Red Hood & The Outlaws is a weird book. Aside from the fact that it’s one of the many New 52 comics that revolved around familiar relationships between characters who don’t know each other the way we knew them to have known each other, it also has a unique look thanks to Kenneth Rocafort’s beautiful art and focuses on a three person super group, something you rarely see.
It also deals with offbeat characters. This version of the Red Hood seems almost exactly the same as the one from the old continuity, he’s the second Robin who was murdered by the Joker only to be mysteriously resurrected sometime later though, now he’s been trained by mystical assassins. Furthermore, he’s a morally intriguing character who has no problem killing as long as the victim deserve it and also has a fierce loyalty to his latest group and a burning hatred for his past one. Meanwhile, Starfire is an alien exiled on Earth with a troubled past and a short memory for and a sexually liberal attitude towards humans. And then there’s Arsenal who spends most of this trade being the jokester who can shoot arrows and fight like a mofo. They’re a loose group of comrades with a mysterious past that has something to do with the Teen Titans.
The story itself is Todd’s. He discovers that the mystical assassin group that trained him called the All Caste has been assaulted by an equally mysterious and mystical group called The Untitled. Starfire and Arsenal come along for the ride and wind up facing off against some other threats, revealing their character as they go. They’re less a superhero team and more a group of pals looking out for each other. I’m a big fan of how Lobdell approached this book. Sure, there’s a few side bad guys that could have done with beefier, less cliched backstories, but I enjoy this style of comic book storytelling that gives you bits and pieces of information as they go while focusing on character interactions. These are action stories, so keeping the momentum going is a plus in my book.
Also, did I mention how weird the book is? I like that too. It’s made all the better (and weirder) by Rocafort’s rad art. I’ve been a fan of his ever since I flipped through issues of Madame Mirage back in my days at Wizard. He’s perfectly suited for this book because he can do these big, impressive heroes while also pitting them against huge alien conglomerates and sending them through physics-bending locales. He can do it all and brings his own unique flair to it. I could look at these pages for days.
I enjoyed this trade as much as I did that first issue and will definitely be checking out future ones by this creative team. I’m hooked on the craziness.
Speaking of weird, how great is the Dial H for Hero concept? Some random man or woman stumbles upon an artifact that not only gives them superpowers, but actually turns them into different superhero identities when they spell out a word. So cool. I’ve been in love with this concept ever since I heard about it sometime in the 90s. I’m not sure if it was from an old issue of Adventure Comics I happened upon or the dial’s appearance in Superboy & The Ravers, but it sparked an instant love that spread to Will Pfeifer’s excellent HERO series.
So, when I first heard that DC was rejuvenating the concept in the New 52 Universe, I was intrigued. I’m not familiar with author China Mievelle’s work, but the fact that this concept I enjoy also appealed to this person from outside of comics was interesting. Needless to say, it didn’t take much arm-twisting to get me to read the first volume of Dial H.
I won’t get too far into the details of this first arc because, honestly, I’m not sure I quite absorbed them all after just the one reading. Basically, a schlub named Nelson accidentally comes across the H-Dial and uses it to avenge his fallen friend. In the process he meets another dial-wielder named Manteau and runs afoul of a mysterious villain called Ex Nihilo.
There’s a lot packed into these seven issues, but not to the point where you can’t possibly take it all in. Dial H actually reminds me of the kind of book Vertigo put out in the 80s when creators were trying out-there takes on established DC characters. It’s got the basic idea, but, as far as I can tell, has no connections to previous versions or the rest of the universe. I like that approach as well as the feeling that I need to read this book again to absorb it even more, possibly before reading the second volume whenever I eventually get my hands on it.
The common thread between these two books is that their odd takes on concepts I’m familiar with. They both definitely fit into the more offbeat corners of the New 52 DCU where I’ve also enjoyed books like Frankenstein: Agent Of S.H.A.D.E. I appreciate that DC created these stranger places. I like seeing old favorites done in seriously new ways.