2016 is coming to a close and Scott Lobdell, along with Dexter Soy and Veronica Gandini, are getting things ready so they can throw the most amazing Christmas party ever! The only thing they have left to do is to work out some of the details with their friendly local neighborhood mobsters. Easy, right? It's November, 2016, and it's time for the Red Hood And The Outlaws in review. Bang-Bang-Bang!

TO QUOTE  The Unknown: 'All Warfare is based on Deception'.

As soon as the book begins, we’re shown unmistakable proof that you should never call Bizarro a 'monster' to his face. He doesn’t take it very well, don't you know, as Jason learns first hand, Slap! But luckily for us, his name is on the cover and he's a pretty smart cookie, so Jay manages to defuse the situation by talking Bizarro down, much to Artemis’ surprise and Sionis’ delight.

With that problem taken care of Sionis then invites Jason -- once again -- to share a meal with him, where Sionis is unusually open with his guest: Yes, he needs an heir to his vast criminal empire and picked Jason not only due to his prowess, but, because he seemed easy to manipulate. While Jason mulls over this confession, Artemis uses Bizarro’s outburst to escape her confinement and scout the building for the Bow of Ra. Her actions lead her to eavesdrop on Sionis and his confession, making her remember the reasons she went to Gotham in the first place, thus neatly explaining her interests in Black Mask.

But what are Mask’s true intentions? Is he really trying to bond with Jason or is there something more sinister at play here?

To me, this issue is a sort of 'breather issue' where action takes a backseat to character interactions, allowing Lobdell to flesh out their motivations and show us a new layer of their personalities. Jason is the clear winner this time, since Lobdell delivers a real heartwarming scene where Jason genuinely opens up to Bizarro to calm him down. Whether due to poor research or oversight from the writers behalf, Jason’s empathy is barely used nowadays. Most of the time Jason is cast in the “angry and hot headed” mold so I’m really happy how Lobdell handled him this month.

Bizarro’s role, on the other hand, is so small that it would be more accurate to consider him a plot-device to move the tale forward a few steps, yet that doesn’t necessarily mean he was wasted on this issue. Lobdell skillfully wrote him in such a way that its easy for him to be the audience’s surrogate, indirectly allowing us to fully appreciate Jason’s character by proxy. Besides, he will have a very prominent role in the upcoming issues, so yeah, mad props to Lobdell for his handling of Bizarro.

In contrast to this, Artemis gets some further character development when it's revealed that her motivations for coming to Gotham, is a simple but effective way to tie her to Mask’s ongoing plot. But, that said, this issues standout continues to be her interactions with Jason: dismissive and sarcastic but nonetheless impressed by his actions. What I’m enjoying the most, personally, is the palpable tension between the two of them and their subsequent interactions with Bizarro. As one forum user eloquently put it: “they are a young couple dealing with their first born’s tantrums”, which implies, as Jason found two new friends with the previous incarnation of The Outlaws,  forming a family out of this incarnation seems like a logical progression for his character.

Also added to the mix is what Black Mask does at the end of the issue. After months of buildup, Sionis has finally made his play, and, boy-oh-boy, it was all what I expected and more. I can’t wait to see how the Outlaws will get out of this one. Well played, Mr. Lobdell, well played.

Now moving along to the art side of things and there’s no change whatsoever from my point of view. Soy and Gandini continue to be at the top of their game, making the book one of the best looking series currently published by DC. Soy’s strokes can perfectly convey action plus somber yet serious moments, and his panel layouts are simply a delight to behold. I’ve mentioned before that Soy’s art is influenced by the manga aesthetic, so I was pleasantly surprised to see what I believe is a very subtle homage to Hirohiko Araki’s long running series, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Great little detail Mr. Soy!

Meanwhile Gandini proves herself incredibly talented to keep the same color palette from the earlier issues, while also effortlessly adding Artemis and Bizarro to the mix. Its particularly notable the way Bizarro’s blues dominate the scene every time he’s on the page, as it creates a nice contrast with Artemis and Jason’s reds.

Confessions were a recurrent theme running throughout this issue, and since those confessions also gave birth to Jason’s current predicament, I feel that Judas Priest’s, 'Between the Hammer and the Anvil', is the perfect song to listen to while reading it.

Sionis and Jason finally come clear with each other, revealing their hidden agendas and shedding the Masks they’ve worn literally and figuratively since the start of the series. Bizarro and Artemis, on the other hand, have to don masks of their own to move forward, and despite Artemis donning hers more willingly, Bizarro was forced to wear his one; completely overshadowing his personality.

Will our heroes be able to free him or will they succumb before Sionis’ influence?

With Lobdell, Soy, and Gandini delivering one of the most consistent and entertaining books from DC, it would be a huge mistake to let this issue pass by. Say no more.

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

RED HOOD & THE OUTLAWS #4 RED HOOD & THE OUTLAWS #4 Reviewed by David Andrews on December 06, 2016 Rating: 5

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