RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS #22 / Writer: Scott Lobdell / Artists: Dexter Soy & Alisson Borges / Colors: Veronica Gandini / Letterer: Taylor Esposito / Publisher: DC Comics / May 9, 2018
Complaining about single issues that lack their own confined story is so common a complaint in my reviews and Twitter feed that I risk becoming predictable. Red Hood and the Outlaws #22 comes perilously close to tripping that particular land mine. There are several story threads here, but barely any story—and arguably no plot. It’s worth pointing out that, as far as accuracy goes, the cover lives in a world between clickbait and false advertising. Also, the Penguin is sort of annoying. But none of that matters.
On the strength of seven pages that will stab the heart of anyone who’s lived their real world analog I’d have given this issue a winning verdict had the remaining pages been plagiarized from the dictionary in crayon.
Red Hood and the Outlaws #22 is primarily concerned with the ongoing storyline of Bizarro’s mental deterioration. To that end Artemis has sought help from Lex Luthor, the man who created Bizarro. Readers who have encountered Lex Luthor anywhere can predict how he’ll respond to Artemis’ basically emotional plea. A flashback revealed before their meeting explains the connection between Artemis and Luthor. Two brief Bizarro scenes reinforce the stakes: quite out of nowhere his deterioration has sped up. Two other storylines involving Jason—the ongoing tête-à-tête with the Penguin and the search for Ma Gunn—receive little more than lip service.
Central to what passes for the plot in Red Hood and the Outlaws #22 is Artemis’ meeting with Luthor. Lex Luthor once employed (or “owned” according to him) Artemis. Also, to no one’s surprise, Artemis used to do just about anything for anyone who her. Both of these revelations come courtesy of the flashback—three pages that, honestly, do little but add alleged significance to the plot. Thanks to colorist Veronica Gandini, though, the flashback becomes a small gem and is my favorite scene on a visual level. Gandini throws almost everything on these three pages to black and white. The notable exceptions are the faded orange jumpsuit worn by the man Artemis is supposed to kill and her very red hair. The rich color hits almost like a blow to the head, waking the reader up. In a quiet issue that doesn’t really serve up opportunities for the art team to stretch its legs, this flashback is a gorgeous example of how a simple artistic choice can steal the show.
The Artemis–Luthor meeting is the book’s largest set piece and had been set up in the previous issue as a moment of consequence. It might even be described as the issue’s plot. But Red Hood and the Outlaws #22 is truly about what’s going on in Bizarro’s head. Having been convinced by Artemis to stop using the synthesized Kryptonite to stay smart, Bizarro knows his intellect will fade and that there’s nothing that can stop that. Said loss begins in the middle of this issue practically in one heartbeat. Bizarro doesn’t notice as he slips from using “I” to “me” when speaking. Confusion comes next—confusion as he tries to think of a metaphor. In a moment the confusion has spread to his thinking on where he’s trying to go. Letterer Taylor Esposito adds to the power of this scene when, on the last page, he switches the text in Bizarro’s narration boxes from the printed looking font of the other characters back to the rough scrawl it used to be.
So why does Bizarro losing his smarts rank so high on my awesome meter? Anyone who’s watched someone they care for go through the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia—that torturous period where they know they’re losing their memory and they’re trying to hold on to it but it’s only going to get worse—will immediately swap themselves out with Jason in those closing pages.
It’s not a fun place to be, and it’s a terrible thing to watch.
Red Hood and the Outlaws #22 was not an issue I expected from this series. To be sure the preceding issues established what the storyline at hand would be. But Scott Lobdell writes an action/comedy series that has seldom soiled itself with notions that are painful, ugly, and real. Readers could be forgiven for expecting that Lobdell would play the fact of Bizarro losing his intellect without playing the feeling. Lobdell doesn’t do this, and the issue—the entire storyline—is the better for it. In a moment it ceases being fantasy and science fiction and becomes personal.
Verdict: 5 out of 5 Roy’s hot dogs with mustard & onions
Theron Couch is a collection of 1000 monkeys on 1000 typewriters trying to produce Hamlet. From time to time he accidentally types comic book reviews. Theron’s first novel, The Loyalty of Pawns, is available on Amazon and he’s published assorted short stories. Theron maintains a blog with additional comic and book reviews as well as posts on his personal struggle with mental health.