Today, Spencer and Drew are discussing Red Hood and the Outlaws 20, originally released May 15th, 2013.
Spencer: Our past can be a burden, but it can also be a gift, and while some things are out of our control, most of what determines how we view our past is how we learn from our mistakes, live with our regrets, and learn to forge on. For Red Hood, Arsenal, and Starfire, their past falls into both camps; a shared history of tragedy is what initially drew these three together and cemented their friendship, but their own inability to reconcile their pasts and find a way to deal might just end up driving the Outlaws apart instead.
Tired of dealing with his dark past, Jason Todd returns to the All-Caste and asks S’aru to remove the offending memories — instead, Jason’s mind is wiped clean, and Roy is pissed about it. Roy and Kori try to convince S’aru to return the memories, but he rebuts by making them live through Jason’s darkest moments and poking holes in their coping mechanisms; in particular, he reveals that Starfire has been lying about her faulty memory, and has actually been repressing particularly painful moments from her past. This turns Roy violent, and S’aru kicks all three of them out of the Acres of All. Essence worries that the Outlaws won’t be able to survive upcoming threats, but Ducra and S’aru assure her that everything is going according to plan. Meanwhile, Green Arrow discovers the bounties on the Outlaws’ heads and decides to pay his former protégé a visit.
All-in-all, this issue isn’t quite as entertaining as last months’; its strongest element, the humor, is missing entirely. Writer James Tynion IV has mentioned that these two issues were originally written as one uninterrupted story, and I can see that. It’s a shame they weren’t printed that way, because I think it would have benefitted the pacing for both parts to be read together. It doesn’t help that much of the issue is devoted to an argument between Roy and S’aru that doesn’t really have a right or wrong answer and is never actually resolved; it starts to feel like the issue is just spinning its wheels after a while.
Still, this two-issue story provides a strong blueprint for the series’ future. There’s new mysteries and enemies, but more importantly, a new goal: if the Outlaws are going to move forward, they’re going to have to learn how to deal with their pasts, cause their current coping mechanisms just aren’t working anymore.
Roy, for example, has coped almost solely because of the friendship he’s found with Jason and Kori. With those bonds slowly falling apart — and Roy seemingly helpless to do anything about it — can he hold it together, or will he crack under the pressure?
Then there’s Jason. With his memories gone he actually seems to have peace for possibly the first time in his life, but it can’t last. He’s been thrown into a situation he doesn’t understand, with friends he doesn’t know, and is being pursued by enemies he doesn’t even remember. That can’t end well. I worry that Jason’s going to wind up buried under just as much trauma as before, but without the support system to bear it.
Starfire, meanwhile, has been purposely not dealing with her past, repressing painful memories and pretending that she can’t form connections at all to stop from getting hurt. I was particularly impressed by this reveal; no, not just impressed, thrilled. Last month I went off on a tangent about how Scott Lobdell’s take on Kori was contradictory to everything the character had ever stood for, about how Kori was a character full of love and affection and connections and big emotions, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Tynion parrot almost my exact thoughts right back at me:
The idea that Kori’s emotions are so intense that they could destroy her is a fascinating one because it’s so in-character for the old Starfire, yet it easily explains how she could have become this detached shell of herself that we’ve been reading about for the last 20 issues. Tynion displays an almost Geoff Johns-ian level of character restoration here, using story elements already in-play to explain out-of-character actions and course-correct them. I am so happy to see sparks of the old Starfire I know and love start shining through again, and look forward to more steps in the right direction with this character.
Tynion is also mining these characters’ pasts for some exciting guest stars. The teenage heroes in the New 52 haven’t been particularly well defined, and the Outlaws specifically suffer from murky pasts. Bringing in Green Arrow is a welcome first step to fleshing out more of the history between DC’s young heroes (and their mentors!), and I also look forward to seeing what Ollie brings out of Roy as a character—be it good or bad.
Then there’s the mercenaries from Jason’s past. While I had to dig pretty deep to recognize some of these characters, one is so significant that she leapt right out at me.
This is Cheshire’s first appearance in the New 52, but before the reboot she was a well-known Teen Titans villain (who actually defeated Starfire in hand-to-hand combat in her first appearance), and she was a particularly huge figure in the life of Roy Harper. It should be a lot of fun to see if history repeats itself with these two.
Still, this issue made me realize that the guest star I really want to see stop by for a while is Nightwing. Dick plays such a big role in the past of all three Outlaws that it would undoubtedly be a fascinating appearance.
So Drew, what say you? Are you interested in how the Outlaws’ pasts keep coming back to bite them, or are you ready to move onto something else? Any idea what the All-Caste is planning? Their plan’s dangerously close to being “Guardians of the Universe”-level manipulative, and that’s always a bad sign.
Drew: It’s interesting — as “outlaws,” they all necessarily have messy pasts, or at least, pasts that they have to answer for. That’s a strong theme, but I’m not sure it will serve as the theme for the series as a whole. To me, this two-parter is as much about Tynion’s relationship to this title’s history as it is about the characters. In one fell swoop, he managed to reverse the treatment of Kori, offer a (potential) out for any of Lobdell’s Joker-meddling in Jason’s past, and reassured us of Roy’s commitment to the team. The first two are clearly working to undo the precedent Lobdell had set on this title, but the Roy bit is endearingly in line with this series as a whole. Indeed, I think the theme (at least for the next arc) is going to be all about the strength of friendship — and that’s both the “teamwork” and “personal support network” kind of strength.
This series has always used Roy as comic relief, but I’ve often been impressed with how much dignity Lobdell managed to give him — even when he was saying really dumb stuff. Tynion picks up that balancing act without missing a beat, giving Roy some of the most wrenching emotional moments in the issue, all while wearing S’aru’s “dunce” cap.
It’s really Roy’s turn for the focus — we’ve spent A LOT of time focusing on Jason, and even Kori had that arc set on her home planet, but we really don’t know anything about Roy in the New 52. Bringing Green Arrow in for a guest spot is a brilliant, natural way to explore Roy’s past, and I couldn’t be more excited for it.
In that way, it’s actually kind of a shame that Tynion had to clean up the mythologies of Jason and Kori — we’re only 21 issues into this title, but characters are already being mind-wiped in order to hit the reset button. Don’t get me wrong — I absolutely understand the utility (and hell, necessity) of readjusting Kori and Jason as they had been written — I just think it’s too bad that Tynion had to use his first arc for this kind of housekeeping.
That said, it looks like the machinations here go far beyond our trio of outlaws, and I really have no idea what Ducra’s game could be. I originally thought Essence was just being protective of the Acres of All when she tried to prevent Roy and Kori from finding it in issue 19, but it’s clear now that she may have actually been trying to protect them. I’m not really sure why these nigh-immortal beings should take such an interest in our rag-tag group of misfits, but Tynion has certainly piqued my curiosity with Ducra’s plan.
Spencer, you’re absolutely right: as stand-alones, these past two issues aren’t the strongest, but taken together, they suggest a strong direction for this series moving forward. Tynion may not have been able to get right down to the story he wanted to tell, but he’s clearly demonstrated that his priorities are right in line. I think we can expect great things from this series moving forward — and we hopefully won’t need this kind of reset again for a long, long time.
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