Once upon a time Roy Harper was Green Arrow’s tech guy. Today he’s the anti-hero known as Arsenal and Green Arrow is the last person he wants to see. Ollie Queen, though, turns up on the hidden island HQ of Roy, Jason Todd and Princess Koriand’r of Tamaran – aka Red Hood and Starfire – to warn them that there’s a massive bounty on their heads.
Which might be useful, had Ollie not unwittingly led one of those very same assassins to them. Cheshire is fast, teleports and has poisons that can down even the alien Starfire. But rather than kill the three Outlaws, she wants to take Jason – supposedly her old training partner – away to join the gang of killers she’s with …
That’s the meat of James Tynion IV’s script. There’s also a massive helping of tackiness, thanks to artist Al Barrionuevo’s choices for Cheshire. Lord knows why our heroes can’t catch the minx given that she’s constantly stopping to show off her bum, boobs and knickers. As well as being insulting and laughable, it’s a shame because it distracts from the occasionally excellent work Barrionuevo, coloured by Javier Mena and Bit, does. The way he moves characters around panels, especially when we’re in an action scene, is impressive, and his general figurework convinces. It’s just the Nineties-style adolescent pandering that distracts.
Mind, at least he doesn’t have the Roybots poledancing.
Roybots? They’re the super-cute cybernetic lizards, turtles and worms which protect the island from (non-teleporting) intruders. And when they’re told a newcomer is OK, said visitor is designated a Royfriend. This kind of playfulness is welcome in a script that’s otherwise super-serious, as it details Roy’s dark days of heavy drinking, the newly amnesiac Jason’s struggle to accept that he’s a mass killer, and of-course,a potentially lethal supervillain slapfest.
I’m less keen on Cheshire’s dialogue – with lines like ‘you should have told me you made such cute friends’ she sounds less like a ruthless killer than a demented ladyboy. And the face make-up Barrionuevo’s apparently been asked to draw is horrendous, the woman looks severely bruised throughout. On the plus side, I like that she can now teleport, like a Cheshire cat – it makes her holding her own against a team of superheroes a little more believable.
In flashbacks we see that when he needed psychiatric help, Roy wound up under Dr Hugo Strange, one of the first foes of Batman back in the Golden Age of comics. We don’t see the details, but the implication is that he sent Roy away more screwed up than he was when he arrived.
As for Jason, I’m beginning to suspect that his recent mindwipe will prove indefinite, laundering his sins somewhat.
There’s no new insight into Kori this issue, though subplots from the regular series, reflecting Roy’s problems with trust, continue. She is, though, demonstrably the team’s most powerful member.
Having recently joined the book, Tynion is proving an asset, though he really needs to avoid flashbacks within flashbacks, and daft bits of narration such as ‘three-hundred forty-nine feet away’, which recalls the nuttiness of Legion Lost’s ‘five blocks south and seventeen east’ – there’s a reason that book got cancelled.
And while Cheshire’s attraction to Roy makes sense as a nod to old continuity, a sly reference to Roy’s pre-Flashpoint lost arm would have been better deleted – far too knowing.
What’s more, the sooner Tynion either explain’s Roy’s Linus-like attachment to baseball caps, or writes them out entirely, the better – superhero outfit plus + baseball cap = simple. Roy looks like he should be sporting a couple of beer cans on either side.
Where Tynion is strongest is in showing the friendship between the characters – the love Kori and Roy have for one another and Jason is constantly to the fore. Jason is unable to join the love fest at the moment, but I’m sure he’ll be grudgingly adoring his partners again soon.
The cover, by artist Ken Lashley and colourist Matt Yackey, is a decent spin on a classic comic book idea – visually, but not earth, shattering.
As specials go, like this week’s Earth 2 giant, Red Hood and the Outlaws Annual #1 is more a double issue than a discrete event. If you’re not already reading the series, dipping into this might prove less than satisfactory. But regular readers will likely enjoy the deepening of characters, the progression of the storyline and the introduction of a new villain – it’s just a shame Cheshire’s been made into cheesecake.