Sometimes, comic books will surprise you. For instance, I had forgotten that this comic was being published, as some part of my brain had filed it away under “New 52 Concepts That Played Out And Have Ceased To Be.” Once I opened the cover, I was in for a different kind of surprise… Your Major Spoilers review of Red Hood And The Outlaws Annual #2 awaits!
RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS ANNUAL #2
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Tom Derenick
Inker: Wayne Faucher & Waldon Wong
Colorist: Richard & Tanya Horie, Peter Patazis & We Dejoba
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Editor: Frank Pittarese
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $4.99
Previously in Red Hood And The Outlaws Annual: Jason Todd was once the boy wonder known as Robin. Roy Harper may or may not have been trained by Green Arrow. Starfire is an exiled princess from an alien world. Together, they fight the battles that no one else is brave and/or foolish enough to take on. They are The Red Hood And The Outlaws!
A SURREAL INTERLUDE
Scott Lobdell has been a comic-book writer for a lot of years, long enough that I have a love/hate relationship with his work. There are moments of wonderful symbolism and fun, and then it will all be brought down with teeth-gritting Clint Eastwood posturing, which is one of the reasons I stopped reading this book. This issue, however, opens with a strangely delightful moment, as the narration quotes ‘The Night Before Christmas,’ Arsenal comments that he is a stirring creature, and Red Hood chides him not to mention the first-person caption boxes. It’s a clever enough bit that I was immediately drawn in, as pre-teen versions of our characters sneak down the stairs on Christmas Eve to find Santa Claus delivering gifts…
…and then opening fire with a heavy machine gun. The young Outlaws leap into action, taking out “Santa” (who turns out to be their old nemesis Suzie Su), and getting sent to their room by Jason’s angry dad, The Batman. Fortunately, Jason’s room is The Batcave, and our heroes are able to escape using the ever-present dinosaur, and steal Santa’s sleigh to figure out what’s going on with all of this falderol.
A LITERAL WAR ON CHRISTMAS
By the time the sleigh reaches the North Pole, it is clear that Santa Claus has been in the midst of a war, but things are clearly not as they seem. There are some similarities to this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special in the book, especially the parallel use of Santa Claus as a metaphor, but there’s a different upshot to this tale, and one that not only makes sense for the book, for Jason Todd as a protagonist and the ongoing New 52, it reintroduces one of Wildstorm’s better villains in a way that I actually appreciated. The art starts adorable with the child-heroes (especially Starfire) cute as a button, befitting the Christmas wonder of it all, but also shows me the most impressive-looking Red Hood costume I’ve ever seen, even making the whole “leather jacket over black armor” look workable as a legitimate superhero costume. Lobdell’s story is also nicely handled, making fun of the characters and their verbal/behavior tics without demeaning them, and playing with the tropes of his own writing style, while giving us a Jason Todd moment that’s badass and entirely in character for the not-quite-heroic Red Hood…
THE BOTTOM LINE: SELF-AWARE AND ENJOYABLE
I am pleasantly surprised to say I kind of love this book, and even the switch from cute to… not-so-cute is handled very well, with a lovely cover that celebrates the season while skewering the old-days of meaningless Christmas covers. While Red Hood is still very much a dark, vigilante type whose powers include “guns”, there’s a core to his character that really resonates in this story, especially the moment where an angry Batman appears, and Jason refers to him as “Dad.” In short, Red Hood And The Outlaws Annual #2 is Lobdell at his best, with good art, a complete and clever story, and nice character moments from our eponymous trio, earning a VERY impressive 4 out of 5 stars overall. The only downside is the possibility of adding 3 bucks monthly to my comics budget if I start picking up the regular series again…