Friday, 20 January 2012

Red Hood and the Outlaws #5 review

Artist Kenneth Rocafort and colorist Blond present a killer cover for the fifth issue of this consistently excellent DC New 52 original. The imposing monster. Helpless hero. Hurting heroine, hair flowing like blood. And all imposed on a gorgeous winter scene ...

The artwork's just as impressive inside, in a more sequential way, of course. The battle between the reptilian Crux and desperate Arsenal is fun to follow, with incident and emotion easily apparent. This being the case, writer Scott Lobdell is able to use narration and dialogue to add detail and fizz, as Arsenal - 'recovering hero' Roy Harper - subdues the creature he suspects of harming his friend Starfire, aka Koriand'r of Tamaran.

Crux's grudge against her arises from a spaceship belonging to her people having accidentally killed his parents - hardly her fault, but the formerly human Crux doesn't care - he hates aliens, and her kind most of all. He's failed, though, in his bid to remove Starfire's alien powers, due to not knowing her history.

Mind. she's not much use when it's round two between him and Roy - happily, Arsenal is ready to make the sacrifice necessary to end the fight once and for all.

Nearby, Jason Todd - Robin turned Red Hood - fights for his life against a member of the hidden race known as the Untitled. Along the way he learns that his foe, who has been serving as town sheriff, had nothing to do with the slaughter of his friends, the All-Caste league of assassins. Red Hood doesn't care, and murders her anyway, using a previously unseen ability that's shockingly unpleasant.

Mid-battle he flashes back to the time Ducra - Yoda-meets-Terminator matriarch of the All-Caste - supervised a ritual known as The Cleansing. She hinted that one day he'd expel the anger within him (the small matter of the Joker having beaten him to death and Batman failing to avenge him) and be glorious. Not this day, though, as the lifeless Untitled sheriff would attest.

Ace Jase reunites with Roy and Kori, and tells them they have to get out of town because an angry mob is on his tail - he's realised that the Untitled are taking over communities, controlling the good burghers. They flee, taking the injured Crux along ...

... and so ends another issue packed with incident, action and characterisation. It becomes obvious this time that Roy doesn't share his friends' attitude towards killing - Jason has been brainwashed into believing that offing someone is akin to giving them a marvellous gift, Kori's martial upbringing and past as a tortured slave have her primed to execute Crux, but Roy? He venerates life, and it'll be interesting to see if he can persuade at least one of his pals to come around to his way of thinking.

The only off-moment this time is a comment from Crux that implies he read the controversial first issue of this title (click on image to enlarge).
That's just a tad too meta for my liking.

Great page, though - Rocafort really imbues Crux with sinewy power, making Roy and Kori's situation seem suitably dire. The artist does similarly fine work throughout, with dramatic storytelling and dynamic layouts. Blond's colouring is the icing on the proverbial cake - bright where it needs to be, subdued elsewhere. And relative newcomer Carlos M Mangual has fast become one of DC's go-to letterers with intelligent, stylish calligraphy. The script from Lobdell is worth Mangual taking time over, being full of little revelations and big moments. I especially like the way the Outlaws' (no one has actually called them that yet!) camaraderie is morphing into friendship.

Lobdell and co are producing one of DC's best books, as fascinating, likable characters (and I'm not normally one to enjoy 'good guys' who kill) negotiate a confidently worked-out mystery. I'm here for the long haul.

17 comments:

  1. Hi, there! I really like your reviews, and I hope you don’t mind my very long comment! : )

    Although I found the scenes with Roy and Kory to be heartwarming, I was bothered by Jason’s actions here, too. I mean, for a guy that I found myself rooting for for the first few issues, I’d be lying if I said that his action didn’t make me go, “What the hell, hero?”

    For all Jason's talk about how the Untitled are evil, we don’t directly see any evil action undertaken by them. Also, the Untitled sheriff seemed to be minding her own business before Jason came along and she acted out of self-defense. All Jason has going for him on that point is the line in issue 4 where the sheriff says that she’d have to kill everyone in town after killing Jason to maintain her cover. And even that’s up to debate, as Jason mentions that she used her powers to keep the townspeople frozen just in case she won and she could slip back without suspicion.

    And even though the both of them realized that they’d been duped into fighting each other, they kept at it. By that point, there was no stopping the course. Someone was going to die in their confrontation. For me, that’s where right and wrong went out the window, because it was about survival for the both of them from my standpoint (even though Jason had another agenda).

    It seems to be grey and grey morality all around, though I’m not sure if that was the writer’s intention. And Jason seems to be in denial about letting go and moving on, and that both fascinates and troubles me.

    All we can say for sure is that, whatever the nature of the Untitled are, Jason believes they’re evil and deserving of death. Whether that turns out to be true and what the repercussions of Jason’s actions are…I guess we’ll have to wait until issue 7.

    Anyway, thanks very much for the review! It’s fascinating to me to read comic reviews, because of all the different perspectives, and I find yours well thought-out and fair, for lack of better word : ) I hope to see another next month!

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  2. Nice review, although I would step back from saying that RHaO features amazing characterization. Imagine reading the text without that gorgeous art, these glorious colours, the beautiful lettering. The visuals in this book are very seductive. I agree that the panels between Roy and Kory are touching, but I believe this is due more to Lobdell leaning on her original characterization - the weird pathos in the character that Wolfman and Perez originall invested in her. It's not a result of effective dramatic contrast with RHaO #1, although that's clearly what's intended. I kept thinking, without these drop dead lovely images, would I be warming up to the story the way I amÉ The story chopped back and forth between the two subplots, and I, anyway, am not getting a sense of Jason as a great character, even though he is constantly referred to in those terms.

    Compare this story with another story that is not exactly analagous, but had beautiful imagery that drew the reader into the characters: Lifedeath, a Love Story - the old Xmen Storm-Forge story. Incredible art, but also incredible writing that could have stood up without the pretty pictures.

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    1. Hi ToB, thanks for bringing up Lifedeath, that's one of my favourite X-Men stories, mature and touching. I don't thing the comparison is entirely appropriate, though, as that was a one-off, extra-sized issue with the sole purpose of progressing the story of two characters, Storm and Forge. Lobdell, here, is giving us his characterisation on the fly, as part of a complicated story.

      And were Lobdell writing without benefit of the lovely illoes of Rocafort and Blond he'd either be a) writing a novel, so approaching things very differently or b) tailoring his script for whichever artists he has. Either way, I think he's talented enough that I'd be enjoying it.

      Anyway, I'm glad you're liking the book a bit!

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  3. It's still an awesome comic, and i am loving it for what it's, and Jason definitely become my favorite characters he is truly a someone in the shade of grey( that's way he is and can be a good an amazing character), and i tend to like those kind of characters way more than your superhero or villain, i am liking both Roy's and Starfire characterizations in this as well as controversial as it was. moreover i never understood the need for comic fans to rush things, maybe because i read mainly foreign graphic novels perhaps.
    Also for the poster above, hon!! a good story is highly subjective on opinion, what you perceive as good story, could mean bad to others, are opinions about literary works right or wrong, i believe no!! it's all about individuality, agreeing, disagreeing or agreed to disagreed is all about the individual after all.

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    1. Hi Anon, grey is good but Gray is better (ducks). I suppose part of the reason we - I know I do it on occasion - rush to judgment is that these things cost a bomb, so we'd like to find satisfaction sooner rather than later ... and of course, we know that these days there's no guarantee a new book will be around long enough to finish a storyline.

      I really must find time for some foreign graphic novels this year. Just read a non-foreign GN life of John Coltrane - not great.

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  4. A decent improvement on previous issues, tho for me the portrayal of Starfire still irks...at least the team [I assume theyr staying at just three?] are gelling well, and theres a real sense of urgency palpable in this story, which lends itself to Lobdell's scattergun approach to super-hero writing, which hasnt done him any favours in the past. Im not entirely convinced but I think Im beginning to like this book!

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    1. 'Scattergun approach'' - nice one Karl!

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  5. Agree that the art on this book is great - and yes the colouring really pops too. I also think the writing is great too though. This book has everything in my, er, book.

    Not sure that I know that much about the Red Hood yet. I like Kory; and Arsenal came to life as a more three-dimensional character this issue. But we're five issues in and I don't feel that I know (or like - or dislike) Red Hood much yet apart from the fact that he's a dead/now not dead assassin. I hope next issue will clear up why he's hanging out with the other two.

    Overall, for me, it's hard to pin down why I like this comic and for once I don't feel the need to over-analyse. I'm just enjoyin' the ride!

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    1. But you're enjoying it Rob, that's the main thing. I think next issue is an origin of sorts, so we should get more questions answered.

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  6. Hi Anon, comments of all lengths are very welcome. I entirely agree about Jason's actions this issue, they were unjustified. I was expecting him and the sheriff to pool info around the ongoing mystery, as mutually duped types. Instead, Jason kills here, which can't be good for any rising and advancing he wishes his spirit to do. I assume it's all deliberate on the part of Lobdell, wih lessons to be learned. I hope the book is around long enough for us to see.

    And many thanks for the kind words.

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  7. I didn't pick up on Crux's comment about the first issue until you pointed it out. It was definitely an awkward comment and didn't really add anything to the narrative. I thought that this issue was exceptional, and the "Red Hood and the Outlaws" has been one of favorite runs of the new 52. The action sequences, art, and overall plot have been top notch; I can't wait to read more.

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  8. What are these new terrible powers?

    Can he shoot his nails off his fingers like the new unimproved Timber Wolf?

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  9. Three weeks to the next issue, AR ... I do like the rhythm of the DC line post-52, for some reason I can now recall where they come in the month.

    More bonkers than that, even, And-Ru - he has a magic weapon activated by cutting himself. Yuk.

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  10. Oh dear me - is this a joke? Is he goffik?? Is it about self harming?

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  11. 'Goffik'? Is this young people's talk?

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  12. Glad to see that there are reviewers out there who are enjoying this comic. I personally found this issue to be a great breath of fresh air as it gave some more characterization to Roy (who even more than Kori, was really flat in prior issues). It's my personal favorite book of the New 52, and so I'm glad there are others who enjoy it. I, probably very similarly to you, cannot wait for the release of issue #6.

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  13. I'm definitely a fan, FogAlchemist. New issue this week!

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