Taking a major step in the right direction, Red Hood and the Outlaws turns away from its plot with the Untitled in favor of a very character-focused issue between Red Hood and Starfire. It’s just too bad this great change comes in the same issue that suffers in quality from being split between two writers.
We flashback to the events that immediately precede the first issue of the series, featuring how Jason Todd and Starfire got together. Scott Lobdell promised readers that there was more to those two than it initially seemed, and he honestly does deliver on that. This issue really lays out why the connection between Jason and Kori is so interesting by focusing in on their opposing philosophies about the past. Jason allows himself to be completely driven and consumed by his past, but Kori focuses on living in the moment and really almost hides from her own past. It’s understandable how Kori’s apparent freedom from the past would be appealing in a way to Jason.
Unfortunately, this is one of those issues that is much better in idea than execution. I love what Lobdell is going for with Jason and Kori’s dynamic. It fits so well in this series. It’s essentially two characters forming a bond over their flaws. The writing of this issue fails to convey this very well, though. It’s largely the fault of the dialogue, which is so lifeless and verbose. Everything the characters say comes off more like they’re reading it off a script than genuinely speaking. There’s just so little personality and emotion here. Oh, it tries. But it does so in such a straightforward and stilted way that it fails. This is a bit worse for Jason than it is for Kori. You can more easily get away with an alien from another culture overexplaining herself and coming off as detached from her words. Jason doesn’t have any excuses to cling to, though. His characteristic anger and attitude are extremely lacking, and half of what he says feels empty.
While that is the biggest problem hurting this issue, it’s not the only one. Now, I love the idea of this series regularly employing flashbacks. It was done in the third issue, and that was arguably the best issue so far. We get more flashbacks in this one. Yeah, it’s a flashback issue that has flashbacks of its own. But in that regard, it works. It’s a shame the smaller flashbacks are so weak and ineffective.
I usually try to avoid phrasing things like this, but I really can’t in this case. I don’t think these flashbacks could have been anymore phoned in. I seriously don’t believe that a lazier, more thoughtless job could have been done on these. The only way possible would have been not to do them at all, and that probably would have been a better idea than wasting the page space on them.
It’s been alluded to that the original Titans still exist in the new continuity, though they may not have actually been called Titans or included the same characters. We get a very brief flashback to those days from Starfire. What do we learn? Absolutely nothing. At most, it may suggest that Roy Harper never went by Speedy and has always been Arsenal. Maybe. Actually, do you know what it really suggests? It suggests that DC actually doesn’t know what its own history is anymore and so they have nothing to show us of the original Titans.
The other flashbacks attempt to sum up Jason Todd’s rivalry with Dick Grayson and his return to Gotham City as the Red Hood. At least with the Titans flashback, there is the excuse that DC has no idea who or what that group was. What’s the excuse for the weak job here? Batman’s continuity has gone relatively untouched, and the material on Jason comes mostly from recent stories. So how do you screw that up? The scene with Jason as Robin and Dick as Nightwing is simply weak, which is almost criminal because the background of their rivalry is so compelling. Part of what made it compelling was how balanced it was. You had Jason lashing out because he was threatened by Dick’s reputation, but you also had Dick not really reaching out to Jason like he later would with Tim because he was angry about the situation too. This flashback simplifies it and portrays it as almost completely one-sided with Jason just being a brat while Dick is a saint. It’s less interesting and badly formulaic.
The other flashback is worse. It seems like it attempts to rewrite one of the big moments of Under the Hood. I don’t know how else to say this. It sucks. It just sucks. This goes beyond how it just totally fails to capture any of the emotion of the moment. It actually gets it WRONG. We have Jason explicitly blaming Batman for his death at the hands of the Joker. ...No. What? Jason’s problem is that Batman let Joker live afterward. I have to ask again. How do you screw this up? This is flat out stated in the original story and in the animated movie version of it. This isn’t a continuity gripe about stupid details. This is getting a character’s primary motivation wrong. You don’t get a pass on that.
There are some other, more minor things in this issue that don’t really work. With the way it plays out, it seems like Jason has no prior knowledge of who Starfire is. How is that possible? He became Robin because Dick was running around with Starfire and friends. You can’t make me believe he was so clueless about who Dick was with back then. Then, I guess we get the origin of Jason’s current Bat-themed suit. If I understand what this issue is implying, it’s some kind of proto-version of Nightwing’s current costume. Really? And he just wears it? And why does Starfire have a complete collection of Dick’s costumes but none of his civilian clothes? This is just a poorly thought out idea.
Josh Williamson, the co-writer of this issue, is a name I didn’t recognize until I started writing this review. He’s the new writer of Voodoo, and I was less than impressed with his writing in my review of his first issue there. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt by chalking up that issue’s faults to what I assumed was pressure from DC to rush through and get the script done. But now, I’m having similar problems with his writing on this issue. Poor dialogue, lack of personality, mechanically going through the motions. I’m beginning to think he’s a poor first for more character-centric books.
Kenneth Rocafort continues to do an appealing job on the art. His Starfire is hot. No, I’m not ashamed of objectifying her. It’s Starfire. The character wasn’t created as a nun. He also does an admirable job of trying to make the original Nightwing costume look less dated and goofy. Though establishing that the original costume still exists in continuity does make it strange how Dick has transition to a red color scheme. I remain unhappy with his Jason Todd, though. There’s just something too boyish about how Rocafort draws him. And I continue to hate the stupid fake mouth being drawn on Red Hood’s helmet.
This issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws is better than the last, but it struggles with itself. It benefits from having a very compelling premise for Red Hood and Starfire’s connection and from almost completely ignoring the Untitled plot. But the fact that Lobdell only plotted this really shows. Williamson is just not able to pull it off. All the emotion and sentiment comes off as artificial, and the flashbacks really are rather pitiful. The series is getting on the right track. It just needs to be written by its writer.