Red Hood and the Outlaws: Rebirth #1
Written by Scott Lobdell
Art by Dexter Soy and Veronica Gandini
Lettering by Taylor Esposito
Published by DC Comics
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
You be hard-pressed to find two more controversial words in the DC Universe than Jason Todd. Whether as the rebellious Robin or the gun-toting anti-hero Red Hood, Jason's misadventures have always polarized public opinion. Scott Lobdell's Red Hood and the Outlaws ran throughout the entire lifetime of the "New 52" (albiet under several different names), and became infamous for its madcap plot lines and questionable characterization. But as the DC Universe is reborn, writer Scott Lobdell and artist Dexter Soy have successfully honed in on the core appeal of Jason Todd with Red Hood and the Outlaws: Rebirth #1, an absorbing recap of the life and times of Jason Todd that successfully brands him as the dark horse of the Bat-family rather than the outright repellent creature he is so often written as.
Scott Lobdell runs through the important beats of Jason's life: the attempted robbery of the Batmobile's wheels, the extra liberties taken with criminals, that altercation with The Joker and that legendary crowbar... it's all here, refreshed to give Jason a sense of background and to provide a point of empathy for the reader. It's nice to see Jason sat on the Batmobile's hood, chomping away at a burger whilst Bats offers advice and guidance. Lobdell's mission statement here is clear: Jason Todd is one of the good guys, even if he is hewn from a rougher cloth than most. Away from flashbacks, Lobdell plays with reader expectations, culminating in a fight between Batman and Red Hood for the mayor of Gotham's life. It's not all as it seems, though, as Jason "shoots" the mayor, injecting him as the antidote to a nasty techno-organic virus.
Lobdell stresses the detective elements of the Dark Knight here, showing Jason soaking up lessons in advanced forensic science during his time as a Robin and then applying them in the present day as the fearsome Red Hood. This reviewer's always a sucker for the World's Greatest Detective element of the Bat-family, something that often gets overlooked in favor of brute force and psychological terrorism by modern-day Bat-writers. Lobdell chooses to stress Jason's more cerebral skills here, providing a solid counterweight to his trademark bloodlust and bitterness.
Visually, Dexter Soy's imposing figures add a serious sense of weight and gravity to Lobdell's script. Cowls crumple at Batman and Red Hood's features, whilst jackets and capes billow around the human form with a real sense of heft. Lobdell clearly understands Soy's strengths as a big screen artist, letting him run rampant across massive three- and four-panel pages of blockbuster action. Soy also leans into the darker nature of the Red Hood, detailing his character's faces with furrowed brows and malevolent scowls. As with any Bat-artist worth their salt, Soy's Joker is a macabre and gaunt creature, with wild, bloodshot eyes and a vile grin. Veronica Ganbini finishes off the polished look of the issue with a vampiric color palette of blacks, gray and dark blues spun through with dashes of crimson. Of course, Jason is the streak of red that runs through the issue; a clever use of color that keeps the reader's eye firmly focused on the issue's protagonist.
The Rebirth one-shots have done an excellent job reframing each refreshed ongoing with its new status-quo, and although Lobdell and Soy do a commendable job with the character of Jason Todd, the titular Outlaws don't even make guest appearances in Red Hood and the Outlaws: Rebirth #1. It's a worrying group of absences, especially considering it was Lobdell's depictions of "New 52" Outlaws Starfire and Arsenal that drew the bulk of readers' ire. It would have been comforting for Lobdell to immediately establish Red Hood's new team of the Amazonian Artemis and Superman's broken mirror, Bizarro. But this one-shot's strength lies in its single-minded focus on Jason Todd, so perhaps their introductions are better left for the ongoing series proper, even if their exclusion does prompt a few difficult questions, especially where representation of women is concerned.
Red Hood and the Outlaws: Rebirth #1 makes a very convincing argument for Jason's place in the Bat-family and the larger DC Universe as a whole. Scott Lobdell's portrait of a grudge-bearing warrior provides a rock-solid foundation for the ongoing series to come, provided of course that Lobdell can paint Bizarro and Artemis in a similarly compelling light. Dexter Soy's intimidating and balanced pencil-work is rich in eye-candy, aided by Veronica Gandini's tried-and-tested color palette of monochrome with energetic splashes of bright red. More than anything, Red Hood and the Outlaws: Rebirth #1 offers hope that Lobdell and Soy won't make the same mistakes that hampered the "New 52" Outlaws. A successful rebirth, indeed.