Oh, Jason Todd. If there were ever a spiritual successor to Batman’s pair of Grumpy Pants, it would be you. And yet I love you anyway.
Red Hood and the Outlaws #9 picks up after last month’s emotional blow. Everyone’s favorite and equally grumpy Amazon Artemis had to kill her friend, Akila, to save the world after Akila was corrupted by the power of the Bow of Ra. Harsh times, but at least they kept a weapon of mass destruction out of the hands of those who would use it for evil, right?
Welcome back to This is Your Life, Jason Todd! For this episode, we’re taking you back to a place of unimaginable trauma, called Qurac. You might remember it as the place where the Joker killed you!
(What the what? Did he die in Ethiopia? Apparently not! This is Scott Lobdell’s world, and we just live in it!)
Yes, Red Hood and his merry band of Outlaws are now hurtling toward Qurac after that nation’s military dictator got his hands on said Bow of Mass Destruction and used it on his own people. Jason commandeers a broken plane for Bizarro to fly them to Qurac as Artemis and Jason watch news reports of the disaster, complete with stories about refugees fleeing the country and their neighboring countries struggling to deal with the chaos/influx (Prescient much?)
The opening is a little exposition heavy if you’ve been following the series, but for Lobdell, this is very restrained. Moreover, if you’re just deciding to jump into the series, the opening info is just enough to get you caught up to speed without overwhelming regular readers.
So where were we?
Ah yes! Despotic leaders with weapons!
The Quraci military opens fire on Jason and Co’s plane after Jason defiantly says they’re here to kick some dictator butt. Bizarro absorbs the blow, and in a fun little stream, disables the planes shooting at them while letting the pilots escape. Artemis and Jason, busy flopping around in a falling plane, comment that Bizarro is indeed making some progress.
Then everything goes to doo doo.
The heroes wake up scattered. Jason in General Weapons-a-lot’s prison, Bizarro in the middle of a group of refugees, and Artemis? Well, we’ll get to that in a moment.
Let’s start with Bizarro. Lobdell’s take on this character has more often than not been a shade softer and more humorous. Lo-Bizarro often gets to explore beats of heroism and humor not often seen when written by others. So of course, he’s who the refugees find. Bizarro wakes up disoriented and wanting to find his teammates… and being mistaken for Superman.
While he sets the story straight, we also see the hero within, when he can’t leave the refugees behind. Instead, he promises to keep them safe and get them to Jason and Artemis whom he believes can help them.
…which might not be the best idea considering where the other two are, but the point being is that Lo-Bizarro is by far one of the most Super incarnations of himself.
Now Jason. Jason who is in a military prison and has decided the quickest way to get to the General is to more or less move his imprisonment along. He’s having a rough day and reliving some pretty violent episodes. As he tries to bluster his way to meeting the General, Jason’s day gets even worse when he realizes his prison is right next to the crumbling remains of a certain bunker. Where he died and went boom boom.
Yeah… that’s gotta suck.
Naturally, he begins to assume the Joker himself is involved and begins demanding answers from the three prison guards who were talking to them. They seem legitimately confused and back out of his cell, and poor Jason is left to his own devices. Which apparently means hallucinating a younger, Robin-ery version of himself. That final cell though, right in the feels.
And Artemis. You cranky, hard-shelled amazon. You’re a match made in heaven with your grumpy leader, but we’ve gotten to know you over the past eight issues, and we totally feel for you. Having to kill your close friend to stop a reign of violence only to realize some other nutjob found the very weapon you killed over? Well, that’s gotta make that sacrifice and loss feel pretty worthless.
But don’t fret Artemis! Because when you come to, hanging upside down and in chains, a very familiar face is gonna be waiting for you, and ready to go save the world!
Of course, that’s where the issue ends. OF COURSE.
Tonally, this series is fantastic. Lobdell has found a perfect blend of dry humor, emotional beats, and pathos to give voice to this crew of misfits. Jason Todd can easily be written with too heavy of a hand, but Lobdell has crafted an exploration of a man who, while still traumatized and a Grumpasaurus, is legitimately trying to be a better hero and maybe, sorta finds himself opening up to people again along the way.
Lo-Bizarro is always a delight, and Artemis has become a very endearing Shrek-like onion character, as each episode pulls away another layer of her recalcitrant persona to expose a little more about the woman beneath the armor.
And the art.
Look, I love Dexter Soy. I read Batman: Arkham Knight JUST FOR YOU, DEXTER. So it fills my nerdy heart with glee when one of my favorite artists is paired with a writer who just gets the characters he’s guiding. The synergy between Lobdell’s written words and Soy’s characters is incomparable to any other title right now, and when combined with Veronica Gandini’s colors, Red Hood and the Outlaws has the best overall package of any other running title on the market right now. Yes, I said that, and I am totally willing to die on this hill. They are just that good.
Bottom line: If you haven’t picked up this series yet, what on earth are you waiting for? Go! Go get it! Add it to your pull list!
Red Hood and the Outlaws #9
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Pencils: Dexter Soy
Colors: Veronica Gandini
Letters: Taylor Esposito