Friday, 18 November 2011

Red Hood and the Outlaws #3 review

The Red Hood, Starfire and Arsenal descend into the depths of the Chamber of All in search of the Untitled, slayer of assassins' guild the All-Caste. Yes, the names are the pompously vague type typically associated with Himalayan mystical realms in comics, but don't be put off - this is a gripping issue of the new team title. For it gives us our first real insight into who Jason Todd, Koriand'r and Roy Harper are in DC's recently tweaked reality.

The device facilitating flashbacks is S'aru the Proctor, millennia-old gatekeeper of the Chamber. In return for allowing the Outlaws to pass, he grabs their most precious memories, to be returned if they find their way back. Red Hood and pals descend into the Chamber via a staircase inspired by MC Escher, and it's a structure apparently attuned to Jason's memories given the inclusion of gigantic Joker mouths. Inside, they battle a horrendous ogre in pursuit of a shining globe atop a monstrous plinth.

Outside, S'aru peeks at the memories held dearest by the three adventurers - the girl Koriand'r showing her alien slavers that while she's their prisoner, she's not their plaything; Roy Harper attempting to fulfil a death wish in an encounter with Killer Croc; and Jason Todd ... well, that would be perhaps one spoiler too many. It's one of those moments you'll probably see coming while worrying that it won't arrive, and it's a bittersweet emotional beat on which to close the issue. Just two months on from some unfortunate first impressions, we're gifted insight into our three leads, showing that writer Scott Lobdell really does know what he's doing.

Even if he does misspell 'Kory' throughout.

Oh all right, new continuity, new rules - let's say he re-spells the shortened form. Doesn't mean I won't pull a face!

But that's the only problem I have with this issue. Jason. Kori (ugh) and Roy are nicely differentiated in terms of personality, methods, background and attitude, but they gel marvellously. There's an easy camaraderie fueled by affection that manifests as teasing and bickering, but when the proverbial chips are down, the gang of three have one another's backs. Lobdell's jokes fit the characters, and he places them sparingly and well, without losing sight of the bigger drama - who is The Untitled and why did he, she or it kill the All-Caste?
The presentation of Kori is heartening, as her dialogue makes it clear that despite apparent memory problems in the debut issue, she remembers her past (click on image to enlarge). According to S'aru her brain processes memory differently to that of Earth people, but it seems she's all there - just very guarded in what she chooses to address, share. And she's certainly given respect in the field, as the team member with the best warrior instincts. That's not to say the skills of Red Hood and Arsenal are shabby, but her martial background and years of imprisonment have honed Starfire's fighting and survival skills to incredible levels.

Penciller Kenneth Rocafort and digital inker Blond are Lobdell's perfect partners, their art a pleasing mix of bombast and delicacy. The monster is the equal of any you'll find so far as fearsome looks are concerned, and the steps to the Chamber make for a mouthwatering spread. But there's a lightness to the rendering that lends an air of fairytale that suits this story of superheroes on a quest. The artefact they finally find is more Rosebud than Rosetta Stone, but it's a clue, and intriguing as designed by Rocafort.

The flashback scenes show how comfortable the artists are with different environments, as we go from a Citadel prison on some alien world to the gritty rooftops of Gotham and the more rarefied atmosphere of stately Wayne Manor (complete with a Shakespeare bust reminiscent of the Sixties TV show). As well as inker, Blond has his more familiar colour credit, and what a superb job he does, for example, laying down jewel tones for scenes with S'aru and sickly greens and yellows for the monster.

Rocafort and Blond also supply the outstanding cover, which gives us a good look at the revised Robin costume worn by Jason as a lad - it's very odd in the leg department, with strange, faffy bits. Points for uniqueness, though. Speaking of the cover, why isn't Blond credited alongside Lobdell and Rocafort? As colourist and inker he's playing a sizable part in the book's unique look.

Red Hood and the Outlaws is superheroes meet Indiana Jones in a buddy movie, a uniquely entertaining  mix that justifies its place in DC's tranche of new titles. Next issue promises to explain that 'outlaws' bit of the logo. I can't wait.

11 comments:

  1. I'm glad to hear this is working for you, Mart. I've been thinking about buying them on Comixology to see the book for myself.

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  2. Can't wait to see what you think!

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  3. I've been thinking of it as a parody and it works on that level. Starfire's portrayal has been tamer too, which helps. It's possible early complaints actually had a corrective effect.

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  4. It could be, but I'll be nice and give Lobdell the benefit of the doubt and tell myself he played us.

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  5. A great, great comic. I liked the way Lobdell used the characters' cherished memories to tell us a bit more about their back stories while at the same time packing in quite a lot of action.

    I've been cutting back my New 52 comics every month, culling around half each month so far - but this one continues to be on my increasingly shorter list. I hope the quality continues!

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  6. I have enjoyed this title from the start (while acknowledging certain... issues in #1) and it's still entertaining me even as the tone of the writing shifts subtly as the series progresses.

    I think it's doing Lobdell a disservice to think he's deliberately changing the tone in response the first-issue criticism. I mean, surely the lead time on comics means that this issue was written (if not drawn) before he had any first-issue feedback? I think he's had a definite path for character growth planned from the start.

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  7. Agree with David Meadows that we should give Lobdell credit for having mapped out his arc before he got feedback from issue 1. Just think about all of the steps it takes to create a comic book - pencilling THEN inking THEN colouring THEN lettering. It's not gonna be a speedy process.

    For me personally, I'm more than happy to give him the benefit of the doubt.

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  8. Great Review! I wrote one myself for this issue but you taught me a lot after I read this.

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  9. Rob Y, this comic is certainly going in unexpected directions - I expected lots of street-level stuff, which isn't always my favourite. I like that its range is wider.

    I'm sure you're right about the deadlines, David. Scott Lobdell looks to have a cunning plan.

    Cheers I-M, off to look at your take ...

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  10. Well, Hanley's had a 40% off "Catch Up with 2011 Events" sale, which included issues 1 and 2 of the new DCU... so I picked up all three issues of Red Hood, and I have to say, I was really impressed. The opening scenes with Starfire were cringeworthy (and possibly intentionally controversial), but the rest of the first issue was solid fun, and the next two got even stronger. Like you, Mart, I had no interest in another "street-level" book. But this is operating on a different level -- international espionage? Mystic intrigue? It might actually be able to scratch the old-school Suicide Squad itch that the actual new Suicide Squad book seems too juvenile to make happen.

    Regardless, this book is wall-to-wall fun. Incredibly, this lambasted book starring two characters I never could stand and a sentimental favorite from a comic franchise I've abandoned is not just staying on my pull list, but it's in much less danger of falling off than some things that were there from the start.

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  11. Isn't it excellent to be surprised, Rob? It doesn't happen nearly often enough.

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