RED HOOD / ARSENAL #5

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[ BUY THIS BOOK BOYS
October 2015 is here, so Scott Lobdell, Denis Medri, and Blond, have all delivered to us the personification of sin and evil via our local comic shops. But don't worry, folks. It could have been worse. They could have delivered a comic book that's so terrible, so scary, and so naff, DC would have developed it into one of their animated movies, and we would have sat down and watched it. 

TO QUOTE Rumi: “Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form”.

THE REVIEW:
At the start of issue 5 we pick up from where the last one left off: with Underbelly revealing himself, and bent on taking down the boys and Jim in one fowl swoop. But of course, Jim retaliates immediately, and blasts Underbelly to oblivion with his fancy armor.

Yet, as the boy's know, this won’t be enough to stop Underbelly, oh no, and Jim earns a punch for his troubles. So with Jim down, Underbelly takes the chance to gloat about his powers and to explain his own origins.

As Jason suspected, he's tied to the night of Arkham's massive breakout: although it turns out he's unrelated to the killed janitor, he's simply a concentration of evil thoughts that used the janitor's remains as foundations for his physical form. Underbelly also explains how every bad deed and crime strengthened him, plus how soon he was able to be at several places at once and become ruler of Gotham's underworld.

Big deal. Neither the boy's nor Jim are impressed.

In fact, their unimpressed so much, in a flash Jim takes the direct approach and simply starts beating the stuffing out of Underbelly, an action that clues Jason on his police background and how different things would be with Bruce around. Meanwhile, Roy pulls away for a bit so he can set in motion his plan to take Underbelly down, confident on Jason's skills to hold the fort. In haste, Underbelly tries to use Jason's inner darkness to control him, but, as expected, he's easily repelled, proving once again that Jason is no longer a villain.

Roy finally comes back and is able to exterminate Underbelly. Jim acknowledges the boys' skills and they reach a truce: he won't do anything against them until noon, the next day.

During this time Jason takes it upon himself to visit the old youth center where he grew up, and to his surprise he has a very emotional meeting with an amnesiac Bruce. After this heartwarming scene, the issue closes with such a cliffhanger it made me do a double take.

Ouch! That was something that no one saw coming.

That said, however, this issue is a bit of a mixed bag, mainly due to the Underbelly character as a whole. See, we spend a good chunk of the issue dealing with his backstory, trying to set him up as some sort of huge baddie. But, alas, the explanation is somewhat underwhelming, as I liked him more when I thought he was some kind of ancient horror, not a collection of evil thoughts. However, the biggest problem is that after all that buildup he's taken down in two panels. Two panels!! Makes the backstory seem like wasted space. Ka-pow and Ka-put!

Now I'm sure that we haven’t seen the last of Underbelly, but still, this issue doesn’t do wonders for his character. Jim is also another weak link, as his inclusion doesn't do anything of note within the confines of this story, plus his lack of chemistry with the boys is far from magnetic. Well, except for that part where Jason got sassy with him, which was hilarious.

On the bright side, though, the second half of the issue more than makes up for the underwhelming first half. For many months now we've been waiting for the Bat family to react to Endgame's fallout, and while Grayson was a decent attempt, it's only just now that we have a truly satisfying interaction between Bruce and one of his sons.

The meeting is brief but Jason's narration and actions give a ton of significance to it. Honestly, it's amazing for Jason to be so open and in touch with his feelings. Finally admitting to himself how much he really misses Bruce and the huge mark Bruce left on his life. Just like RHATO's issue 17, this sequence sets the stage for a new and brighter future for Jason.

In sharp contrast to this scene is the final one with Roy. Not only does a stealth advertisement to the upcoming Titan's Hunt also introduce a totally unexpected character to the series' cast, but on top of that, pow, Joker’s Daughter, doesn't she make a stunning entrance? Obviously she won't take Roy down straight away, (you simply don't kill the second lead of the book five issues into the series) but it is a very surprising scene nonetheless.

Now, Joker's Daughter is a hugely polarizing character, so I can't even begin to guess what was going through Lobdell's head while he penned this scene. Solicits have spoiled that she will be a major character on the next major arc in the series, so I'll wait to see how this gamble pays off before passing judgement on it. If nothing else, it's going to be interesting to see Jason interact with the legacy of the man who killed him.

Onto the art side of things and I'd say Medri and Blond are one hell of a creative team. Everything looks so crisp and full of life, and while I was underwhelmed by Underbelly's story I can't help but praise Medri’s pencils for it. He really does know how to draw monsters, and it is a real shame that he will be leaving the book after issue 6. His pencils were simply magnificent and complimented Lobdell's script perfectly.

I can't say much about Blond that I haven't said already. He is one of the best colorist working for DC at the moment so his name on the cover will always be a guarantee of quality. I hope he sticks around after Medri's departure, that way the next artist will have an easier time filling Medri's shoes.

THE MUSIC:
Jason's melancholic thoughts about Bruce's apparent demise and the perspective given to him after working with Jim, made me think about Bastille's “Hanging”. Just like the song says, hindsight is both a terrible and wonderful thing, but as long one is able to let the past go, everything will be fine.




THE COMPARISON:
The theme on this issue was about coming back to our past with a different outlook. So comparing it with a homecoming ceremony is the most natural thing to do. Jason's multiple challenges have turned the once reckless and angry kid into a true -- if somewhat flawed -- Hero. And now he's back in his hometown as a beacon of hope.

THE CONCLUSION:
While possibly the weakest issue so far (and that is just because previous issues set a very high bar), this one is still an excellent comic book. All the needed elements are here: a classic team up, a baddie you love to hate, great action scenes, humor, stunning art, a very emotive scene between our characters, and, surprise-surprise, a hell of a cliffhanger. 

*** This review was brought to you by Adan, comic lad extraordinaire.