This issue may be the best of the entire series.
It’s been a rough go for Jason Todd and his gang of outlaws recently. Bizarro’s newfound intelligence is rapidly declining, Jason learned his father was betrayed by the Penguin which upended both their lives, and Artemis is struggling to watch as two of her closest friends slowly fall apart. The past year of Red Hood and the Outlaws comes to a head with #24 this week, tying up both Jason and Bizarro’s story arc while setting up something new. The result? An incredibly well paced, tense, exciting, and emotional issue that will stand out as one of the series’s very best.
Jason has had an uneasy relationship with Oswald Cobblepot a.k.a. The Penguin for some time now, but last month’s reveal surrounding Penguin’s involvement with Jason’s father’s imprisonment sent Jason over the edge, hurtling him on a one way path towards revenge. From the second Jason appears in this issue you know there is something different about him thanks to fantastic artwork by RHATO series regular Dexter Soy.
Soy doesn’t depict Jason as coming in gun blazes like usual — instead, he shows Jason calmly walking toward Cobblepot through billows of smoke, his mask radiating a sense of unflinching resolve as the smoke dances around his steel demeanor. Soy expertly captures the the rage and disgust Jason feels in these moments, with each close up frame of his face evoking feelings of righteous, confident anger.
(It’s hard not to discuss this issue without spoiling anything, so here’s a SPOILER alert for everything after this sentence. I highly recommend reading this book before reading the remainder of the review.)
Soy’s art alludes this is no ordinary meeting between Outlaw and villain, but it’s writer Scott Lobdell’s dialogue that reallys cement this. Jason has always been a man unsure of who he truly is, and Cobblepot perfectly encapsulates this when he tells Jason “You can play at being one of the bad guys all you want — but at the end of the day you’re just a kid playing dress up,” Cobblepot’s stinging analysis of Jason is actaully accurate, or at least has been for the majority of this arc. The Red Hood isn’t an actual outlaw, he’s simply a good guy undercover as a bad guy. This exchange is incredibly tense, with the frame by frame close ups of both characters creating a sense of claustrophobia that limits the readers view of the full situation.
In a moment of simultaneous triumph and weakness, Jason seemingly executes Cobblepot, telling him “I am my father’s son” as he pulls the trigger. This is huge for a number of reasons — most obviously: Jason just executed the Penguin! Outright blew his damn brains out! That’s insane!
It cements Jason Todd as a true outlaw again, reverting him to his original Red Hood stature as the man willing to do what Batman wouldn’t. It also shows, however, the immense amount of love Jason has for his absent father. So much so, he was willing to betray his promise to Batman to exact vengeance in his name. Jason constantly acts like he didn’t care about his father, but this issue adds complexity to Jason’s character by showing he still has very strong feelings of loyalty to his father, despite his father’s shortcomings. Jason’s empathy extends past his friends to people he once hated, with this issue displaying just how far his empathy will take him.
When not focused on Jason’s fatal encounter with the Penguin, this issue examines Bizarro’s final descent back to his weakened mind in heartbreaking faction. Allison Borges takes over the art on these pages and does a masterful job of eliciting an intense feeling of sadness and despair that make the already heartbreaking script feel all the more impactful.
Borges captures the fear and genuine sadness of Bizarro so perfectly as he finally reverts back to his old self. Even though I felt the smart Bizarro story had taken too long to play out, Borges’ art and Lobdell’s decision to have Bizarro’s final moments of intelligence spent alongside his Super-Man stuffed doll legitimately made me tear up. Even Artemis, the Amazonian warrior, is clearly heartbroken by Bizarro’s regression, once again because of Borges excellent ability to capture emotion on the page.
My only complaint about this issue is the opening. Including a cameo from the OG Outlaws Starfire and Arsenal is great fan service, but using them as a vehicle to showcase Bizarro’s love for his team is a little confusing. After all, they were never on an Outlaws squad together. While this does start the issue off on a wrong foot, it allows for more tighter, fast paced action for the remainder of the issue.
Red Hood and the Outlaws #24 may be the best title yet in a series that, for the most part, has been solid for two straight years. The artwork from both Soy and Borges work perfectly to create tension and elicit emotion while Lobdell’s plotting and powerful dialogue make this an unforgettable entry for the series.