Review: Red Hood and the Outlaws Vol. 6: Lost and Found trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Red Hood and the Outlaws Vol. 6: Lost and Found is a good example why there's such a dichotomy between public perception of this title versus those who actually read the book. Outside, the Ed Benes cover depicts Starfire splayed suggestively across a sports car, breasts in the air, while her male compatriots post superheroically alongside. Inside is a gripping Scott Lobdell story that spotlights Starfire almost entirely, examining her long fight against slavery and bringing her to a wrenching choice between justice and vengeance, not to be missed by Starfire fans.

The Benes covers to issue Red Hood #32 (used as the cover of this book) and #33 don't reflect the plot of the story inside, while the cover to issue #34 by Ken Lashley and Hi-Fi, part three of the three-part story, does. This suggests to me that Benes's work were index covers, pressed into action in this book's switch between creative teams and probably with no input from Lobdell. Ironically, any number of articles online dismiss the book as a whole without referencing the story itself, based solely on the issue #32 cover and Lobdell's (purposeful, I think, but perhaps inartful) early portrayals of Starfire. In this way it's easy to see why Red Hood and the Outlaws gets no respect regardless of what's happening between its covers.

[Review contains spoilers]

I found DC Comics's New 52 Secret Origins series a tad disjointed for my tastes (I'm not the audience for a primer on DC's publishing line), but a couple times I've seen the series used well in conjunction with a regular series, and here is such a time. Lost and Found collects Starfire's and Red Hood's Secret Origins stories, which are self-contained and easily dismissible as filler; the Starfire story, however, comes back shockingly and tragically in the end, such that as a whole package Lost and Found emerges as deceptively well put together in the final tally (cover notwithstanding).

I imagine there's much here some Starfire fans might not appreciate, including that Koriand'r had been a drug addict while enslaved and that after a particularly gruesome reminder of those days, she turns to drugs again. But in Lobdell confronting Starfire's forced slavery, the drug addiction seems wholly realistic (more realistic than I think many writers have treated Starfire's slavery), and her falling off the wagon caps off a harrowing sequence where Starfire almost murders one of her former captors.

The tone of the three issues put me immediately in mind of Gail Simone's original Secret Six run. That Starfire turns back to drugs might upset some precisely, I think, because it's Starfire, whereas similar bad turns by Catman, Deadshot, Scandal, Jeanette, or the others might seem less shocking and more story-appropriate. Indeed I think Starfire throwing herself at Arsenal in this book's early issues grates because it's long-time DC hero Starfire and not Jeanette propositioning Deadshot (which, I'm pretty sure, happened). Indeed, Lobdell's only-half-kidding suggestion of a Red Hood/Arsenal/Starfire threesome is scandalous precisely because these are three former Teen Titans, whereas the same with Catman, Deadshot, and Jeanette might've been par for Secret Six's course.

Further proof of Lost and Found's artfulness, and that it can't be dismissed so easily, is found in issue #33 devoting half its pages to a Starfire flashback that's only thematically, not overtly, related to the story as a whole. This issue too has a Benes cover that's not as egregiously sexual as the first, but by dint of the characters' costumes has Starfire leading with her chest while the others lead with their weapons. Inside, however, Lobdell offers the pilot for what could be its own series, as Starfire travels the universe ostensibly on a Tamaranean goodwill tour, but actually to free slaves as part of a galactic "underground railroad." Again, Lobdell offers some good dimension to Starfire's story here, but I imagine the very audience who might appreciate it might be too put off by exterior factors to find it.

Art for these issues is by RB Silva, Lobdell's collaborator on early Superboy issues. Though Silva's work has a less detailed and more animated aesthetic than previous series artist Kenneth Rocafort, there's still some angular similarity between the two that makes Silva "fit" here, and Silva excels especially in the various aliens depicted. Certainly Silva's open work, and Matt Yackey's bright colors, are an improvement over the relatively dark art by Julius Gopez back in Red Hood and the Outlaws Vol. 4: League of Assassins.

Lost and Found wraps up with the Red Hood and the Outlaws Annual #2, which unfortunately probably isn't going to endear the book to anyone either, being a weird Christmas story involving de-aged Outlaws and a killer Santa. What redeems this issue for me is that I noticed, again, way back in that Secret Origins story, that Starfire never learned the identity of one of her captors, and the annual ends with Red Hood face to face with him. There's very interesting contrast in that Red Hood Jason Todd works so hard one issue before to keep Kori from killing one of her tormentors, but that he hesitates not at all to do so here himself. I very much hope that this comes to the fore in the next volume, as well as Arsenal and Starfire recognizing their mutual history of substance abuse. I also absolutely love that Lobdell won't let the New 52's abandoned Daemonite/Lord Helspont storyline die even after the rest of the DCU has given it up.

In the spirit of Outsiders and Secret Six, Red Hood and the Outlaws Vol. 6: Lost and Found impressed me, a fantastic return to the title by Scott Lobdell. I'm eager for the next volume, the conclusion of this iteration of the series, and I'm glad DC has kept this title going into "Rebirth." One look at that cover, though, and it's clear how much this title has surmounted to keep on plugging; I hope this review series entices more readers to take a look at what's inside, too.

[Includes original and variant covers, issue pencils]
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6 comments:

  1. I'm glad you liked it, well I wouldn't even have minded if you didn't because you always give an honest opinion.

    So many people were criticizing this without even reading the story. I could understand if you don't like a story line (like Starfire and her addiction as you mentioned), but I'm really tired of people just complaining about how Starfire being such a sexual character is bad and therefore dismiss the possibility that the story can be good(Do I even have to go into Starfire in the '80s Teen Titans stories?).

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  2. So, as someone who hasn't experienced these three characters in a comic before would this series be a good introduction or should I start with their older stories?

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    1. Anything you need to know about the characters will be told in the series. Any of the older stories will be pre-flashpoint and in this case not that much carried over.

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  3. Scott Lobdell isn't the horrible writer the Internet portrays him to be, and I think he was born to write RHatO. I'm looking forward to the his Rebirth version, with Artemis and Bizarro, when it appears in trade.

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  4. Wow, thanks for the detailed review! -- and, for the comments above mine. I recall seeing a lot of annoyance at Lobdell from much more rage-y and less objective sites than this one; but, I absolutely loved his characterization of Jason Todd in the recent Red Hood "Rebirth" issue, and definitely want to check out some of his previous work on the character now.
    -Mike

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  5. I don't think there's really that much of a divide between public perception and how the book really is. Even going past Starfire's intial tone-deaf portrayal, there's just a lot of really bad dialogue and overnarration. I don't know if Lobdell uses the Marvel method or not, but there is a lot of awkward dialogue where the writer is just telling readers what's being shown on the page either through internal monologue or through characters telling each other. I also notice that a lot of the character work comes from flashbacks, rather than through present day storylines, which gets, gets obstructive. It gets a little better with the Rebirth series, but that series is still in its infancy, and hasn't introduced the team outside of Jason yet.

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