It's February, 2016, also known as the month of Love and Friendship. So Scott Lobdell, Javier Fernandez, and José Villarubia have gone shopping for their Valentine’s Day gifts, leaving us alone with a thrilling story about friendship, second chances, and lava zombies that smell of poo! Yuck!

TO QUOTE Khalil Gibran: “Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity.”

As soon as we open this issue we're greeted with a scene where we see Jason fighting for his life against the Iron Rule. Now despite being out numbered, five to one, Jason is calm, relaxed, and is putting up a good fight thanks to his training with the All-Caste. Still, he can’t help but worry about Roy and JD, can he?

And where are Roy and JD? Well, Roy is amazed at the fact that a whole neighborhood exists underneath Gotham City. His surprise doesn’t last long though, as he’s quickly found and captured by the Dwellers whom take him to Charon. JD, on the other hand, is trying to reason with Charon, who is currently attempting to murder millions of people just because life is too much for him. As one could expect, Charon won’t budge on this matter and rubs JD’s face into the notion that her past actions were a result of her driving him on his quest for revenge against the surface world. And, before JD can have the time to feel sorry for herself, Roy is brought before Charon as well.

At the same time this is going on, Jason is caught by the Iron Rule and taken for execution. But before they can execute him, thankfully, an earthquake hits the Nethers, providing Jason with the necessary distraction to get away from them and allowing him to make a dramatic entrance to where Roy and JD are being held. An extraordinary coincidence that Roy can’t help but point out.

Together again, Jason and Roy get ready to take down Charon and stop his insane plans to sink Gotham City. However, they’re interrupted by JD who has decided that since she was the origin of this whole mess, it's now up to her to end it. Ka-Pow!

To me, this issue marks the end of the Nethers’ arc, and I’m pleased to say, the resolution was really satisfactory. Lobdell has closed the book on JD as we’ve come to know her since her introduction two years ago, and now he has absolute freedom to take her in an entirely new direction. A direction, touch wood, I hope will be closer to the Duela Dent character we came to know in the old DCU.

Lobdell has introduced a lot of changes to JD's character throughout these last three issues: he's given her a conscience, he's made “Duela” her canon name, and the most important point of them all, he's discarded that ugly looking Joker Mask. That concept was downright stupid and unnecessarily edgy, severely limiting the appeal of the character. While it can be argued that the change of heart in Duela is somewhat sudden, truth is, she didn’t have a real character before. Just like Jason in the pre N52 universe, writers and editors didn’t seem to agree on a definitive direction, and just kept her bouncing from characterization to characterization. With that in mind, making her someone willing to atone for her past deeds isn’t that much of a stretch. Plus, making Jason the catalyst of her change is a stroke of genius.

Speaking of Jason, after the poor showing he's had in combat in other titles such as B&R Eternal and Robin War, it's quite refreshing to see him like the trained assassin he’s supposed to be: Able to think on his feet and using the opponents’ skills against them. The best thing is that Lobdell doesn’t forget to keep his prowess within the limits of reason so he isn’t suddenly a huge badass, able to take an army on his own. Although he puts up one hell of a fight, ultimately he becomes overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of his foes.

But Jason’s role in this issue isn’t simply to provide a pretty entertaining fight, he also has a very heartfelt moment with JD at the end. Seeing him as someone that has always been quick to anger and resentful of the treatment he got from Bruce and his surrogate brothers, and now offering unconditional support to a girl that everyone has given up on, its fantastic and proves without a shadow of a doubt he has had a tremendous amount of character development throughout the series.

Roy, on the other hand, had the least amount of page time in this issue, yet his appearance was as important as Jason’s or Duela’s. Considering the twist at the end of the issue, it's safe to say he will be taking the spotlight on what will be the series’ final arc before DC’s Rebirth.

Over the years I’ve seen a lot of criticism about the way Lobdell has handled Roy, but from my point of view, these past few issues have proven that those naysayer's are unfounded. Roy has been pretty proactive throughout the whole series and it has clearly shown he doesn’t need Jason’s help to solve any kind of situation he's presented with. His friendship has also extensively developed, with the clearest example of it being found in this issue. When Jason finally catches up with Roy and Duela, Roy isn’t surprised, why? Because he knew Jason would go after them... after all, that is what friends do. And then when Roy notices that Jason has lost his weapons, he produces an “arrow gun”, something very unusual at first but then you realize the arrow was something Roy made specifically for Jason. Jason, for his part, is not surprised at this development because he knew Roy would always have his back. If even after this scene you refuse to see the deep bond between Jason and Roy, then nothing will change your mind.

Now moving on to the art, and I must say that Fernandez uses plenty of splash pages to properly convey the scale of the Nethers and the intensity of Jason’s fight against the Iron Rule, creating a fantastic cinematic feeling for the issue. The final page in particular is one of his best works, really driving home the scale of the reveal and putting Roy in a whole new light.

However, while Fernandez’s work is top notch, his colorist for this issue, José Villarubia, falls a little short. Don’t misunderstand me, his job is still pretty good. But compared to Blond, the colors are more muted and thus, fail to mesh adequately with Fernandez’s pencils; making them look flatter. Hopefully, if Villarubia continues on coloring duties for the upcoming issues, he will try a different approach with his selection of colors.

Riddled with guilt, Duela tries to get herself killed while taking Charon down. But alas, her plan is foiled by Jason and Roy who aren’t willing to give up on her. Because after all, everyone makes mistakes! Just as long as there’s someone there to offer their support, everything will be alright. To illustrate this powerful lesson, there’s no better song than R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts”.

This issue brings to light a HUGE event in Roy’s past that puts all of his actions in a whole new light. A serious case of Skeletons in the closet, you could say.

Lobdell closes this small arc focused on Duela and produces one hell of an outstanding resolution. And yes, while it does prove a powerful piece to read, it also takes a backseat in relation to Roy's revelation, setting the stage for a great story that will mark the fate of Roy and Jason going into DC's new Rebirth project.

Stay tuned for more information on this event.

*** This review was brought to you by Adan, Comic Lad Extraordinaire.

RED HOOD / ARSENAL #9 RED HOOD / ARSENAL #9 Reviewed by David Andrews on March 07, 2016 Rating: 5

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