Written by: Scott Lobdell
Art by: Dexter Soy
I vividly remember browsing the comic rack in a Walden Bookstore at my local mall and seeing the distinctive black cover of “A Death in the Family” story-line. I didn’t have money to buy the issue, but I flipped through the pages and remember the ad for the 1-900 number to choose the ending. Since that day, I’ve always been interested in Jason Todd as a character. The potential for story-lines and guilt that DC sat on until the character returned with Judd Winick’s “Under the Hood” shows real restrain for the industry.
Jason’s violent battle with Batman during the “Battle for the Cowl” questioned how far a batman should go to clean up Gotham. For a justice system that continually has corruption and asylum breakouts, Jason’s violent solution allowed the reader to wonder what was the best solution to crime in Gotham. Grant Morrison used Jason Todd and his Red Hood persona as a contrast to Dick Grayson’s brighter more youthful Batman in the pages of Batman and Robin. Jason Todd came through the last DC reboot in the New 52 with globe trotting Red Hood and the Outlaws written by Scott Lobdell and drawn by Kenneth Rocafort. Lobdell again heads up this new reboot as Jason Todd returns home to Gotham. Jason Todd’s return grounds both the series and the character in a way that feels comfortable to long time Batman fans, while providing a different perspective than the other Rebirth titles set in Gotham.
Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 picks up after last week’s Red Hood and the Outlaws: Rebirth. That issue provided a nice refresher to those returning to Jason Todd’s character and set the stage for this issue. The Rebirth one-shot covered a lot of familiar ground for long time fans and provided just enough to give a context to this #1 issue. Last week’s issue is not required reading for this issue and those interested could easily go back and pick it up after reading this issue. I did.
The idea of it is that the Red Hood is going deep undercover and can do things that Batman can’t. Red Hood’s criminal background and story arcs create unique ground for Lobdell to explore. Jason Todd has always pushed at Batman’s violent nature, willing to push crime fighting into murder. The Red Hood’s balance of trying to find out who he is and who he wants to be was explored in the New 52 version of Red Hood and the Outlaws. This issue does enough to help the reader understand who Jason Todd has been and provides enough questions and allusions to wonder who he will become. There are moments when the darker, violent Red Hood is present and boiling to the surface. And there are moments when Lobdell reminds the reader that Jason Todd has made promises to Bruce Wayne to be different, better.
This first issue succeeds in getting the reader to wonder if this balancing act will work or will Jason Todd slip back into his violent past. Lobdell uses a character from Jason’s past to help remind the reader of Jason’s beginnings and uses the same character to help drive the current story-line forward. This character framing works because Lobdell reflects on Jason’s angry past and then has Jason saving the character. The character is not redeemed, but Jason is on a path toward redemption. The interaction is there to hold up a mirror to Jason and to the help the reader invest in the book moving forward.
Dexter Soy’s artwork wonderfully helps the reader invest in the characters and the world. Soy’s art is dark and full of hard lines and details. It grounds the reader in a gritty Gotham, without feeling minimalist or relying on shadows and inking to set the mood. Soy’s gritty and grounded artwork is a necessary shift from Rocafort’s cartoony and colorful New 52 reboot. This issue avoids the light and playful tone of the last reboot in both art style and in tone of the story, and I am thankful to return to this darker and grounded Jason Todd.
While this reboot avoids the controversy of Lobdell’s New 52 launch around his questionable characterization of Starfire, it also avoids the “Outlaws” part of the team entirely. The cover art provides teammates, who may or may not even show up in this first issue. The slower pace of this team-up is appropriate given the role Jason is trying to play in exposing and destroying some of the Gotham underworld. Throwing teammates together too soon or inorganically would not bode well for how planned and scripted this story arc will be. There is enough intrigue into the plot to hook the reader and to start us wondering how this team comes together.
That intrigue is where this issue really succeed. Readers who were previously invested in Jason Todd or Red Hood will be quickly hooked to go along on the deep cover mission. Readers who are interested in Gotham will be hooked as well in order to see how Lobdell explores the city’s underbelly. Readers who see the cover with a sampling of B-list characters from DC’s holy trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman may not have a lot to grab onto. But Lobdell succeeds in drawing new readers in with a larger plot that doesn’t assume too much prior knowledge and a cliffhanger that will bring new readers back. For a group of B-list characters, Lobdell and Soy make a strong case for this as an A-list title if they can keep up the pacing and progression.