RED HOOD & THE OUTLAWS ANNUAL #1

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[ BROTHER FOR SALE
Roll up, roll up, and come gather round to witness all the fun at the circus. There's Scott Lobdell and his flying pen of doom. Then there's Tyler Kirkham and his death defying eraser of death. Plus let's not forget Arif Prianto and his, well, can you say monkey pawn without getting slapped in the mouth? It's September, 2017, and it's time for an annual in review.

TO QUOTE Jean Baptiste Legouve: “A brother is a friend given by Nature.”

THE REVIEW:
We go back in time for this month's annual, way back before the events depicted in issue 12 where Jason and the Outlaws end up meeting this month's special guest star, Dick Grayson. Now, when the book begins, we see Dick at the circus, sitting down and watching the show unfolding before his very eyes. But the thing is, the show he's watching stars Bizarro as the strong man, Artemis as the valiant amazon, and Jason as the death defying daredevil (because, of course, he would pick that role). Once the initial shock of this sight has passed, Dick meets up with Jason to find out why he wanted to see him in the first place, thus developing a story about brothers bonding for the first time in years and Russian mafiosos looking for revenge, tying the story neatly to the events of Issue #7. A pleasant one shot story that has been the delight of plenty of fans so far.

Now I have to admit that the overall adventure has left me with some mixed feelings. From a technical standpoint, the initial tale maintains the usual high quality of the series, with Lobdell once again plotting an interesting story that perfectly mixes character driven moments with high octane action and fantastic art -- this time courtesy of the incomparable Tyler Kirkham -- and that on its own is something fans of both Jason and Dick have been asking for years. And yet, that is precisely what leaves me conflicted.

While the story works perfectly on its own merit, it doesn’t quite fit into the narrative Lobdell has been constructing for the last six years. Jason’s contempt for Dick has been a recurrent theme so far, and while they have managed to work out some of their issues, their relationship was still a strained one and doesn’t fit the way they’re suddenly best friends forever (as seen in this annual). In many ways it feel's like we missed a couple of stories telling us how they finally buried the hatchet. To add to this, Lobdell retcons Jason's first meeting with Dick to an earlier point in Jason’s life, one that left a deep mark on Jason as a person. The addition in itself is not one that I find questionable (despite the minor controversy that sparked online, due to it being too similar to Tim’s first meeting with Dick), except for the fact that I wasn't too keen on the way it introduces Jason's admiration for Dick, which was previously absent on every iteration of the character [EDITOR'S NOTE: apart from Pre & Post Crisis continuity]. This admiration feels unnecessary and somewhat cheapens Jason’s dynamics with Dick, since it reduces him to another one of his fans, where before Jason was one of the few characters willing to call out Dick on his actions. 

For my tastes the story also tries too hard in depicting Dick in a positive light, making every character featured in this book grovel before him in admiration, which, quite frankly, exhibits some pretty out of character moments for both Jason and Artemis. While this kind of lip service is common when it comes to guest characters, the fact Jason has never been on the receiving end of said service on any of his guest appearances over the years, leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth. 

That said, I’m pleased to say that whatever issues I found with Jason and Artemis characterization, Bizarro is immune to them and is the most appealing part of the book. Lobdell even manages to give him his own love interest! Who saw that one coming!?

The usual team of Dexter Soy and Veronica Gandini take a well-deserved break so Tyler Kirkham and Arif Prianto are on art duties for this annual. As a long time reader of DC, I’m quite familiar with their work on other titles, work that I’ve always found to be fairly fantastic. Kirkham’s more westernized art style makes the Outlaws shine while also being quite distinctive from Soy’s more eastern take. This art is complemented with Prianto’s bold palette of colors that makes Kirkham’s strokes pop out of the page.

However, I have to point out a small flaw that keeps the art from being perfect: Over the course of the story it's relatively common to find characters rendered with completely black eyes, which is possibly a shorthand to indicate they have their eyelids closed and seems like a conscious artistic choice on Kirkham and Prianto’s part, although the result is quite unsettling.

THE MUSIC:
Despite my issues regarding the handling of the relationship, the driving plot of this book is Jason and Dick finally mending their brotherly bond after many years of turmoil between them. So with this in mind, Alice in Chains rendition of 'Brother' is the perfect song to listen to while reading this annual.




THE COMPARISON:
As I mentioned during the review itself, this is an issue with multiple highs and lows, regardless if you agree with me on what they are exactly. Therefore I think we can all agree that the annual is a Roller Coaster that one way or another will keep you interested until the last page.

THE CONCLUSION:
This is the first book in Lobdell’s entire run that has left me with such conflicted feelings, but despite them, I must acknowledge that it still continues to be one of DC’s top offerings every month. While Soy and Gandini were missed, Kirkham and Prianto made for an amazing replacement that makes the book worth its price just for the art alone. That said, the book is definitely a must read for Dick Grayson and Jason Todd fans, just as long as you aren’t so focused on recent continuity like myself.

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

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