Red Hood: Outlaw 27 gets off to a strong start before quickly becoming infuriating.
Comic book universes are complex, ever-evolving machinations with dozens of branching narratives operating within the same canon at once. It can be, to say the least, exhausting trying to figure out when certain things are happening in relation to the massive events of other books that are sometimes not even mentioned. That’s not going to be a problem for readers of Red Hood: Outlaw, who are attempting to place it in context of Heroes in Crisis because issue #27 of the former directly ties into the events of the latter. While the initial build up of this unexpected crossover issue is fantastic, the majority of this issue ends up feeling like a tacked-on explanation of why Jason Todd will be M.I.A. in Heroes in Crisis that simultaneously feels tremendously out of character for the titular hero.
Spoilers for Heroes in Crisis #1 ahead
From the very first page on it’s obvious this issue will deal with the fallout from Heroes in Crisis #1 and how Jason Todd will deal with the death of his best friend, Roy Harper. It opens with a brilliantly moody splash page showing a solemn Jason leaving a voicemail on his fallen friend’s phone (at this point, however, it is unclear whether Jason knows what’s happened yet). The falling rain and deserted country road betray a sense of sadness and loneliness while the dead tree looming above Jason foreshadows a loss of life. Artist Pete Woods does a wonderful job, in just one page, framing the emotional context of the entire issue.
Woods illustrates the token fight scene in this issue just as well as he did when he took over the series in issue #26. Calling it a fight scene isn’t necessarily an insult, although the scene really has nothing to do with the grander story, just that it’s a Red Hood story and therefore needs violence. This violence is lightning quick, yet easy to follow thanks to Woods and does a wonderful job of showcasing how far removed Jason is from his days in Gotham trying to stick to Bruce Wayne’s no-killing rule. The violence isn’t completely necessary, but it is at least purposeful.
Speaking of Bruce Wayne, it’s his surprising appearance after he and Jason’s chaotic fallout from issue #25 that truly let’s the reader know what he’s there for- to deliver the news about Roy. Writer Scott Lobdell and Woods do a fantastic job building a sense of anticipation towards this reveal- a crisp, nearly nine-panel layout reminiscent of Heroes in Crisis writer Tom King’s style which makes the passing moments feel like an eternity as Jason bickers with Batman about their unresolved beef, painfully ignorant to the devastating news he’s about to hear. The tension and sense of anxiety built up here is fantastic.
Unfortunately, everything that follows is a big let down- and, even more unfortunate, what follows is half of the issue. From here, both Jason and Bruce act suspiciously out of character, derailing all sense of emotional weight or confidence in the story.
For starters, Bruce and Jason’s conflict is essentially wiped under the rug. Sure, they briefly talk about it, but in three-quick panels with maybe 50 words spoken the beef is squashed. It completely dilutes the importance and impact of the tremendous issue #25 and feels like a rushed resolution to a conflict, yet without resolution. It feels completely out of character for Bruce to forgive Jason that quickly and for Jason to accept Bruce’s forgiveness, especially with how far removed Jason has become from the righteous vigilante image.
Then, there’s how quickly and effortlessly Jason removes himself (or, should I say, editors removed him) from Heroes in Crisis, when he awkwardly says “That’s a lot of people out looking for revenge. No one needs me in the mix.” Wait-what?! This can’t be the same Red Hood readers saw shoot the Penguin on national TV in a revenge killing over a father he hated. The same Red Hood readers are supposed to believe is more committed to a blood soaked war on crime than ever before. Readers are supposed to believe that same Red Hood would simply excuse himself for exacting revenge on those who murdered is oldest, closest friend? This is a wildly out of character decision that goes against everything readers have been led to believe about Jason Todd’s transformation over the last few months.
Following this mind-blowing, stupid moment, Jason comes to terms with Roy’s death. In one page. Poof. He’s fine. Barely shaken at all. these are superhero comics and death is constant, even Jason mentions that, but there is little to no emotion from Jason hearing the news that his absolute best friend has been murdered. Once again, this is wildly out of character. Jason Todd is arguably the most emotional of the Bat-Family whose emotions get the best of him often, yet here he is a stone? If anything, this should send him deeper into his blood lust, only now he’s targeting those who killed Roy.
There was a lot of potential with this issue. It could’ve been an emotionally wrought tie-in that not only further contextualized Heroes in Crisis, but pushed Jason Todd further into the darkness and driving a wider divide between him and Batman, thus creating more conflict in the character. Instead, it feels like a thoughtless, tacked-on explanation of why readers shouldn’t expect Red Hood in Heroes of Crisis.