By BatWatch 4 Comments
James Tynion IV (current writer of Batman, Detective Comics, Red Hood and the Outlaws and Talon) has only had a single issue writing Red Hood and the Outlaws at this point, and to make any judgment based on merely one issue would be rash and premature.
That being said, I'm going to be rash and premature.
I have been a huge fan of Tynion's work on Talon and the backup features of Batman and Detective Comics, but I'd be lying if I denied that there were some red flags in his first issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws. I'm not going to get too much in the nitty gritty, but real quick, I'm going to hit a few points on what worries me.
1. Where's the Fun and the Funny?
Like many others, I enjoyed Lobdell's (former writer of Uncanny X-Men and current writer of Teen Titans, Superman, Superboy and Action Comics) run on RHATO, but let's be honest with ourselves, the series is not deep. The series formula is simple. Take three super types willing to use lethal force, throw them up against various baddies, make them crack wise in the face of certain death, add some self-destructive tendencies and a quasi familial relationship between team members, and boom, you've got Red Hood and the Outlaws. It's 80% fun action adventure with just a little bit of serious added in to give it flavor.
There was not a lot of fun or funny to be had in RHATO #19. Roy had one or two humorous lines and Jason's crack about his butler, “Kicking your a** all the way back to Gotham City,” was hilarious. Then, there was one obligatory and frivolous action scene, but beyond that, this issue seemed to take itself way too seriously. I wanted to have a good time, but I ended up feeling stressed and confused. That's not what I wanted.
2. The Art Grieves Me.
I do not believe Red Hood and the Outlaws has ever had a tiptop A-list artist, but it has always been good quality. RHATO #19, on the other hand, was...not pretty. In terms of characters bodies, things just did not look quite right, and regarding faces, people came off looking kind of like demented wooden dolls in many panels. It is certainly not the worst art I've ever seen in a comic, but it's not doing the book any favors.
3. Put the Pedal to the Melatonin.
Again, RHATO is simple. It delivers some good time action with just a touch of something deeper. In the first arc of this series, dozens of people were killed in the name of justice, the globe was spanned, mysterious forces were unleashed, pasts were discovered, and monsters were killed. In this issue, we have eleven pages of Where's Waldo.
To be fair, the first eleven pages could have been intense. The problem is, we, the readers, had no idea what was at stake until the final few pages. Kori and Roy must find Jason but why? We had no idea. There is no threat looming large over our heads. Now that Batman and Red Hood has been released, someone could read RHATO #19 with a little more tension knowing Jason's fragile state of mind, but that was deprived us due to the bizarre timetable at work. Essence is trying to stop the Outlaws, but again, this adds very little because we do not know her motivation. We see Roy go through a vision, but this was more or less a retread of RHATO #18, and all the demons Roy confronts here are from an unknown past. By leaving us in the dark on key factors, RHATO #19 made the first half of the issue rather sleepy.
4. The Mystic is Expanded but Not Explained.
Tynion has spoken in interviews about how it is a strength of the series that there are so many story types possible from the characters such as the mystical adventures open through Jason's training in the All Caste. The problem with revisiting the All Caste is that it never really made any sense. Lobdell did establish the concept, but he pretty much dazzled us with bright flashes and cool fight scenes which made us breeze right by all the unanswered questions like, “What the crap does any of this mystic stuff actually mean?” If you are going to draw out a story that focuses on the mystic, then you are going to have to give some better guidelines on the rules of this mystical world, and right now, we're missing that.
In Defense of Tynion...
(Spoilers for This Paragraph if You Have Not Read RHATO 19) You might have noticed that I skipped what many consider the biggest red flag in the book, the mind wipe of Jason Todd. That is because I think that is actually one of the strongest elements of RHATO 19. Look, I do not want Jason to lose his memories on a long term basis, but through reading Tynion's past works and hearing interviews with him, I think I can firmly say this much; Tynion is a guy who gets and appreciates characters. The Jason Todd we know and love is not going away. He might fade a little, struggle with memories for months to come, or come out of this story a little altered, but his essence, long term, will remain the same. I think, and I suspect Tynion's thought process is similar, that Jason needs to learn that his past, even the bad parts, are what makes him who he is, and he is a better, stronger person for those griefs he has endured. I think this is a pretty clever way to explore that life lesson for Jason.
Also, so what if Tynion is doing something a little different with the series? Just because he seems to be trying to strike a more serious tone in this issue does not mean he is abandoning what makes RHATO a fun series. Tynion is taking things in a new direction, and sometimes, it takes a little while to establish a new direction and new tone. There is a very real chance that Tynion might be, for example, building a more coherent world for the mystic nature of the All Caste, but it will probably take more than one issue to get readers up to speed. Just because things were not perfect in Tynion's debut issue is not a reason to write off the series.
RHATO #19 was rough around the edges, but even with rough edges, I still enjoyed it. However, there are some real concerns with the series, and we can only hope that things improve as the series continues.
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