Review: Red Hood and the Outlaws #18

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Last Dance, Last Chance for...Death!

Red Hood and the Outlaws has been pretty consistent at delivering fun stories. Granted, it is not the deepest comic book series on the market, and as some have pointed out, Lobdell's (former writer of Uncanny X-Men and current writer for Red Hood and the Outlaws, Teen Titans, Superboy and Superman strong suit as a writer is not subtlety, but still, I can't think of a single issue of RHATO (minus the Death of the Family crossover issues) that I did not enjoy.

Now, Red Hood faces a major challenge as he has been badly injured by a trap from the Joker. It is unclear how bad the effects will be, but this is still a noteworthy blow against our favorite living, hooded hero. (sorry Green Arrow) Does this issue sear itself into history as a story to remember, or does the whole series lose face from this tale of woe?

In this issue, Jason works through some emotional demons while Bruce deals with some demons of his own.

Red Hood's Requiem

First up, let's examine how this issue addressed the death of Damian and how Robin's death affected Jason and the Outlaws.

The Outlaws

Now that we have exhausted that subject, let's take some time to discuss the Outlaws plot lines in this book. Obviously, Jason will be the main focus of this issue, but no team title is going to ignore their other characters completely for an entire issue, so what happened with Starfire and Arsenal in RHATO #18?

That concludes our discussion of the Outlaws actives in this issue.

Mixed Emotions

As my sarcasm probably made clear, this book suffers from some very dishonest labeling. It has nothing to do with the death of Damian unless you want to interpret Bruce's moping and emotional contemplation as resulting from Damian's death, and that probably does serve a role in Bruce's emotional state, but if you had no clue about Damian's death, this issue would still make complete sense. The lack of the Outlaws is also a pretty major oversight. Personally, I can't stand it when team books, especially ones with such small casts, write off entire characters for whole issues. I'm not asking for a lot; just give me a panel or two showing me what they are doing.

If you remove the dishonest labeling from issue, it's still a mixed bag, and it is the worst kind of mixed bag. It's difficult enough when a mixed bag has some good stuff and some bad stuff, but this has some excellent stuff with some moderately lame stuff, so it's a rough mix.

One of the good parts is that Jason gets in touch with his spiritual mentor, Ducra, via coma. It is not clear if Ducra is just a memory of if she is still alive on a spiritual level, but I like the idea of Jason continuing to have a spiritual guide. The new writer for the series who will start next issue, James Tynion IV, (former writer of Detective Comics and current writer of Batman and Talon) says he will be developing the mystic/fantasy elements of Jason, so this is a good stepping stone for that.

The main positive is that Bruce has some awesome emotional breakthroughs regarding his relationship with Jason. Honestly, this issue deals more with Bruce than with Jason, but I will not elaborate on Bruce's actions because I want these sections of the story to remain unspoiled.

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My big problem with this issue is that a large part of it, nearly half, deals with a ridiculous depiction of Jason's emotional conflict and makes the case that he will go crazy if he does not stop living in the past. My first issue with this setup is that Joker is shown as this big hulking entity trying to kill Jason in his dream state. Maybe it is just me, but after playing through all the Scarecrow missions of Arkham Asylum, I really have no interest in seeing a giant sized villain try to destroy a normal sized hero in a battle which is not actually physical. In the Arkham Asylum games, it was cool at first because it is a neat way to represent a non-physical attack, but after a short while, it began to feel intrusive since you knew everything you were doing was not literally happening. More or less, I felt the same thing here. We know Joker is not really two hundred feet tall and he is not really going to destroy Jason, so why is this long drawn out scene really here? It's impossible to feel any tension because no real damage is possible. You might say, “It's all about emotional conflict,” but that leads me to my second point.

Jason really does not have any issues. Seriously, by Bat Clan standards, Jason is the picture of mental health. Sure, he was killed by Joker, and yes, he would like to kill Joker right back, but who would not in that situation? Ducra says that Jason will end up killing all those that love him because he holds on to the past, but that's a complete load of crap. Bruce holds on to the past and he does not kill people. Jason used to be a psycho, (since it has never really been explained, I asusme his homicidal rages were a temporary effect of the Lazarus pit) but he got over it, and now he is doing good and making friends. An entire half of this issue dealt with the theory that Jason going psycho again because he is unhappy that Joker killed him, and that is just a waste of space. I would much rather seen six pages of the, “You will kill those you love,” nonsense cut out and replaced with some real issue that Jason has such as his bitterness towards the Bat Family. Alternatively, I would not have minded these six pages going anywhere significant. We could see what was happening with the Outlaws with those six pages.

Bat Droppings

1. There is a new art team working in this issue, and they do a good job. Tyler Kirkham (cover artist for Top Cow's Witchblade Takeru Manga and penciler for Green Lantern: New Guardians and current penciler for Red Hood and the Outlaws) does pencils and Arif Prianto (current colorer for Red Hood and the Outlaws, Top Cow's Witchblade and Image's Mind the Gap) handles colors. Something about their art gives the impression of everything being very smooth in an action figure sort of way, but that is not a put down. It looks good, but it reminds me of action figures. The dream sequence and the mental contemplation gives Prianto a good excuse to have some fun with the colors. If you look at the backgrounds in each panel, they are all bright and moody. Also, the colors tend to blend very well with each other in panel and cross panel. It's a very mellow effect. FYI, I know nothing about art, and I could probably explain this much better if I knew what I was talking about.

2. In the dream state, Jason has all these pink glowing things on his chest, and this feels like it should get some explanation. It seems slightly familiar. Was this covered in a past issue I have forgotten?

3. Jason's dream vision of the All-Caste base is a bit too twisted for my taste. Everything is gnarled, and it seems kind of overdone.

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4. The dramatic tension of what will become of Jason's face was ended pretty quickly as Alfred informed Bruce that there would be no permanent damage. This almost makes the entire acid bath seem pointless, but then again, this still works as a rebirth of Jason, so I guess it holds up.

5. Bruce's “reasoning” for keeping Jason away from medical experts is stupid. Leslie Thompkins is part of the family. Why shouldn't they call her? Also, Alfred's desire to call in help is kind of odd since he has already said there will be no permanent damage. Bad writing? Bad writing.

6. Jason's attitude, thankfully, has remained completely undamaged, and I have to say I have always been delighted with the way Lobdell has handled Jason's personality. This is, by the way, Lobdell's last issue on the series which is why I am noting things such as this.

7. Jason wears a Robin costume in this issue closer to that of the one in the case in Batman and Robin #18 which I declared to be The Robin costume of Stephanie Brown than any boy Robin costumes seen thus far. It is not near close enough to make me think it is the same costume, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

8. I really like the way Bruce's memories were layered as the background over the room as he stayed by Jason's bedside. Very nice touch.

9. It's always nice to see Joker's head blow up.

10. We are still lacking an explanation of when Bruce implanted Jason into Leviathan. I do hope someone eventually covers that.

11. Nice final panel.

12. (Spoilers) It is strange that Death of the Family is supposedly supposed to have divided the family emotionally, yet it seems to have done exactly the opposite with everyone except between Bruce and Dick. I'm guessing that this was handled by the individual writers of the series, so we cannot really blame Snyder, but still, it's weird.

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Conclusion 8/10

If this issue had focused on just Bruce, it had dealt with a more legitimate Jason problem, had informed readers what was happening with the other Outlaws, or really done anything other than drag out the mostly pointless All-Caste delusion scene, this would have earned a higher score because the emotional payoff between Jason and Bruce in this issue is huge, but alas, it does not. If you are RHATO fan or a Jason fan, you will definitely want to buy this issue. You might also want to consider it if you are just a big Bat aficionado. However, you definitely do not want it for the Requiem tie in.