Overview: In Batman/Catwoman: The Gotham War: Red Hood #1, Jason Todd secretly hunts down information on The Joker while training Catwoman’s army.
Title: Batman/Catwoman: The Gotham War: Red Hood #1
Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Artist: Nikola Cizmesija
Colors: Rex Lokus
Letters: Troy Peteri
Main Cover: Carmine di Giandomenico
Variant Covers: Karl Kerschl, Chuma Hill
Release Date: September 26, 2023
Please Note: This comic book review may contain spoilers
Two weeks ago, Red Hood (Jason Todd) through a henchman named Dawson out of a third-story window. Before the man could even recover after landing on the pavement, Red Hood was onto him, lifting him off the ground and tossing him toward a parked cab. Though Dawson protests that he hasn’t worked for Joker in a few years, Red Hood doesn’t believe the former henchman. Before an oncoming truck flattens Dawson, Catwoman (Selina Kyle) intervenes, using her whip to pull the lowly crook to safety. She releases Dawn, then confronts Red Hood.
Jason tells Catwoman that Dawson wasn’t in any real danger, despite how it looked. He also wasn’t done interrogating. Catwoman brushes Jason off, quickly getting to the reason why she tracked Jason done. She’s calling a meeting, the one seen in the pages of Batman/Catwoman: The Gotham War: Battle Lines #1. The address was slipped into Jason’s pocket already, and before Selina disappears, she reminds him to dress nice, as “dad” (Batman) will be there.
Right off the bat, artist Nikola Cizmesija and writer Matthew Rosenberg have readers picking the grit out of their teeth. This issue is dirty, dark, and angry. Red Hood’s eyes glow red from beneath his hood, as he acts as some sort of demonic angel of vengeance right from the get-go. In the years since Jason’s return from the grave in Under the Red Hood, his image has gone from villainous, to vengeful and violent, to a slightly softer tone in recent years. The characterization at the start of this issue puts Jason back to an angrier time in his life, as he’s once more looking to find (and kill) Joker.
In the present, Red Hood stands before Dawson and two other would-be thieves named Simpson and Bash. These three are looking to join Catwoman’s army of non-violent thieves. Hood uses aggressive threats to scare and motivate them, but in Dawson’s case, it mostly scares him; he flees. After Dawson’s flight, the creative team takes readers through a brief montage of Hood training Simpson and Bash. He’s molding them to be fighters, to be able to hold their own when Batman inevitably swoops in and shuts Catwoman’s operation down for good.
Later, at Flunky’s Bar, Jason, sans his Red Hood getup, has a drink with Bash and Simpson. It’s all fun and games until Jason reveals the real reason why he trained them. He wanted to get close and ask them about The Joker. When they say they don’t know anything, Jason’s anger bubbles up. He wants information; he’s not here to train criminals to steal and cheat better, despite what Catwoman wants.
Jason gets up to leave, but before he does, he hands Simpson and Bash brass knuckles and a switchblade. He tells them if they want to prove their worth in Catwoman’s gang, they have to prove that they won’t hurt anyone. Jason then walks up to a biker gang in the bar and tells the members that Simpson and Bash aim to hurt them. Jason leaves.
Outside, Jason drinks his beer. Catwoman drops by, furious at Jason for the stunt he just pulled. She had a job for Simpson and Bash, and Jason just ruined it. Before the two can argue too long, the two former henchmen are thrown through the bar window. Luckily, they’re still alive.
Later that night, as Bash sleeps, Scarecrow (Jonathan Crane) pays him a visit.
The colors by Rex Lokus, particularly in this scene, are absolutely gorgeous. Throughout all of the grit and violence on display, Lokus adds a welcome splash of color that softens the viciousness, adding a much-needed aesthetic that keeps the tense beat without trudging too far into the darkness. It’s stylistic, and paired with Cizmejisa’s pencils, creates an urban decay look not too unlike Akira or similar dystopian fare. More importantly, the soft tones humanize Red Hood, especially in an issue where he’s mentally at his most vengeful.
The next day after Scarecrow’s visit, Red Hood preps Simpson and Bash for their big job. Hood notices Bash’s hesitation and calls him on it. Bash reveals that he dreamt that Scarecrow paid him a visit, then runs off when Hood diminishes the nightmare.
Later, at the scene of the crime, all is going well until Bash panics and sets off the alarm. A cop arrives and raises his gun. Bash and Simpson hesitate for a moment, but then Red Hood intervenes. Hood uses intimidation and fear to get the cop to let Bash and Simpson go. Just when the cop is about to leave, Bash panics yet again, striking the officer. “Tell Scarecrow we’re out,” Bash screams.
Bash is about to shoot the officer when Hood stops him. Bash turns his gun toward Hood, who loses it. What follows is a rather brutal few panels where Red Hood beats Bash bloody. It’s cartoony yet effective. Fists fly. Eyes go bloodshot. Bash’s blood splatters against the walls.
Simpson steps in and stops Red Hood. When clarity returns, Red Hood tells Simpson to put the stuff they stole back, then get Bash home. Catwoman will deal with them both the next day.
At Catwoman’s base of operations, Red Hood broods with Marquise. When Simpson arrives, Hood asks about Bash’s condition. Simpson doesn’t have anything to say, so Red Hood is going to find Catwoman and ask about Bash. Dario stops him, insinuating that trash like Jason doesn’t need to be around Selina.
Before tensions rise any further, Selina arrives. When she questions Jason on what happened at the job, he’s dismissive. She then puts Red Hood in his place, noting that he offered to help under false pretenses and is treating her thieves like punching bags. Jason defends himself, saying he trained them hard because that’s the way this life is. Selina calls Jason a lying brat, and he explodes on her, telling her that her little project will fail. These better-trained criminals will return to the supervillains they once served when her gang is busted up. Selina spits acid back, telling Jason that one of them (meaning Bash) already did.
In the final few panels, Jason heads toward Bash’s apartment. Batgirl (Stephanie Brown) is there. She’s investigating a crime. Bash is dead, strung up against a wall with the words, “Get Your Own Toys, Red Hood” written in blood. Batgirl notes that there are traces of fear toxin still in the air.
Red Hood Does What He Wants
In my review of Batman/Catwoman: Battle Lines #1, I noted that Jason Todd was only offering to work for Catwoman for an ulterior motive. Admittedly, I suspected that he was working undercover for Batman (Bruce Wayne), as that’s been a more recent evolution of his characterization, but in this one-shot, it’s clearly his own, independent goals. In a way, it’s better that Red Hood is serving his own ends, despite the fact that his own ends are Joker-related and a rehash of a fixation we’ve seen Jason work through time and time again.
However, despite this issue focusing on Red Hood’s part in this whole “Gotham War” thing between Batman and Catwoman, this issue is really a backdoor vehicle to bring Scarecrow (and perhaps the other villains) into the fold. In those last few panels, it seems that Bash’s nightmare was more than just old traumas keeping him up at night. Scarecrow is definitely sniffing around, and he’s murderously frustrated at the lack of disposable henchmen in need of a job.
For an event as touted as much as Gotham War has been, it’s no surprise that other, secret villains (like Vandal and Scandal Savage) would be involved somehow. While Scarecrow’s arrival isn’t shocking, it’s nice to see that his recent redesign, stemming from Batman: Fear State by James Tynion IV and Jorge Jimenez, is still kicking. It’s a ghoulish, terrifying design, one that Cizmesija and Lokus bring to life in haunting detail.
Who Is This Issue For?
All that said, for those reading “The Gotham War,” this tie-in doesn’t add much new beyond introducing Scarecrow. If anything, it’s more of a “greatest hits” of Red Hood’s sometimes overly violent demeanor, and it’s hard to gauge if longtime fans of the character would welcome this issue. Because it’s such a short event, there really isn’t much weight to the greater plot points of the issue either, such as Catwoman and Red Hood’s brief union in training underprivileged criminals in the art of learning how to steal good (and do other things good, too). For the uninitiated, that was a Zoolander reference. In a span of just a few pages, Catwoman and Red Hood’s team-up is tenuous at best, and the minute that Red Hood tries to beat a little bit of information out of a trainee, Catwoman is immediately waiting to pounce. It’s as if she had nothing better to do, and it makes the whole exercise and effort put in by Jason kind of pointless.
That being said, this begs the questions, who is this issue for, and what are we supposed to get out of it?
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with an advanced copy of this comic for review purposes. You can find this comic and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue digitally on Comixology through Amazon or a physical copy of the title through Things From Another World.