I'm really nervous about this issue. Despite my hatred for his work on Teen Titans, I really enjoyed Scott Lobdell's (former writer of Uncanny X-Men and current writer for Teen Titans, Superboy and Superman) work on Red Hood and the Outlaws, and he gave the book a unique tone between comedy, blood thirsty action, and sentimentality that will probably prove difficult to recapture, but it's out with the old and in with the new as James Tynion IV (current writer of Talon, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Batman and Detective Comics) takes over writing duties and Julius Gopez (former cover artist for Devil's Due's Dragons of Spring Dawning and penciler of The Ravagers and current artist for Red Hood and the Outlaws) on the art. If it were just any old writer taking over, I probably would not be so concerned about the issue, but I really love Tynion's work on Talon, Batman and Detective Comics, and I really do not want to see one of my favorite writers lay an egg. Also, Tynion follows BatWatch, and I really do not want to have to say I think his issue sucked. However, I always try to call a spade a spade, and the preview for this issue was rather meh worthy with at least one bad line of dialogue and art which just was not working for me, so again I say, I'm a bit nervous.
Does this issue force me to talk smack about a writer I thought I could trust, or does James Tynion prove me to be a fool for doubting his mad skills?
In this issue, Arsenal and Starfire go looking for Jason at the Acres of All.
The Missing Chapter
Almost this entire issue was hampered and nearly ruined by the fact that we are missing crucial information. It feels like we are coming in after having missed an issue or two, and in fact, that is exactly the case since this issue clearly depends on events from Batman and... #20 which has not yet been released. I do not mind playing catch up when I have missed a few issues, but to make me scramble to understand the story when I'm current reading about a quarter for the DCNU including every Bat Family title kin of burns much like when I am scheduled for a Doctor's appointment at nine-fifteen, and they make me sit around until nine-fifty to see the doctor. My reaction is the same in both cases. Shouldn't you have had this worked out before I arrived?
To be fair, the piecing the past together as you go approach can sometimes be fun. Heck, it's the entire premise of the immensely popular The Hangover series, but the approach did not strike me as fun in this issue. For one thing, I was not expecting to have to play catchup. For another, there were basically no clues as to what was really happening in the entire first half of the issue which made it little more than a series of pointless scenes. I didn't have much grasp on what was happening other than that the Outlaws were looking for Jason, and though I've now put some of the pieces together, I still don't have much of a clue about the big picture at work.
(Spoilers) Clearly, something happened to Jason during Batman and Red Hood, but I have no idea what. I mean, it appears to be something that upset Jason. On the other hand, I guess Joker's mask attack could have been the straw that broke the camel's back, but with the consolation between Jason and Bruce in the last issue of RHATO, I would expect to see Jason with less baggage if anything. Again, I'm left scratching my head as to the purpose of this issue and what is actually happening.
The Big Reveal! (Spoilers)
I noticed a lot of traffic searching BatWatch today for a RHATO post, so I'm assuming Jason's mind wipe must be raising the fur on a lot of fans' necks. I would suggest you not worry about it too much. It's always possible that I am completely, totally, 100% wrong, but I can't see Tynion keeping Jason wiped for anything approaching a permanent basis. Tynion did say that this current brief arc will lead to repercussions in the next big arc, so I can see that perhaps Jason will be mentally incomplete for some time, but right now, he is basically little more than a lethal doll, (see Dollhouse) and since he is the main character of RHATO, I simply can't see them keeping him in this state for long. I would not be at all surprised if he has his memories restored by the end of the next issue, but there is also a real possibility that Tynion will be toying with Jason's brain for the rest of the year, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Jason has never been a big character for reflection. He's an act now and think later kind of guy, yet he has a lot of baggage, and he has finally become so fed up with trying that he's ready to give up.
This is something I have seen play out in my own life time and time again. Everybody gets to that point of feeling like their life is just screwed up beyond salvaging, and at that point, you have to make a decision. At that point, you either grow as a person or you get stuck in a self-destructive cycle.
Jason has been stuck in a self-destructive cycle. He is not willing to move past his pains and forgive his injuries. He thinks his pain is killing him when it is truly the source of his greatest strength. There is a lot to unpack thematically on this point, and I'm hoping this is where Tynion is planning to set up camp for the next several months. By messing with Jason's brain, Tynion is basically saying, “You don't like your life? Well, let's see how much you like your life when I take away everything that makes you, you.” Not only is this a rich ground for exploration, it also is an important one that actually has some relevance in the real world.
1. Julius Gopez's art does indeed annoy me. Just looking at the first page alone, we have a weird aura around characters as they are descending to the plane which looks very strange. People seem to be floating down gently to the plane without any difficulty. The villain looks stereotypically villainous, and Jason's face somehow looks like that of an evil wooden doll. The body language in almost every scene looks off.
2. The line about Jason's butler was hilarious.
3. I'm not sure this is really reasonable, but I somehow feel ripped off that I didn't get to see Jason tear into the hijackers. I would have much rather have seen more of this and less of the boring walking through the snow.
4. Starfire' costume looks more ridiculous each time I see it. How is it even supposed to stay attached to her frame? Is it a suction cup? Is it glue? Is it painted on? Does she have magical clothe sucking powers? Give that girl some clothes, for the love of Pete.
5. Starfire is nearly cuddly with the grandmother, yet she has never before treated a stranger with such kindness. What gives?
6. Why is Essence involved? Why do we have her creating trouble without apparent reason? Why is she narrating to herself when she first reveals herself to readers?
7. Why is Roy freezing to death when Starfire could easily warm him up?
8. To be fair to Gopez, I do really like the facial expression on Roy when he says, “Sez you.” It really speaks to his sadness and desperation.
9. Roy's dream includes lots of references I either I have never heard or have forgotten. When did Dr. Strange come into play? I've not read issues 10 and 11, so perhaps it was in there? Also, who are the Native Americans. I know in old continuity, Roy was raised by...Brave Bow, I think it was, but who is the younger guy?
10. Roy's actions in the dream sequence clearly amount to fighting his darkness not facing it.
(Spoilers until Conclusion)
11. Things pick up quite a bit once the Outlaws reach the Acres of All, but it still is less than spectacular. What are these creatures the Outlaws are fighting, and why are they roaming this paradise? Why was the reveal of Jason's memory wipe delayed when it was obvious from at least the second time Jason said he did not know the Outlaws?
12. I do like how Jason feels like a completely different character in his innocence. I'll even give Gopez props once again for capturing this with his art.
13. S'aru seems to have seized Jason's memories a bit eagerly. Perhaps he will be found to be out and out villainous next issue.
As for James Tynion's debut on this series, this was not all I could have wished. Quite frankly, I resent having to play catchup, and I find it a waste of panel space to spend most of the issue focusing on quasi-spiritual, convoluted undertakings rather than unrolling the plot to give readers a context for the story. On the other hand, I think I know what Tynion wants to do thematically with Red Hood, and I dig the direction he is taking the character as long as this is a learning experience and not a permanent change. In the end, I'll say this is a good purchase for those hardcore RHATO fans, but everybody else might want to wait until the next issue comes out so we can get a better sense of which way this series is going.