizing for the state the series is in currently. It became a slog – that whole arc with Kori’s old spaceship crew and her sister, the Death of the Family – all of it seemingly worked against our good will for the series. We even went so far as to drop it from the Retcon Punch pull. We gave up on Jason Todd. Which makes Roy Harper a much better friend than we are.
Jason went missing in the Himalayas when his plane was highjacked by… Gengis Kahn as portrayed in Mulan?
We’ll get the backstory on what Jason was doing out there in a few weeks in Batman and Red Hood 20 as explained in the most helpful editor’s note ever. In the meantime though, we can follow Roy and Kori as they comb the mountains searching for an entrance to the Acres of All, the home off the All Caste (who are the ancient order of magical kung-fu monks that trained Jason after his resurrection). It turns out that Roy’s not exactly dressed for the weather, and he’s overcome with fever. Essence, who has been following them, fears that Roy’s oversimplification of the All’s beliefs isn’t going to aid him in finding the entrance to the Acres of All, so she enters his fever dream and forces a revelation of his own character. Fever broken and enlightenment partially achieved, Roy and Kori do enter the realm of the All and find Jason. Only, Jason doesn’t remember them — or anyone — because he asked S’aru to remove all of his memories.
Jason was in need of a reboot, for sure. The zero issue suggested that, not only did Joker kill him, but Joker was responsible for every mundanely crummy thing about his life, from his father’s absenteeism to his mother’s overdose. Jason had been doing his best to deal with the darkness in his life with meditation and occasionally too-violent crime fighting, but this truth (or even possible truth) was just too much for him. Similarly, I felt like I needed a Jason Todd reboot: I love the character, but it’s been personally heartbreaking to see him toil away in this rudderless, and frequently outrageous, series. But the thought of Jason losing all of his memories is too much for me, just as it appears to be too much for Roy. The teaser line at the end of this issue promises us time with “the all new Jason Todd” with the same sadistic glee that normally forecasts some kind of death and destruction.
I could easily chatter on about what this could mean for the future of this series, and what it would mean to maybe take Jason out of the spotlight for a while, but the meat of this issue is really about Roy Harper – Arsenal. Roy’s hardships are unique on this team in that his are realistic. I know, I know, suspension of disbelief and all that – I still find the recovering junkie more relatable than the former alien-slave-princess or the twice-resurrected-former-Robin. Lobdell had treated Roy’s past like a footnote, never digging much deeper than to mention that, yes, this version of the character is still “Speedy.” New series author James Tynion doesn’t seem content to let this dimension of the character go unexplored – not only do we get that fever dream / All Caste vision, Roy states the writer’s intention outright:
Artist Julius Gopez has an almost Gary Frank-esque touch with faces and his nuanced acting caries a lot of the emotional weight of this issue. The action is a little less engaging than I’d like (there’s a fight with a dinosaur that, save for this parenthetical mention, I’m not going to write about), but that just means that the focus is forced to stay on these characters and how fragile they all really are. There’s also this bewitching sequence from Roy’s dream, and I can’t tell if it’s the repetitive art that makes it so striking or just the abstract concept of being berated by everyone you ever disappointed. Either way, bravo.
Spencer, you’ve written about some of those crummy Red Hood issues with us before, what kept you coming back to them? Does the thought of Jason rebooting his memory thrill you or terrify you? Also, what happened to Essence when Roy burped her out?Spencer: Personally, I think that Essence went to take a shower. In all seriousness though, I read all that business with Essence different than you did. See, I don’t think Essence was trying to help the Outlaws find the Acres of All—I think she tried to dissuade them from going at all. I don’t think she helped Roy through his fever dream—I think she caused it. I reread her conversation with Ducra and it’s slightly ambiguous, but she does say that “a dream is more than enough to shatter a man.” Also, at the issue’s open, she masquerades as an old woman and warns the Outlaws of the difficulties and danger of seeking out the Acres of All.
That pretty clearly says to me that Essence is trying to dissuade the Outlaws from seeking out Jason. But why? Does she have insidious plans, or is she genuinely concerned about Roy and Kori’s lives? For once, I’m actually interested in whatever Essence is up to.
You’re right that previous issues of Red Hood became a slog, Patrick—but at its best it was just plain fun, a series with an irreverent sense of humor and a few surprisingly tender moments of emotion. I feel like James Tynion IV knows this, but instead of just throwing jokes into a “plot” full of mindless action, he built the entire issue around these strengths. This book is nonstop funny from beginning to end, and grounded by the very real emotional struggles of Jason and Roy.
Tynion surprised me with the direction he took, actually. When new writers take over established books, they generally follow one of two paths: Either they can get rid of all the baggage and start from scratch—like Jeff Lemire on Green Arrow—or try to remain as faithful to the past as possible—like Christy Marx on Birds of Prey. When it came to Red Hood I fully expected the former to happen, mainly because I always thought that the All-Caste was a weird concept for Jason anyway. He’s a street level vigilante, not a sci-fi kung-fu hero. Instead, Tynion subverted my expectations and kept the All-Caste around in a major way.
I’m okay with that, though, because now they aren’t the center of the plot; the All-Caste is just here to bring Roy and Jason’s inner demons to life. It’s a rather brilliant way to explore the Outlaws’ issues; seeing Roy take on his guilt is much more exciting when his guilt has been made into an actual, tangible threat, and when it comes to running from ones’ past, I don’t think anyone will ever be able to top Jason actually giving his up entirely. It saddens me to see Jason like this too, but I’m not overly worried; we know from experience that S’aru can return the memories he takes. In the meantime, the places this new Jason Todd can go are endless, and he’s got his friends by his side no matter where he ends up.
While she didn’t get as much attention as the boys, I am thrilled with the characterization of Starfire in this issue. Scott Lobdell usually portrayed Kori as aloof and distant, completely contrary to her 30+ year history. The heart of Starfire’s character has always been her love and enthusiasm, the way she feels so strongly that she can’t keep her emotions in check. While Tynion’s Kori isn’t quite that bombastic, it was great to see her actually emotionally invested in her surroundings again. She treats the grandmother/Essence with kindness and respect, her affection for Roy is genuine and not just sexual (where beforehand she almost treated him like a pet at times), and when she thinks that Jason is blowing her and Roy off, she confronts him with a level of passion that we haven’t seen from her since before the reboot. It feels wonderful to have one of my favorite characters portrayed in such a positive way again.
Oh, and did I mention that she’s funny? She had all the best lines.
I wish I was as fond of the art as you are though, Patrick. I do agree with all the compliments you paid Julius Gopez’s work, and it’s growing on me more with each reread, but I guess I just feel like this title needs art that’s a little brighter, more dynamic—honestly, I just really miss Kenneth Rocafort. Still, the only legitimate complaint I have with the art, besides taste, comes down to some very “off” faces.
Gopez’s faces just seem a little too elastic for such realistic artwork, but I’m betting that they’ll get more consistent as he spends more time on the book.
Still, overall, the art is only a tiny quibble. I am just so happy with this issue. From the moment Red Hood and the Outlaws was announced I knew it had the potential to be great, and what we got this month was, at long last, everything I had ever hoped the book could be. If Tynion can keep this quality up every month, I can easily see it becoming one of my favorite comics; for now, I can finally recommend it without a single ounce of hesitation.
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?