Review: Red Hood: Outlaw Vol. 4: Unspoken Truths trade paperback (DC Comics)

Such a strange comic Red Hood: Outlaw (nee Red Hood and the Outlaws, and temporarily Red Hood/Arsenal) has been. It suffers — oh, does it suffer — from sometimes-problematic writing, from art that leans toward prurience even when the story leans toward grace. And yet, it is just so hard to dismiss this book out of hand, when Red Hood: Outlaw Vol. 4: Unspoken Truths takes a scene with the ill-conceived, misused Joker’s Daughter and “Pup Pup,” the book’s bizarre sentient stuffed Superman toy, and manages to make it so, so poignant.

Over 10 years, Scott Lobdell has written Red Hood Jason Todd almost nonstop, and given Jason a backstory and depth of character that most writers overlook. Again, this book is devoutly not without problems, but I fear based on upcoming solicitations that Jason is bound to become a video game-esque superhero, all toughness and guns and antagonizing Batman at every turn. Not that Red Hood: Outlaw didn’t also have that, but we always knew Lobdell posited Jason as someone loyal to his friends, and also who skirted the criminal element not because of inherent “badness” but because he had a more nuanced view of why people do what they do (hence friendships, for instance, with Joker’s Daughter or the “villain” Bizarro). I’m concerned Jason will get less interesting without Lobdell as DC moves him toward a more one-dimensional, easily digestible portrayal.

[Review contains spoilers]

There is nothing particularly wrong with the story that finishes out this final volume of Red Hood: Outlaw. Jason and his Outlaws Artemis and Bizarro encounter more of the Untitled, a demonic group that Jason fought after his resurrection as part of the All Caste, and venture to a mystic dimension to stop them (and, after a fashion, also to stop Trigon). This ties to some of Red Hood and the Outlaws earliest stories, and also the multi-dimensional nature of the story allows Lobdell to briefly team Outlaws new and old (being Starfire and Arsenal Roy Harper). That’s as appropriate a final Outlaws story as anything, plus the way Lobdell parlays a Batman Vol. 2: The Joker War tie-in issue into the Joker’s Daughter-focused finale that ties up some threads from the Red Hood/Arsenal series.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

My quibbles, therefore, may be middling, but I’ll mention them nonetheless. In the span of two issues, there’s two instances of characters insulting one another by calling each other “chowderheads.” Perhaps this was a real zinger in Lobdell’s heyday (though, perhaps not), but it seems lame here-and-now in a book starring the Bat-family’s darkest Robin and it makes Lobdell’s writing feel dated (and where are the book’s editors?). I’m pleased to see Justice League International character General Glory here, though Lobdell’s transformation of a humorous character into a gruff, serious one is an odd choice.

Even more problematic in Unspoken Truths is the art. It’s good to see ChrisCross but his style is wrong for the opening chapters of the book, with characters taking on dead-eyed stares; basically, when the book needs it most (or not, since it’s cancelled), it doesn’t look as good as most mainstream books on the market. There’s something wrong too with many of the title and logo pages, which are exceptionally plain. Artist Paolo Pantalena draws most of the book and has the benefit of looking like original Outlaws artist Kenneth Rocafort, but often with over-drawn faces and a tendency to put detailed depictions of the female characters' derrieres prominently in the frame. For a series that’s been criticized for its exploitative tendencies throughout its run, more of the same doesn’t help. (Brett Booth, on the other hand, is in particularly good, controlled form in the “Joker War” tie-in issue.)

Those concerns aside, again the main story that brings together figures from throughout the 10 years is a good one, and the finale issue #50 is nigh spectacular. It’s fair to call the Red Hood series sometimes rushed, even juvenile, but there’s always been a sense of heart underneath. Here simultaneously we see Jason Todd healing Duela Dent, the Joker’s Daughter — a character whose struggles, Lobdell smartly recognized, paralleled Jason’s own — and also realizing he’s ready to stand on his own, saying good-bye to his friends one by one. When Artemis debuted, Jason was still devoutly dead; that almost 30 years later these two characters should pair in a title together so naturally is part of that very ineffable magic of long-running comics universes.

In fairness, this conclusion is not seamless. It seems clear Lobdell did not have all the time he wanted, given the “Generation Outlaw” children that are present even here but gain no real ending. Further, Jason’s sometime-girlfriend Isabel, infinitely patient, deserves more than to allow her body to be taken over by the All Caste warrior Essence with no indication whether Isabel ever got out again. Also, the 50th issue cover shows Simon “Crux” Amal, an early Outlaw enemy-turned-teammate, whom I hoped Lobdell would also be able to work in but who does not ultimately appear here. (Too bad Lobdell’s character Doomed barely gets any dialogue here either.)



Among a variety of controversies both real and misunderstood, that the various iterations of Red Hood and the Outlaws lasted as long as it did might be miraculous, and maybe it’s time to quit while we’re ahead. Red Hood: Outlaw Vol. 4: Unspoken Truths is a plenty fine end to the series, delivering a lot of what made these books good and bad. Scott Lobdell deserves to have his name associated with Jason Todd for a long time, and hopefully the end of this book won’t be the last time we see that creator write a story with that character.

[Includes original and variant covers, cover and page process sketches]


Post a Comment

To post a comment, you may need to temporarily allow "cross-site tracking" in your browser of choice.