I will be glad when Death of the Family is over.
While I’ve been feverishly reading the pages of Scott Synder’s Batman, I just can’t get into most of the tie-ins. Outside of Batman & Robin and Batgirl most of the titles haven’t been that strong, and Red Hood and the Outlaws belongs to the weaker group. It has the Death of the Family logo on the cover, its first part of the event got the neat die-cut cover and the Joker is in it (well…kind of) but other than that it falls into the same realm of irrelevancy inhabited by Suicide Squad and Teen Titans.
I actually had high hopes for the Red Hood tie-ins when this event was announced. If there is one member of the Bat-family that holds a bigger grudge against the Joker than Batgirl, it’s Jason Todd. After all, this is the Robin that was beaten to death by the Joker with a friggin’ crowbar. A head on confrontation with his murderer? Should be awesome! Nope. Red Hood and the Outlaws is just as much about the Outlaws, and the cross-over doesn’t change that. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if it found a way to work within the story, but what happens is a convoluted mess that barely feels like a tie-in.
Part of reading comics is being able to suspend disbelief. Watching the Joker attack all of the members of the Bat-family individually really challenges that expectation of the reader. Red Hood sits most of the last two issues out. He’s been kidnapped and is being held alongside Red Robin; who is Tim Drake, who was the third Robin, then he wasn’t, except for that time that they said he was, but now he’s not. Love the pick and choose continuity of the New 52.
So the Joker has been able to kidnap Alfred, kill a bunch of cops, steal a two-headed lion cub from the zoo, mess with Catwoman’s head, torment Harley Quinn, fight Batman on a dam, kill a member of the circus to screw with Dick Greyson, trick Damian into thinking that he has to fight his dad to the death, kidnap Batgirl’s mom, force Batgirl to “marry” him, piss off the Teen Titans, kidnap both Jason Todd and Tim Drake and found time in between all of that to completely redecorate Arkham Asylum, all in about a week or two.
Scott Lobdell’s writing is the weak point with this issue. Opening a story with the most basic allusion to Dante’s Inferno that you can muster might work for an intro to creative writing course, but that doesn’t mean using it elsewhere is going to convince readers that something is deep or profound. The banter between the characters feels like forced attempts at humor, and there are bad puns all over the place. The constant joking and wise cracking from the Outlaws makes this issue feel really out of place within the context of the other titles.
Synder is a horror writer and that is showing up very clearly in Batman. Damian Wayne is trying to be more like his father in Batman & Robin, but is struggling with his tendency to reflect more of his mother, Talia. Barbara Gordon is trying her hardest to maintain the moral high ground in Batgirl, but is vengeful for the events of The Killing Joke. Detective Comics focuses on the larger effect that the Joker’s return has had on Gotham and its citizens. Together it tells a very dark and twisted story even by Joker’s standards. Throw something like Red Hood and the Outlaws in the mix, and it feels more like a distraction than a chapter in the same story.
Speaking of distractions, there are some pretty bad ones that pop up throughout this issue. These are single page back-up stories that provide a little bit of exposition, and then throws the reader back into the action (or lack thereof). The first one features Killer Croc as Arsenal’s benefactor who saves him from himself, provided Arsenal stays in AA…yes, that’s really the plot. Then there is a Hugo Strange book signing that feels completely out of place, and really could have waited until after Death of the Family is over to be used in this series. Immediately after that it jumps to Deathstroke holding a grudge against the team (and possibly hints at the Joker having hired him). Lastly, the Joker. Yup, he’s in this issue just long enough on the last page to give it that Death of the Family stamp of approval.
Usually when a story is bad a comic can still be saved by its art. That isn’t the case with Red Hood and the Outlaws #16. It’s not poorly drawn or anything, but the panels are very bland. Aside from the occasional exterior of a building, or an explosion, there isn’t much going on in the background. For most of the issue it’s the same plain blue or green foggy background, with a slight survival horror aesthetic. Between the infection plot, the constant running, boarding up windows and the silly cure plot device this feels like a low rent zombie flick. Just look at the first page with the people of Gotham having fallen victim to Joker Toxin. The Outlaws are eventually able to save the day by having Kid Flash run all over Gotham and administer the cure. Was he using the same needle to inject every person because that’s what it looked like and is so then the Outlaws might have a whole new set of problems.
All-in-all this is probably the worst of the Death of the Family tie-ins. I would recommend skipping it because you aren’t going to miss much at all. If you must have every issue of the cross-over event then I suggest buying it, bagging and boarding it and never reading it.
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