In the latest of our comprehensive series of reviews of DC Comics' 52 relaunched titles, we take a look at Red Hood and the Outlaws #1.
Who's it by?
Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 is written by Scott Lobdell and illustrated by Kenneth Rocafort.
What's the history?
Jason Todd was introduced to the DC Universe in 1983's Batman #357. The roguish youth replaced Dick Grayson as the Dark Knight's sidekick Robin following his predecessor's induction into the Teen Titans as Nightwing.
The replacement Boy Wonder soon fell out of favour with fans, and DC had the character die at the hands of the Joker following a fan poll that would decide his fate. Todd remained deceased in the DCU for a good many years, until Superboy-Prime's reality tampering reversed the events that led to his demise.
Embittered that his death was never avenged by Batman, Todd took up the original mantel of his murder, the Red Hood, and vowed to take down his former mentor. Todd has served as a Batman villain under the Red Hood moniker in multiple story arcs, and also had stints as Red Robin and a murderous version of Nightwing.
Fellow Outlaws Starfire and Arsenal have appeared in several superhero teams over the years, notably the Teen Titans and the Outsiders.
Red Hood and the Outlaws is essentially a replacement for DC's Outsiders title. During the events of Batman, Incorporated, Jason Todd led the black-ops wing of Bruce Wayne's global operation. In this new title he appears to have turned his back on this.
Outlaws is one of those 'New 52' titles that cherry-picks pieces of continuity from DC's past and disregards the rest. Todd makes references to his past history with Dick Grayson, and it is revealed that Starfire had a relationship with the latter, but all of the characters have been redesigned from the ground up.
We open with Roy Harper (AKA Arsenal) awaiting trial for war crimes in an Eastern dictatorship. Red Hood busts him out of prison and, with the aid of Starfire, wards off an entire army to make an escape.
For the remainder of the comic Starfire prances about wearing virtually nothing before jumping into bed with Harper. Meanwhile, Todd heeds a warning from a being only he can see named Essence, who convinces him to travel to the Himalayas to take on a shadowy threat.
What's the verdict?
Red Hood and the Outlaws has stirred up some controversy among fans, not least for its over-sexualised depiction of Starfire. The first issue comes across as crude and derogatory at times, and its attempt at humour falls flat.
Red Hood had gone just about as far as he could as a Batman villain, so the best course of action for DC was to take him out of that setting. Unfortunately, his new role as a wise-cracking anti-hero isn't a great fit for the former Boy Wonder. Todd was at his best as a tormented soul bordering on insanity, and Lobdell's design fails to capture the essence of the character.
Arsenal's overhaul is arguably the least controversial. Nothing about him particularly stands out, but it's an improvement on recent depictions such as his forgettable role in Justice League: The Rise of Arsenal. The same cannot be said of Starfire, who is reduced to a mere sex object.
Starfire was always something of a free spirit, but we're only one issue in and she's bed-hopping already. Rocafort has taken a page from Rob Liefeld's book when drawing the promiscuous alien temptress in all her buxom glory. While the artwork itself is reasonably strong, it just comes across as a contrived attempt to sell comics to horny teenagers.
It's a shame that Rocafort stooped to the lowest common denominator here because his artwork shows promise. The illustrator harnesses body language and facial expression in the same way that great writers make use of dialogue to carry a story.
Less-than-satisfactory characterisation aside, very little of any note takes place in Red Hood and the Outlaws #1, and it's difficult to tell where Lobdell plans to take the characters from here. For all of the book's faults, there are hints of a good team dynamic going on, so this isn't a lost cause just yet. If the creative team can get their minds out for the gutter for long enough, there's no reason why they can't go on to redeem themselves.
> Buy the digital version of Red Hood and the Outlaws #1
> Read our review of Detective Comics #1
Watch The New 52 introduction video from DC Comics below: