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Red Hood and the Outlaws continues its space-faring arc focusing on Starfire and showing there is more to the New 52’s take on that character than the sex appeal. But beyond that, it’s also continuing a rather uncompelling story with a rushed plot and generic alien threat.
I’ve said it before. I never really had a problem with Starfire in the New 52. I found the outrage over her overblown and misdirected. Here, a character who was always played up for her sex appeal was still being played up for her sex appeal. Personally, I found far more remarkable and offensive portrayals going on elsewhere ranging from Godiva in Justice League International having no lines of dialogue that didn’t involve wanting to hump the nearest male to Carol Ferris going from lead Star Sapphire back to Hal Jordan’s lovesick puppy. But hey, what do I know?
Still, it has been nice to see Scott Lobdell expand on his take on Starfire. It actually might be the most complex take on the character I’ve ever seen. The change in setting has allowed Lobdell to show off an entirely different side to Starfire’s character that puts her in a whole new context. In space with her people, she has to face her own resentment that she was sacrificed for their sakes while also being burdened by the responsibilities of her hero status she earned as a result of that sacrifice. It’s kind of no wonder she prefers to stay on Earth where she is free to be a relatively carefree spirit sating her own desires. Yet, she can’t really be happy on Earth either due to being treated as an outsider. It’s sad but really interesting.
Lobdell also seems to be crafting a more interesting relationship between Starfire and her older sister. Komand’r used to be your typical royal sibling cliche, screwing over her sister for power and all that. That’s not really the case here. This is a Komand’r who did indeed sell Kori out, but she did it from a place of necessity rather than malice or greed. And she cooperates with the Blight in this issue for similar reasons. When it comes right down to it, she’s not the person who is going to take a moral stand. She’s just not that brave or strong, and that comes with a lot of guilt and self-loathing. I don’t know if Lobdell will be able to play this out in a way that still maintains her rivalry with Kori, though. The case for that will probably be made in issue #13. But if he can, I think this will be an improvement on the Starfire/Blackfire conflict of old.
So the main character stuff is pretty great. The rest doesn’t live up to that same standard, though. Lobdell is playing it pretty fast and loose with this Blight plot. The whole thing is really being treated as little more than window dressing. So the Blight essentially conquered Tamaran in three days, but Kori and her crew are able to tear through the whole armada like it’s nothing to get to the mothership. Literally, like it’s nothing. We don’t even see most of this. We are just at the mothership, ready for the big ambiguous final battle. It’s all very flashy and mindless.
I think Lobdell has been bitten by the romance bug too, because he is overplaying that aspect all of a suddenly. Mercifully, Jason Todd and his flight attendant date doesn’t get as much page time as the previous two issues. But that whole misguided plot thread is still going on. On top of that, Lobdell pushes Roy and Kori’s thing as more than just the friends-with-benefits relationship it seemed like, kind of ruining the fun of it. Why rush those two into a serious romance? Why make a real romance out of them at all? It’s really the least interesting route to go. It would be best if Lobdell pulled back from that and dumped the character of Isabel the flight attendant entirely.
Despite treating the space plot as an afterthought, Lobdell introduces a new wrinkle to it. That wrinkle is the Thirteen. Who or what are the Thirteen? I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know that I want to know. This issue indicates they are some ancient, galactic myth that may be real. I hope this is a concept that Lobdell transfers over to Superman, where it would be far more appropriate to tell a story about some malevolent space cult. This book is already saddled with the Untitled as a supernatural force of ancient evil. It doesn’t need more out-of-place concepts dragging it down.
Seriously, I just wish Lobdell or someone would focus on more grounded stories with this book. The best issues of the series os far were Jason’s showdown with Suzie Su and the Night of the Owls tie-in. The book usually suffers when it strays off on tangents about ancient secret orders and galactic cults. The introduction of the Thirteen does not bode well.
I’m not sure what to say about the design for Komand’r. I think it’s just too much. It’s going for this gothy scifi look, but it’s also going pretty over the top with it. I get it. She’s the dark sister. Is it necessary to beat me in the face with that? The customized space uniforms for Roy and Jason are pretty silly as well. Not so much in their designs as in their very existence.
Next issue is #0 month, so this issue ends on a cliffhanger that we won’t pick up on for two months. That’s not really this book’s fault, though. But man, the #0 issue worries the hell out of me. Is it necessary to retell Jason’s resurrection? Can’t we just assume the silly Superboy punch didn’t happen and simplify it to a Lazarus Pit like the animated movie did? The fact that we’re spending an issue on it leaves me suspecting that Lobdell will not be simplifying it like that and will rather use the opportunity to cement this All-Caste business with Jason’s resurrection, doing a huge disservice to the character. Jason doesn’t need that baggage. He has plenty of it on his own.
So, Red Hood and the Outlaws has reached its twelfth issue, giving us a full year of the series. It was one of the legitimately new titles of the New 52, and I have to say it is a good addition to DC’s lineup. Grouping together Red Hood, Arsenal and Starfire as a pseudo-team bonded by their own damaged souls is a really great concept, and Lobdell has shown that several times. However, I also think it would be best for Red Hood and the Outlaws to get a new creative team. It’s strange how Lobdell seems to have a fairly good handle on how well the characters work together yet the stories he’s interested in telling are all wrong for them.