Review: Red Hood and the Outlaws Vol. 3: Death of the Family trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, December 09, 2013

Red Hood and the Outlaws Vol. 3: Death of the Family is a very Jason Todd-centered trade, and since Jason is the strongest part of writer Scott Lobdell's Red Hood series, that's a good thing. Though Lobdell is still in origin-telling mode (after last volume's spotlight on Starfire), the twist he offers on Jason's origin is good enough -- and told so cleverly -- as to make it wholly worthwhile. Alongside Batgirl and Batman and Robin, this is a "Death of the Family" tie-in that distinguishes itself well, and it's a shame that one of this title's strongest volumes should be Lobdell's last on the series.

[Review contains spoilers]

Lobdell's biggest bombshell comes in the middle of the very first chapter, the Zero Month issue: that the Joker specifically manipulated events so that Jason Todd would become Robin, and so that the Joker could kill him. It's a claim almost too preposterous to believe, even for comics, but Lobdell backs himself up well with a kind of cracked mirror story that shows events first from Jason's perspective, and then from the Joker's. That's clever enough to sell it, but it also adds a brilliant level to Jason going forward in that he's the figurative "son" now of both Batman and the Joker (not unlike the pre-Flashpoint Kon-El taking DNA from both Superman and Lex Luthor). What Lobdell has not yet revealed is why Jason chose the Red Hood moniker (I'm not sure if anyone has touched on this, including Judd Winick's original Under the Hood), but the fact that Jason "owes his life" to the Joker gives the Red Hood choice additional meaning.

Lobdell's "Death of the Family" Joker speaks a bit too on-the-nose, spouting outright his theories about the Bat-family where Scott Snyder makes it more circumspect, as if Lobdell gave the Joker the official DC Bat-office "Death of the Family" party line. Lobdell's claim about the Joker and Jason also pushes the boundaries of Snyder's claim that the Joker does not know the Bat-family's identities; perhaps the Joker sends Jason to Leslie Thompkins because he perceives some connection to Batman, not Bruce Wayne, but it's equally easy to argue the other way. Still, Lobdell has the Joker's crazy down pat, especially in the forced Red Robin/Red Hood grudge match and the revenge the Joker exacts on Jason later. This "Death" tie-in wasn't as fraught as the Batgirl one, but it still handily entertained.

Some prescience (or good planning) went into this trade, in that even though only two of the issues collected here are official "Death of the Family" tie-in issues (plus the Teen Titans crossover), all of it, from the Zero Month issue to the end, feels genuinely "Death" (or at least Joker)-related. The aforementioned Teen Titans crossover works especially well given that Lobdell has written both books from the beginning; the Red Robin/Red Hood team-up, though a Teen Titans issue, could be read almost just as easily as a Red Hood issue.

Indeed as sole writer of Red Robin Tim Drake and Red Hood Jason Todd, Lobdell introduces a new paradigm in the Bat-mythos; one where Tim Drake and original Robin Dick Grayson are not so close, and it's Jason and Tim who are akin to brothers. Of course the Batman or Nightwing writers might contradict this, not to mention that Lobdell gives up that ownership of Jason after this volume, but portraying Jason and Tim as the kind of "black sheep" sons of the Bat-family endears them both to the reader. Of course, those who like their Bat-family cozy will find much to enjoy at the end of this volume, in which Jason reconciles with Bruce and is welcomed back to the Bat-fold. As is his right, Lobdell lets his characters ride off into the sunset with this ending, despite that it's an almost immediate contradiction of Snyder's "Death of the Family" ending.

Though Outlaws Arsenal and Starfire don't get as much screen-time this outing, Lobdell gives them both significant moments. The first New 52 meeting of the Teen Titans and the Outlaws is notable in and of itself given how connected these characters were pre-Flashpoint, but also Lobdell demonstrates shades of Arsenal's old self in how he assumes a leadership role in the group. And while Lobdell hasn't yet delved completely into Starfire's past history with Nightwing, he offered some new insights here in scenes with both characters.

The final issue in this collection is meant to be a "Requiem" tie-in, though Damian Wayne remains very much alive through the end of these pages. Jason and Damian have been historic enemies going back to Battle for the Cowl, and Lobdell ties this up well, too, contrasting the characters and even bringing Jason and Damian's continuity between Red Hood and Batman, Inc. in line. The best moment is when Arsenal tries to play catch with Damian, who's hilariously unfamiliar with the concept; if this precious moment is the Red Hood title's only farewell to Damian, it's a good one.

I'm not sure this series ever found its groove; though enjoyable, it was never about anything necessarily. Red Hood and the Outlaws Vol. 3: Death of the Family was the title's strongest volume yet, however (marred only by too many artists of varying quality), and it's too bad to lose Scott Lobdell just when things were on the up. Here's hoping the new team has as good a sense of these characters, especially Jason Todd, as Lobdell did.

[Includes original covers, sketchbook section]

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