It’s been troubling times for Red Hood and his ragtag group of Outlaws — well, at least in terms of the quality of this series. In a narrative sense, the Outlaws have never been better! They’ve all but stopped crime in Gotham under the guise of Bizarro’s genius level IQ and they finally have enough down time to spy on each other after eating early morning breakfasts together. Sound like a boring issue? Because that’s what Red Hood and the Outlaws #20 is. At least this issue basically ignores the forced romantics of the previous issue and advances the meandering genius-Biazarro plot, albeit in minuscule fashion.
Look, I love Red Hood, and I have been particularly fond of the Red Hood and the Outlaws since its debut in the New 52. The Rebirth series was off to such a great start too, with the first 13 issues delivering action packed, character driven stories that shed new light on the trio of heroes.
Ever since Lex Luthor saved Bizarro and gave him super-intelligence, however, this series has seen dud after dud, with a wandering plot that never seems to actually go anywhere. I get the slow-burn approach to Bizarro’s declining intelligence, but this isn’t a slow-burn — it’s more like trying to burn a city down with an extinguished zippo.
What is being proved with this arc that mundanely continues in issue #20? The opening six issues showed Jason Todd is uncomfortably similar to Black Mask, “Who is Artemis?” developed Artemis more than ever before, and “Life of Bizarro” gave readers a heartbreaking look into the mind of a Superman clone — but what have these last seven issues done? Prove if you make Bizarro a genius he’s a completely different, unimpressive character? If that is writer Scott Lobdell’s goal, then mission accomplished.I had naively hoped that #20 would serve as an end to this Smartzarro storyline, but instead it drags on for at least another issue. There’s nothing new revealed in this issue to make the over-extended plot more interesting, nothing that makes me want to buy the next issue (other than my desire to own every Jason Todd appearance). Bizarro is still smart. Jason and Artemis are still uncomfortable about it. Bizarro still knows his intelligence isn’t forever.
The only moment of story progression comes in the final pages, as Artemis discovers Bizarro’s stockpile of synthetic Kryptonite just as Bizarro stumbles in to find her. This was actually a gleeful moment for me — maybe the looming confrontation in issue #21 will lead to the destruction of the smart-juice and readers will finally see the long-overdue conclusion to this arc. Don’t show me the April or May solicitations, just let me have this dream.
It’s not that this issue is glaringly bad or inconsistent (see my review of #19 for a better example of bad and inconsistent), it’s just sadly hollow with almost nothing to brag about. Almost. Jason Todd has some chuckle-worthy quips in the opening panels that feel like classic Red Hood retorts in a not-so-classic Red Hood story.
Jason also begins to struggle internally with his no-kill promise to Batman in this issue. I’ve been waiting for the longevity of this no-kill-Jason thing to run out and I’d love to see this Bizarro storyline end in favor of a new arc that sees Jason returning to his killing ways climaxing in a confrontation with Batman. That would even give credibility to the “Outlaws” title of the book, a moniker which has been merely a name and not a lifestyle for a long time.Dexter Soy’s art is a sight for sore eyes after the lousy cartoon style employed in the previous issue. His level of detail is a welcome return to form, particularly in a gorgeous splash page that depicts Red Hood lazily keeping tabs on a sleeping villain from the comfort of a shadowed lazyboy.
Unfortunately, there’s no action to really welcome Soy back after his one-issue absence with his heavily stylized fight scenes, so readers will just have to settle for a few panels of Red Hood standing (or sitting) menacingly until the next issue.
Red Hood and the Outlaws #20 simply doesn’t do much of anything. It’s a 21-page story that serves up only two pages worth reading — and only for the sake of progressing a tediously slow story. Red Hood and the Outlaws started off as one of Rebirth’s most entertaining titles but has slid uncontrollably into one of its flattest monthly series with this seemingly never-ending Smartzarro storyline. For now, I’ll just bide my time and wait for this arc to end while hoping for anything better in the Outlaws’ future.