New 52 Trade Post: Red Hood & The Outlaws & Dial H Volume 1

red hood and the outlaws vol 1 redemption Red Hood & The Outlaws Volume 1: Redemption (DC)
Written by Scott Lobdell with Josh Williamson, drawn by Kenneth Rocafort
Collects Red Hood & The Outlaws #1-7

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.

dial h volume 1 into you Dial H Volume 1: Into You (DC)
Written by China Mieville, drawn by Mateus Santolouco with David Lapham & Riccardo Burchielli
Collects Dial H #0-6

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.

Revisiting Superboy And The Ravers

Back in the mid-90s there were two teen superhero team books from DC that captured my imagination: the Dan Jurgens Teen Titans and Superboy and the Ravers. Both books seemed really cool and featured new, young characters that I figured I could relate to at the ripe old age of 13. However, I was working with a pretty tight budget when it came to comics and could only get issues here and there. As such, I collected most of both short-lived series’. It wasn’t until my pal, CBR mastermind and Cool Kids Table blogger Kiel Phegley sent me a a box o’ stuff that included all 19 issues of SATR that I was able to read the entire series from front to back.

And you know what? It was a surprisingly fun read. The concept might seem kind of silly and very of-the-times today — an intergalactic party that teenagers with super powers can teleport to on a whim centered around one of the most 90s characters around, Superboy — but it actually did some fun stuff with characters who weren’t really being used, based new ones on existing ideas and dealt with issues like coming out of the closet and trying to fit in.

The run was written by Karl Kesel and Steve Mattsson with artists Paul Pelletier (1-9, 13, 14) and Josh Hood (#15-19). It also boasts fill-ins by Aaron Lopresti (#11, 12) and Ramon Bernado (#10, the Meltdown crossover) and even a back up story by Jim Aparo and Todd Nauk pencils on the final issue. In addition to

One of the things that impressed me most about the book is that it actually doens’t focus too much on Superboy in favor of original characters Hero Cruz (who eventually gets the H Dial!), Rex the Wonder Dog, the magnetically powered Aura, the only good guy on Qward Kaliber, New Blood Sparx and alien-created ectoplasmic goo guy Half-Life. The writers do an excellent job balancing each character’s story with the larger one of trying to figure out exactly why the guy throwing this rave, Kindred Marx, is doing so and why intergalactic cops InterC.E.P.T. want to put him out of business. I actually get the feeling that Kesel and Mattsson wanted to create this book with all original characters and maybe editorial liked it but wanted to see a known/popular character thrown in to boost sales.

While re-reading this run I realized that this book might have started my love of the Dial H For Hero concept. I don’t know where else I would have seen it and definitely read some of these issues well before I got into Will Pfeifer’s excellent series HERO. I just think it’s such a neat concept with all kinds of potential. Speaking of which, anyone read the current series? I’m very curious to check it out. I also think this might be one of the first comics I read with a gay character and was surprised at the honest reaction Sparx had when Hero came out to her, difficult as it was to read.

At the end of the day, I had a good time reading this series again, but I don’t want it to sound like I unearthed a forgotten classic. A while ago I realized that there have been teen team comics that appeal to the younger generation reading said comics for decades and that while those books can become all-time favorites for those kids, they might not read well for people from other generations. For me, this is a nice little time capsul that did some interesting things, but I don’t think I’d hand it to a younger or much older reader and expect for them to dig it as much as me.

DUMP, KEEP OR BIND: When it comes to loose comics like this, the question I have after reading through them is first, “Do I want to keep these comics?” followed by, “Do I want to get them bound?” I’ll definitely keep these issues around, but they’re incredibly low on the list of books I want to pay to get put together in a nice hardcover package. I would however consider using them as a test run for trying my hand at home binding. I mean, these issues aren’t that hard to find, I could replace them for cheap if I screwed up the binding and I actually have at least half of them in my collection back home, making SATR a great self-binding project.