I’ll be reading and reviewing, in some sense of the word, the contents of each upcoming first issue (the Rebirth one-shot if the series has one or the traditional #1 if the series does not have one) to gauge exactly what the line ends up looking like.
Mild spoilers follow for Red Hood and the Outlaws: Rebirth #1.
Red Hood and the Outlaws: Rebirth #1
Written by Scott Lobdell
Art by Dexter Soy
Colors by Veronica Gandini
Letters by Taylor Esposito
This comic is bad. It’s predominately a recap of who Jason Todd is and what his relationship with Batman is like as he heads in a new direction in the present. The dialogue is on-the-nose, the flashbacks oddly-paced, and there’s some weird out-of-character stuff with Batman. Red Hood looks good to the detriment of Batman, something that was done for the benefit of another character in the current run of Detective Comics, and it strains credibility given how far out of its way this book goes to try defining these characters.
I keep saying this about a lot of these Rebirth books but this is not a return to “hope and optimism.” The concept as presented here is that the Red Hood is going to pretend to be a villain in order to infiltrate Gotham’s criminal underground as one of their own. It’s a play that the dialogue admits is ripped right from the successful Grayson, another book about a former Robin playing double-agent. Grayson was a fun book but Red Hood & the Outlaws: Rebirth #1 leans more heavily into the melodrama and opens with splashes of “cool” violence. It might end up being a fun book but not in a way that fits in-line with that messaging. “Hope and optimism” can come in a lot of differents forms and requires variation to keep the line from feeling stale. But there simply aren’t many books shown here in these specials that display any of that.
And is Scott Lobdell really writing this again? He wrote the two previous iterations of this series (Red Hood and the Outlaws, Red Hood/Arsenal) starting back in 2011. He also wrote Doomed, Superboy, Teen Titans, and runs on Superman/Action Comics and none of those tenures were well-received by critics either. So let’s think about it like this: this writer is coming off seven lackluster runs that ended with him either vacating a title or the book being canceled and DC Comics is giving him an eighth go-around when newer and/or younger talent could have been given the opportunity to write a character as popular as Red Hood. The man has been writing superhero comics for more than 20 years and is an established pro but at what point do his past accomplishments stop covering for his recent failures for the publisher? It’s possible that Lobdell’s pitch really was the best one but what reason is there to believe that DC Comics even asked anyone else to pitch for it when he’s been given stewardship of this character for almost five years? At what point are they going to hand this ball off to someone else again?
The thing most standing in the way of creating great new books is a reluctance to bring in new talent. And new doesn’t always mean “new” because we know that anyone who is tapped to write for DC or Marvel Comics has spent years writing things most of that audience probably hasn’t heard of. You get Jeff Lemires who spend years cartooning on their creator-owned books. And no shade meant to the guy, he’s one of my current favorite writers, but even Tom King whose first published comic was an issue of Grayson had past experience as a DC Comics intern and had already written a novel.
The freshest talent that has been broken at DC over the last five years tends to come from the Bat-offices. Scott Snyder’s protegees James Tynion IV and Marguerite Bennet made their official comics debuts on issues of Batman because he believed in their ability. Now Tynion’s helping to lead the franchise with Detective Comics and is writing a whole slew of highly-visible creator-owned books. Marguerite Bennett has followed that same path of debuting on Batman and has now written for just about every major comics publisher. They’ve both put in a lot of work but it is hard to deny that this element of mentorship and sponsorship hasn’t enabled their ability to come into their own as established creatives. Risks were taken with both of them and they’ve paid off. I can’t see how the potential reward that comes from investing in new talent isn’t worth more than sticking to a formula that has yet to produce positive results.
If DC Rebirth really has any hope of revitalizing this publisher, it may need to come with a greater commitment towards pursuing new talent for its books.