Red Hood and the Outlaws is coming off one of the strongest issues in the series’ history with #22, which seemingly set up the climax to Bizarro’s tragic return to form as he loses grip on his newfound intelligence. This set up #23 to be the gut-wrenching Bizarro finale that writer Scott Lobdell has been building towards for the better part of a year, but that’s not what this issue is. Instead, readers are treated to a detour through Jason Todd’s father’s past that is certainly heartfelt, but ultimately unnecessary and poorly timed.
This book opens up with three absolutely gorgeous pages from guest artist Trevor Hairsine. While I still consider Dexter Soy the definitive artist for Rebirth-era Red Hood stories, these opening pages show Hairsine is no slouch with the character either.
The first is simply badass, with a lone Red Hood surrounded by henchmen as lighting strikes in the background, illuminating the sky with violent blue hues. The next two pages see Red hood spring into action in a double splash page that not only captures the acrobatic style of Red Hood, but manages to convey his movements fluidly without losing the reader in the chaos- something even Soy struggles with from time to time.
Unfortunately, that is the only glimpse of the Red Hood in action readers get to see here, making it feel like a bit of a let down. Lately, Red Hood and the Outlaws has seen sparse action out of the titular former Robin and #23 is no different, as the story pivots from a graveyard scene to a flashback within a flashback (comics, am I right?) that details the life of Willis Todd, Jason’s father, from Willis’s perspective.
For the most part, these moments don’t provide anything new about Jason’s Dad- he’s still a drug dealing goon for hire rotting in prison. This is the first time, however, that readers hear Willis’s account of events, offering a more sympathetic perspective on the character. Rather than seeing Willis as a bad guy doing bad things to support a drug habit, readers will see a father doing absolutely anything he can to provide for his son while trying to save his drug riddled wife. These are legitimately heartfelt moments that add depth to a character previously displayed as nothing more than a deadbeat.
This surge of empathy extends to Jason as well, who suddenly finds himself driven to discover what happened to his father in an emotionally charged, vulnerable moment. This scene in particular exemplifies what separates Jason from the villains he loops himself in with.
Jason has hated his father his entire life, never even seeing him in prison. Yet, when provided with a new perspective on his life, Jason opens himself to empathy, reluctantly allowing himself to care for a man he’s hated for so long- and that right there is what makes Jason different. He can feel empathy towards those he hates while the villains he tends to lose himself in are incapable of such feelings. His empathy is what grounds him.
Aside from Jason’s sudden wave of sympathy for his father, he also discovers his father may still be alive after accepting a deal to be apart of a scientific experiment to shorten his sentence. While this doesn’t immediately impact the overall story Lobdell has been building for the past few months, it does set up a potential conflict down the road that shifts the series focus back to Red Hood where he must confront his past yet again. I also have the sinking feeling that the unnamed multiple faced man who has suddenly appeared in the last few issues will turn out to be Jason’s dad, disfigured as the results of his experiments.
For the most part, however, this issue just had me asking why. Why now? Why interrupt the momentum of the Bizarro storyline to take a trip through Jason’s dad’s life? Why tease this conflict now? Why not wait until the Bizarro story ends then launch into a new arc? As a stand alone, this is a solid issue, but when placed in the context of the ongoing narrative it simply halts the progress of a climatic ending to a year-long. I don’t care about Jason’s dad right now, tell me what’s hapenning to Bizarro.
Red Hood and the Outlaws #23 is not the issue I was expecting and it’s not even the issue I wanted. Sure it’s a heartfelt look at the life of Jason’s father that allows for an exemplary moment of empathy from Jason, but it truly just feels like an oddly timed and unnecessary story. If readers are hoping for the climatic finale to the genius-bizarro story, they won’t find it here.