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Take great characters with compelling flaws and put them into a weak story with tired cliches. What you apparently get is Red Hood and the Outlaws #5. Scott Lobdell has put together a surprisingly strong cast but continues to force them through a plot that simply doesn’t suit them in the slightest. This is a book about damaged people left behind by the superhero community coming together. But this is also a book trying to be about ancient societies, chosen ones and prophecies. There’s only room for Red Hood and the Outlaws to be about one of these. And honestly, only one is interesting in the first place.
The story of this issue is divided between the continued introduction of Crux, one of Lobdell’s new creations, and Red Hood’s battle with one of the Untitled. Because of this combination, this is the first issue of the series to really highlight just how much the ongoing plot of the All-Caste clashes with the ongoing story of the characters. The Crux side of the story really feels at home in this book. It has our regular cast of damaged people coming into conflict with someone who is just as damaged as them in his own way. Meanwhile, we have the other side of the story trying to sell us on the idea of Jason Todd as a chosen one to fight some great and ancient evil. That’s a cookie-cutter fantasy plot with nothing really to do with theme of the book’s team.
However even if the entire issue focused on the Crux introduction, it wouldn’t be a perfect issue. I really like the concept Lobdell has come up with for this new character. It’s hard not to love the tragic irony of a man badly wronged by aliens turning himself into something that is no longer truly human in order to get retribution. Someone like that will fit in perfectly well with this screwed up cast. The problem is that the concept of Crux is better than the actual execution of his character. This is mostly the fault of the character design. He’s Hulk-Bat. Not only does that look kind of silly with how hard it is trying, but it doesn’t really say “alien” very well either. At first glance, I would assume demon instead. I would continue to do that with the second through twelfth glances too. If Crux’s appearance is supposed to be the result of a human turning himself more alien, Kenneth Rocafort has really missed the mark. It’s not entirely his fault, though. The idea of Crux transforming into a gamma-irradiated Man-Bat as his power isn’t the greatest idea for him in the first place. With all you could do with the concept of a guy self-experimenting on himself to take on some alien traits, that is pretty weak.
Still, the core of Crux’s character is a very compelling one. I also continue to enjoy Lobdell’s take on Starfire as controversial as it has been. This is the most interesting she has been in an incredibly long time.
On the other hand, my opinion of Lobdell’s take on Jason Todd has gone back and forth since this series began. One moment he will do something that feels dead on with the character. Then, he’ll do something that comes off as totally out of touch with the character. This issue unfortunately leans toward the latter. Jason’s lost days, the years he spent on his own Bruce Wayne style journey all over the globe, is an insanely rich platform for stories. Judd Winick left so much room for other writer’s to play with in there. Lobdell is just abusing it with this All-Caste business, though. There’s inserting some interesting stuff into Jason’s lost days, and then there’s inserting that he’s the chosen one of a secret order of assassins who defend the world against an unknown race of beings. …Really? This is what he did between taking out a human trafficking ring and screwing over the Russian mob? Chosen one? This idea may not have come off as so silly and out of place had Lobdell played it down to a more grounded level, but he instead actually plays it up. Jason Todd is not a character who lends himself well to these kinds of stories. He’s a Batman character, and Batman characters work best closer to ground level.
The overall writing of this issue is also weaker than the norm. The exposition in the dialogue gets a little too much to ignore at times, and there’s a noticeable lack of good and humorous lines, which is something previous issues have been rather good at delivering. It’s nothing even remotely terrible, but it does feel like the issue gets a little too involved in its lackluster plot at the cost of the some of the book’s personality.
Red Hood and the Outlaws needs to wrap up this All-Caste story soon and move on without looking back. It could be a great team book, but this out of place plot is seriously holding back its potential. This is just not the book or the cast for cliched fantasy story plots. The All-Caste reads like a generic secret order, and the Untitled come off as no better in regard to feeling like a concept we have all seen many times before. More importantly, neither fit with Jason Todd’s character. Hopefully, Lobdell gets this out of his system by the time the series is set to tie in with the upcoming Batman event, so that when it returns from that, we can get stories more suitable to the cast.