The Red Hood, Starfire and Arsenal descend into the depths of the Chamber of All in search of the Untitled, slayer of assassins’ guild the All-Caste. Yes, the names are the pompously vague type typically associated with Himalayan mystical realms in comics, but don’t be put off – this is a gripping issue of the new team title. For it gives us our first real insight into who Jason Todd, Koriand’r and Roy Harper are in DC’s recently tweaked reality.
The device facilitating flashbacks is S’aru the Proctor, millennia-old gatekeeper of the Chamber. In return for allowing the Outlaws to pass, he grabs their most precious memories, to be returned if they find their way back. Red Hood and pals descend into the Chamber via a staircase inspired by MC Escher, and it’s a structure apparently attuned to Jason’s memories given the inclusion of gigantic Joker mouths. Inside, they battle a horrendous ogre in pursuit of a shining globe atop a monstrous plinth.
Outside, S’aru peeks at the memories held dearest by the three adventurers – the girl Koriand’r showing her alien slavers that while she’s their prisoner, she’s not their plaything; Roy Harper attempting to fulfil a death wish in an encounter with Killer Croc; and Jason Todd … well, that would be perhaps one spoiler too many. It’s one of those moments you’ll probably see coming while worrying that it won’t arrive, and it’s a bittersweet emotional beat on which to close the issue. Just two months on from some unfortunate first impressions, we’re gifted insight into our three leads, showing that writer Scott Lobdell really does know what he’s doing.
Even if he does misspell ‘Kory’ throughout.
Oh all right, new continuity, new rules – let’s say he re-spells the shortened form. Doesn’t mean I won’t pull a face!
But that’s the only problem I have with this issue. Jason. Kori (ugh) and Roy are nicely differentiated in terms of personality, methods, background and attitude, but they gel marvellously. There’s an easy camaraderie fueled by affection that manifests as teasing and bickering, but when the proverbial chips are down, the gang of three have one another’s backs. Lobdell’s jokes fit the characters, and he places them sparingly and well, without losing sight of the bigger drama – who is The Untitled and why did he, she or it kill the All-Caste?
The presentation of Kori is heartening, as her dialogue makes it clear that despite apparent memory problems in the debut issue, she remembers her past (click on image to enlarge). According to S’aru her brain processes memory differently to that of Earth people, but it seems she’s all there – just very guarded in what she chooses to address, share. And she’s certainly given respect in the field, as the team member with the best warrior instincts. That’s not to say the skills of Red Hood and Arsenal are shabby, but her martial background and years of imprisonment have honed Starfire’s fighting and survival skills to incredible levels.
Penciller Kenneth Rocafort and digital inker Blond are Lobdell’s perfect partners, their art a pleasing mix of bombast and delicacy. The monster is the equal of any you’ll find so far as fearsome looks are concerned, and the steps to the Chamber make for a mouthwatering spread. But there’s a lightness to the rendering that lends an air of fairytale that suits this story of superheroes on a quest. The artefact they finally find is more Rosebud than Rosetta Stone, but it’s a clue, and intriguing as designed by Rocafort.
The flashback scenes show how comfortable the artists are with different environments, as we go from a Citadel prison on some alien world to the gritty rooftops of Gotham and the more rarefied atmosphere of stately Wayne Manor (complete with a Shakespeare bust reminiscent of the Sixties TV show). As well as inker, Blond has his more familiar colour credit, and what a superb job he does, for example, laying down jewel tones for scenes with S’aru and sickly greens and yellows for the monster.
Rocafort and Blond also supply the outstanding cover, which gives us a good look at the revised Robin costume worn by Jason as a lad – it’s very odd in the leg department, with strange, faffy bits. Points for uniqueness, though. Speaking of the cover, why isn’t Blond credited alongside Lobdell and Rocafort? As colourist and inker he’s playing a sizable part in the book’s unique look.
Red Hood and the Outlaws is superheroes meet Indiana Jones in a buddy movie, a uniquely entertaining mix that justifies its place in DC’s tranche of new titles. Next issue promises to explain that ‘outlaws’ bit of the logo. I can’t wait.