Review: Red Hood/Arsenal Vol. 2: Dancing with the Devil's Daughter trade paperback (DC Comics)

In the immediate aftermath of the "Joker cut off his own face" craze, the new Joker's Daughter seemed a viable antagonist, but a few bad stories — including tying her to a swords and sorcery world underneath Gotham — quickly dampened that possibility. Since that time, Joker's Daughter has popped up hither and yon, usually to fill whatever needs the story has at the moment, a one-note deranged presence or a poor man's Harley Quinn. Scott Lobdell's apparent fascination with the character — using her in Red Hood/Arsenal and then that she's forthcoming in Lobdell's already-controversial Nightwing run — didn't necessarily seem to be doing him favors.

But once again, reading is believing, and once again another of Lobdell's "Red Hood" books does that trick where it pulls success from seeming banality. There's a few places where Lobdell's DC You-era Red Hood/Arsenal Vol. 2: Dancing with the Devil's Daughter threatens to go off the rails, but some good planning and some really, really sharp thinking about these characters puts it all back on track again. If Lobdell doesn't quite totally redeem Joker's Daughter as a character to watch, he at least demonstrates he can do something interesting with her, and I'm eager now to see how he uses her subsequently in Nightwing.

[Review contains spoilers]

That Jason Todd saw something of himself in Duela, the so-called Joker's Daughter, was apparent in Lobdell's previous volume, Red Hood/Arsenal Vol. 1: Open for Business — Duela, a lost and mistreated teen just like Jason once was. Maybe I'm slow on the uptake, but it was not until Lobdell made it explicit here that I understood their other connection — that if Duela is the "Joker's daughter," then Jason is his son, created by the Joker (if you believe Lobdell's Jokerized version of things) and wearing the Joker's former namesake.

In essence, both Duela and Jason wear a version of the Joker on their faces; the Joker is responsible for each of their current iterations. That makes Joker's Daughter much more interesting, at least placed in partnership with or opposition to Red Hood. And taking it further, Duela can be seen here as a kind of Joker's Robin or anti-Robin; it's unlikely her interactions with Dick Grayson will crackle quite the same as her interactions with Jason, but there's still surely a way to play Duela and any of the Robins as two sides of the same coin.

Dancing appears to get a little silly when Lobdell introduces Iron Rule, a seemingly forgettable, 1990s inspired group of "extreme" mercenaries working for Charon, part of the equally over-the-top Gotham Underground. But things start to work better the more Lobdell ties up the threads, revealing Iron Rule as the resurrection of a former team Arsenal Roy Harper thought he killed when they disobeyed his orders and went rogue. And just when Iron Rule's presence seems too coincidental, Lobdell further reveals that Joker's Daughter has been behind it all along in a bid to take out Arsenal and then Jason, trying to permanently kill the Robin that her father could not.

That's a darn good long game on Lobdell's part, to start with. Second, Lobdell parlays it all into a clever meta-take on Joker's killing of Jason in Death in the Family, and the suspense ramps up considerably when artist Joe Bennett comes on and the action gets a little gory. No one is concerned, I don't think, that Jason or Roy are going to die, but it gets tense at the end when Jason seems primed to slaughter Iron Rule a second time and Roy begs for mercy, and it's questionable whether any of them or Joker's Daughter or Roy and Jason's ally Tara will make it out alive. I hadn't given much thought to Jason and Roy's relationship and why they weren't working together in Rebirth and so I was surprised to see them part ways; the final scene rightly demonstrates the intimacy between these two star-crossed friends.

The book finishes with a five-page backup and then the Red Hood and the Outlaws: Rebirth special. The backup, drawn by Bennett in the animated style of Mike Parobeck, is apparently the story of Jason and Roy's first meeting as Robin and Speedy, and it's cute and emotional given their breakup just pages before. I thought it was non-continuity (and a little confusing, since there's no note included to designate it as such), but on second read it does seem to jibe with Roy already knowing Dick Grayson through the Titans, so maybe Lobdell does mean for this to be taken as fact; I'm not about to go dig up my New 52 Red Hood and the Outlaws trades but we'll assume it works.

Some Rebirth specials have seemed out of place tacked on at the end of their respective Rebirth series, but Red Hood and the Outlaws: Rebirth works well as an epilogue (and Lobdell continuing on probably helps). And indeed there's no "and the Outlaws" material here, but rather just an establishment of Jason off on his own on a mission of questionable morality. This helps the Rebirth special feel of a piece with Red Hood/Arsenal more than if new Outlaws Artemis and Bizarro appeared; obviously the hope is that readers keep going to the next book, but if one wanted to view this as an ending (or at least a good ending to this particular volume), it could be.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Red Hood/Arsenal Vol. 2: Dancing with the Devil's Daughter

Everywhere Red Hood/Arsenal Vol. 2: Dancing with the Devil's Daughter seems to go wrong, it goes right again by the end, and whatever one thinks of the whole of Scott Lobdell's work, he's long since proven he's got a handle on Red Hood Jason Todd, if not also Arsenal. Some strong work with the unlikely Joker's Daughter is a feather in his cap, too. I've heard only good things about Lobdell's Rebirth Red Hood and the Outlaws, recently become Red Hood: Outlaw; I'm eager to get started on that.

[Includes original and variant covers; cover sketches]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Red Hood/Arsenal Vol. 2: Dancing with the Devil's Daughter
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)


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