Bad to the bone, but not really.
Scott Lobdell (W), Dexter Soy (A), Veronica Gandini (C)
Cover by: Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, and Dean White
Publisher: DC Comics
The story of Jason Todd in the New 52 has been…maligned, to say the least. From that wrong-headed and desperately edgy start, it has been a book that has certainly struggled to keep a reader base. That’s always been a disappointment to me. I like Jason Todd as the Red Hood. He’s definitely my second favorite son of Batman (after Dick Grayson of course), and I think a story about this angry and lost acolyte of the Dark Knight could be really interesting. When you have a teacher as notoriously hard and distant as Bruce Wayne, I feel the “drop-outs” are as interesting as the graduates. What can I say? Between Jason and Bucky, I really like the forgotten sons.
I read issues of Red Hood and the Outlaws here and there, particularly the Ras al Ghul story arc (I really like him, plus it was cool seeing Cheshire and Bronze Tiger). I wasn’t wowed by it, but it wasn’t as bad as the book had been reported. I still think that “let’s have Starfire bang everybody” beginning was dumb, but the book looked like it had found its footing since then.
I also checked out the first issue of Red Hood and Arsenal when that started. That was a really cool first issue, and it seemed like it was going to lead into a really fun series. I wasn’t able to continue reading it, but I definitely plan on getting it in trades.
So, where does this fresh start put Jason Todd and his band of rogues? Well, let’s find out.
Firstly, I will say that if you were expecting to see a lot of Bizarro or Fury in this issue, you will be sorely disappointed. This comic is all about the Red Hood.
The book starts out with a flashback to the first time Jason met the Batman, that notorious story of the young orphan stealing wheels off of the Batmobile. He’s caught, and Bruce gives him a meal. It runs through some of his training and then shows an instance where Jason saves the Bat from Two-Face and then beats Dent within an inch of his life before being stopped by Bruce.
It then goes into the present with Jason as the Red Hood barreling through a line of police to get to the mayor of Gotham City, and he threatens him with a gun. He’s interrupted by the Batman, of course, and the two engage in a fight. Jason manages to pacify him long enough to finish his job of shooting the mayor.
From there, you watch Jason sitting at a seedy bar where he is congratulated on his attack on the mayor. The bartender warns Red Hood about the previous user of that name, and it flashes back to his death at the hands of the Joker then his revival and return later on. He’s also approached by a mysterious member of Black Mask’s False Face Society who gives him an invitation.
The story concludes at Jason’s hideout, where he is visited again by Batman. Bruce asks Jason why all the pomp and circumstance when all he was doing was sedating the officers and curing the mayor of a techno-organic virus in his system. Jason tells Bruce about a plan to infiltrate Gotham’s underworld. Batman gives Red Hood permission to continue his operation but tells him that he’ll be after him if he takes a single life. After this, there is one final heartfelt flashback to Jason as Robin taking a photo with Batman for Alfred.
I usually wait until I’ve finished talking about the writing to discuss the art. However, the quality of the art here prompts me to move it ahead in line. I really dig the art of this book. It balances stylism with photorealism. Every scene is very detailed, and many panels are awe-striking. Batman is often depicted as something more than human. When he first appears in the present, he looms over Jason, looking more like shadow than man. His cape looks like it’s trying to consume the Red Hood. The iconic scene of Batman cradling Jason’s dead body is recreated, and it is easily the best depiction of this moment that I have seen since the original from Death in the Family.
The coloring coordinates with the art style perfectly. The darker tones match all the shadow. The color and ink make the comic thoroughly gorgeous.
As you can tell, there is a lot of recap in this issue. I didn’t really mind it, as all of it was told from Jason’s perspective. You don’t often see that. This information is mostly told from Batman’s perspective or by a third-person omniscient narrator. The flashbacks are also weaved really well into the story. It didn’t slow the pacing, and it all worked very well.
That being said, it does make the book mostly story you may have heard before. It brings a different narration to the table, but it doesn’t bring much in the way of new story.
However, I really did like the inside perspective from Jason. He has a unique voice. He’s still angry, but he’s trying to hold it down. He is a bit smarmy, but he’s also a very unsure of himself. This book does him justice by fleshing him out as a character.
The weakest part of the book is the story in the present. It moves quickly, but it still has a couple of holes. Jason very theatrically attacks the mayor’s speech to establish some sort of presence as a rogue of Gotham. However, he non-lethally pacifies the police, and he only tranquilizes the mayor. It seems like the people he’s trying to impress with these actions would be suspicious of these unusual tactics.
I’m not saying that it’s within Jason’s character to brutally murder police officers or public officials. I also understand that he’s trying to bring himself back from the brink. However, it just seems that this illusion would be shattered before too long. All it really did was cause a conflict with Batman, which could have been avoided with a short talk beforehand.
I can see a myriad of explanations as to why this was the case, but the story didn’t explain them itself well enough. As a result, I have to count off points for that.
That being said, I’m still glad I picked up this book. It’s not the best comic ever, but it was a solid issue. It’s quick, action-packed, and has some good character moments. If this story or the Red Hood in general interests you, you will enjoy it. If you’re looking for something with Punisher-level grittiness like the series has tried in the past, you won’t find it here. However, I can still recommend it, so give it a try.
Final Score: 7/10