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Red Hood and the Outlaws #19 – Review: All-Disappointing

After what? Nothing of real note happened to Jason. Joker may as well have splashed him with water.I’ve had a complicated relationship with Red Hood and the Outlaws since it started. Jason Todd is easily one of my favorite DC characters, so the book has me whether I like it or not. But it’s never really that simple. I spent Scott Lobdell’s run being bounced between things I liked and things I hated on nearly a page by page basis. It was just so much that I had a hard time narrowing down what exactly I would like to see when James Tynion IV took over, but I was able to. Besides just the vague notion of not sucking, there was one clear thing I wanted from Tynion with Red Hood and the Outlaws. Just one thing that I thought would make it all better after Lobdell’s run.

I didn’t want to hear anymore about the All-Caste.

Wow. So I have apparently wronged Tynion in some way, because he must hate me. His first issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws may be the most All-Caste heavy issue of the entire series so far. It’s all All-Caste.

It really worries me for this book that Tynion has come to the conclusion that kung fu mysticism is the most interesting thing about Jason Todd. Kung fu mysticism. You know, the thing that wasn’t even a part of the character until recently when Lobdell awkwardly injected it with the New 52. The thing that is so far divorced from all the qualities that helped the character rise in popularity to the point where he could have a book. That is what Tynion seems to see when he looks at Jason, and as a fan of the character, I really can’t express what a disappointment that is.

But it can be said that good writing can salvage even the weakest of ideas.

I’m skeptical of that, but it’s unfortunately not relevant here anyway. The writing’s really not that good. I’ve definitely read much stronger efforts from Tynion than what we are getting here.

That's mostly because Jason's magic kung fu weirdness is half-assed and poorly thought out.They very premise of this story is broken. Arsenal and Starfire are in pursuit of Jason, because he has taken off on his own after recent events with Joker and Damian and done something drastic to himself. Here’s the problem. ...Why? Why does Jason do any of this? I read Batman, Incorporated. I read Death of the Family. Jason has no reason to be acting dramatic. Joker’s acid attack on him did nothing. Joker’s claim that he manipulated Jason’s whole life is so ludicrous that it’s not believable Jason could be taking it seriously. Jason barely knew Damian. So what is the big deal? There is nothing that warrants the extreme decision he makes in this issue.

A case could be made for Jason to be upset over what’s going on in Batman, Incorporated. He has deep ties with Talia al Ghul. The death of another Robin could stir up things he’s buried. But Tynion doesn’t put any effort into making such a case. We’re just supposed to accept that Jason is crushed by all the nothing that actually happened to him in the two recent major Batman stories. That fails.

Judging by this issue, Roy Harper is the character that really grabs Tynion’s interest. He lays out some groundwork in a weakly written dream sequence. Honestly? Writers need to start thinking twice about doing dream sequences in stories. They’re incredibly difficult to pull off well, and more often than not, they come off as cheap narrative devices. This one falls right in that category. It’s poorly done and heavy-handed.

And becoming Phoenix while he's at it. Are we sure he didn't do drugs?
Also, I keep forgetting that the New 52 Roy is a recovering alcoholic instead of drug addict. That may be on purpose, though. Because seriously, it is such a poor decision. I’m not trying to diminish alcoholism here, but you have to admit it isn’t as severe or interesting as being a heroin or meth addict. And given that Roy probably isn’t even 21 yet, I have trouble buying the idea that he could already be a recovering alcoholic. I mean, it’s a bit of a process. It takes time to drink yourself down to rock bottom and realize you have a problem, especially when you’re at that age when you’re expected to be a drunk idiot. Whereas a serious drug addiction can just hit you fast and hard. It’s changes like this and the mess that is Green Arrow’s New 52 continuity that leave me doubtful Tynion will be able to pull together something good for Roy’s history.

You know, I guess we should just be thankful DC didn’t decide to change his addiction to caffeine pills.

Somebody better get that reference.

While I criticized the hell out of Lobdell’s writing of this series, there usually was one thing that always made it shine, and that was the character interactions. It’s true. Those times when he would pull himself away from all those weak plots and just have these three damaged characters bounce off one another were great. That’s really the heart of this book. It’s the, perhaps unwise, codependency of three characters who are very damaged each in their own way that really gives Red Hood and the Outlaws an identity. Unfortunately, Tynion is keeping some of the lame plot elements but doesn’t manage to capture that same flair for character interactions. To be fair, the thing going on with Jason prevents him from having the full trio, but there is somewhat of a blandness to how he portrays them that doesn’t bode well.

I just wanted to present this without context. ...So we're really, really sure Roy doesn't do drugs?Now, let’s not forget the elephant in the room here. DC totally wussed out of the real WTF premise for this issue, which may account for its overall weakness. Joker’s acid attack was supposed to eat off Jason’s face, but DC clearly backed out. I speculated this might be the case with Lobdell’s last issue, where Alfred commented that Jason had no physical damage from an ACID ATTACK TO THE FACE. While this is yet another unfortunate sign of how poorly DC is being run these days, I’m actually glad this time. Look. It was a bad idea. There was no point to it. Oh no. Joker did something bad to Jason Todd. ...He brutally murdered Jason already. There is no escalation of that. Frying off his face and this crap about Joker micromanaging his life adds another but clutter. The tragic link between Joker and Jason is already cemented. There is no strengthening it. It’s as strong as it ever could be. So I’m glad someone at DC came to their senses on this one.

It looks like my abusive relationship with Red Hood and the Outlaws will continue on for awhile. Rather than bringing in a new and better vision, James Tynion IV is channeling Scott Lobell as the Outlaws follow Red Hood to the hidden city of K’un L’un... I mean Shangri La... wait maybe Nanda Parbat... I guess it's the Acres of All. Anyway, Tynion has them go there to catch up with Jason as he makes a bargain with the Hand... I mean the League of Assassins... the Ancient One maybe? Oh, screw it. They go to the overused cliche place with the overused cliche people. It’s a bland execution of a poorly thought out premise.

Someday, I hope DC will just let me enjoy this book someday.



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