The Time: Six years ago. A time in Gotham known as Zero Year, the year The Batman's legend began.
The Place: Gotham. A city plunged into darkness by the Riddler.
This is the story of Jason Todd, future Robin, future Red Hood, future raised from the dead, future d-bag.
Jason is a young teen living in a small apartment in Park Row with his junkie mother. He is telling her about his fears of becoming like his convict father after having a violent outburst and badly beating a man that tried to rob him of food.
His friend Chris sneaks up on him and puts him in a full nelson which Jason is able to easily break by tossing Chris over his head apparently due to watching kung-fu movies. Chris takes Jason to see some murdered gang members, Red Hood gang Members. Chris tells Jason that "some scary bastard" is getting the band back together at a secret underground meeting and that they should wear the red hoods and join up. How and why Chris knows about the top secret meeting we never find out, I assume it's because of plot.
Later in the night Jason sees a fight in an alley, one woman squaring off against a group of men that she is obviously about to kill. Jason dons the red hood mask and drops down to interfere, the men run off and the mystery woman confronts Jason about the red hood gang and then mocks his flailing fighting style, which instantly improves after she advises to put his body into it. She claims she wants to join the red hood gang and being a gullible fifteen year old in front of a beautiful woman he agrees to take her to the meeting.
After a training montage, during which the mystery woman practices a combo punch while chanting a mantra it's time for the underground meeting. Jason takes her to the meeting place and she knocks him unconscious by hitting a pressure point because as she puts it "Something very bad is about to happen. And for some reason… I'd prefer you live through tonight" to accomplish this goal she leaves him laying on the ground in an alley way. As he lies there a bandaged figure approaches brandishing a crowbar. The two tussle briefly and Jason escapes as the figure slips into the building.
Inside the mysterious woman is confronting the new leader of the Red Hood, she attempts the combo punch on him to no avail, Jason runs in, repeats the mantra she was chanting and delivers the same combo punch only this time it has the desired effect and the mysterious woman beheads the leader. She explains to Jason that the leader is/was an immortal beast called an untitled and the magic punches Jason landed on him turned him mortal. Jason, his friend Chris and the mystery woman run for their lives as the bandaged figure breaks a gasoline and lights a match blowing the building up while laughing a distinctly Jokerish laugh.
Outside the building Jason tells Chris he wants to be himself and though he doesn't know what anything was that happened inside the building he knows one thing for certain "I'm sure as hell not going to be a Red Hood." Meanwhile the mystery woman rides off on a motorcycle to meet up with someone, it is now revealed that the mystery woman is none other than Talia al Ghul and we are teased that next month Jason faces off with Ra's al Ghul.
In full disclosure, I have never been a fan of Jason Todd. I didn't like him in the pre-52 Universe as Robin or as Red Hood. So this is the first issue of "Red Hood and the Outlaws" I have read, except what is included in the Joker Death of the Family trade collection. For someone like me this zero year tie in makes a good jumping on point because it does not require much previous knowledge of the characters or plot.
In the introduction we learn that this story takes place six years ago during the Batman's zero year, this is the first time that the time line has hit me as being non-sense. We are to believe that in six years Batman goes through four Robins. Jason Todd dies at the hands (or rather crowbar) of the Joker, comes back to life and trains with the All Caste monks, he returns to Gotham and joins up with the outlaws and have 24 issues of adventures. Not to mention Batman dies and comes back during which time Dick Grayson fills in as Batman. We know all of this past continuity is still true because it is referenced in the Death of the Family plot the continuity is so time crunched that it becomes completely bonkers. I don't hold any of these against this issue or against the writer James Tynion IV as the over arcing year zero storyline is not his and he had to just go with what was being established.
The story is fine, it's not one of those that you roll your eyes at and throw down in disgust but I doubt it coming up in debates of the great batverse stories. It takes a certain amount of suspended belief but hey its comics and I come prepared for that. I can accept that somehow Chris just happened upon the dead Red Hood gang members, I can even stretch the logic to include him finding out about the top secret hush, hush meeting. It's much harder to accept that Jason is just a natural monster fighter who can pick up fighting skills and styles instantly just by seeing them, I had no idea Jason was really Taskmaster but there you go, its comics so I'll roll with it. What I can't roll with though is the clunky dialog that is impossible to read out loud with a straight face, seriously try it here's an example. "Just like that, you’re a fast learner, did you know that?" Say it out loud and try it on for size. Also Jason's final line of never being a Red Hood is one of those annoying ha ha isn't it ironic, he doesn't want to be a Red Hood and he is going to become the Red Hood, get it, get it. Ugh!
I also have issues with them keeping Talia's identity a secret until the last page as if anyone reading it didn't know who it was as soon as she appeared. If there is a badass brunette carrying a sword, ninja fighting and killing people in the Batverse it's got to be Talia, either that or Elektra has gotten very lost. I don't know what the point was of pulling a reveal that revealed absolutely anything the reader didn't know.
Jeremy Haun's art is adequate, it feels generic like this could be any book from any company and there are some spots that are flat out bad, at one point Talia hold's a sword to Jason's friend Chris' neck and he is apparently Plasticman because he leans his neck back by about two feet. The character models are inconsistent and the muted colors don't do it any favors.
The one thing I really liked in this issue was the post Red Hood pre-Joker Joker confronting Jason in the alley, asking if Jason was one of the ones he created and threatening him with a crowbar, it's also the one point where the art shines it looks fantastic, the use of shadows and the specks of blood bring depth to the scene that it sorely lacks on the other pages. I also enjoyed seeing this side of Jason. A Jason that is scared, scared of his neighborhood, scared of his mother's addiction and most of all scared of him and what he might become. He worries about his mother and his aching loneliness draws me and gives me an emotional anchor to a character that I don't think I would have connected with other wise.
Over all the issue has its faults but there is some definite stuff going for it.
Red Hood and the Outlaws:
Reviewed by Adam Martin