Sunday, June 10, 2012

Comic Review -- Red Hood and the Outlaws #9: Who Are You?-- --Hoo? Hoo? / Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort

There's a lot of red going on in this cover, and it's just confusing enough to distract me from what's going on.  After a couple of seconds, I can find Red Hood and his Talon dance partner for this installment, locked in mid-air combat as they fall.  The Talon looks good, but something about Jason just doesn't look very dynamic.  I know the mask probably doesn't allow for expression, but I also don't think the pose is very good.  The detail around the buildings is beautiful, but overall, I'm not that impressed with this cover.

Red Hood, Starfire, and Roy Harper all seem to in Gotham on unrelated business when Alfred's call to arms goes out regarding the Court of Owls' assault on the city's power brokers.  They happen to be nearest to Mr. Freeze, one of the Court's targets, and go to the Chinatown section of Gotham to protect him.  Several problems abound, however: Freeze has no wish to be protected, and has taken to fighting off the Talons by converting Chinatown into his own personal frozen bunker.  Furthermore, Freeze has been implicated in the current madness, having perfected a method for reanimating cryogenically preserved bodies--which the Court has used to resurrect their legion of Talons tonight.

After breaking up Freeze's fight against his Talon, Jason pursues the escaping Talon while Roy and Starfire attempt to protect and contain Freeze.  Freeze, however, is not having any of it, and takes direct aim at Starfire, whose physiology protects her, and who only gets angrier at Freeze's hostility.  Jason's Talon leads him to an empty lot where the circus used to be, and Jason deduces that he was an acrobat in that circus prior to being a Talon.  The Talon reveals himself as Xiao Loong, a former acrobat, and asks Jason to help him end his life on his terms instead of the Court's.  Roy hits Freeze with an electric arrow while he's fighting Starfire, and Jason brings Freeze's unconscious form to Batgirl at the Bat signal, telling her let Bruce know that he helped out against the Talons tonight.

I tend to be something of a completionist when it comes to certain story arc events.  Night of the Owls is definitely one such storyline, and while I may not review every single issue I read, I can assure you that I'm reading all of this event.  The tie-in from Red Hood and the Outlaws was one I was initially going to skip reviewing, but its relevance to Mr. Freeze's part in the whole Court of Owls drama has led me to include it, along with Batman Annual #1, in this week's reviews.

Since this issue is the first hint we get of Freeze's involvement with the Court, it's like a light bulb goes on in your head when it's revealed.  Freeze, working with the Court.  The Court of Owls, employing assassins from decades and centuries past, who are vulnerable to the cold.  Cold, with which Freeze is obsessed and in which he has a personal expertise.  Doubtless, Freeze has had a hand in enabling the Court to resurrect their preserved assassins!

While not too much is touched on about it here, it's amusing in the mean time to just see Freeze on display.  His arrogance and obsession with being left alone are fun to behold, to the point where he takes a shot at Starfire for offering to protect him, pissing her off immensely.  I don't even know much about Starfire, but I wouldn't even want to consider doing anything that would put me in her crosshairs.  So, either Victor Fries is that stupid--highly unbelievable--that arrogant--believable, but even he must realize his low chances against a super-powered extraterrestrial--or just that desperate to be done with all this nonsense.

This is my first taste of this title since the New 52 began, and while I can appreciate the idea of these people not actually being a team, it's a little odd to see Starfire and another guy fighting more or less alongside Jason, who's always been a loner since his "rebirth."  They know too much about one another and stick together too much to be as loosely affiliated as the premise of this title suggests.  They even take orders from Jason, making him their unofficial leader.  It's really not in step with what I expected.

The Xiao Loong side story also didn't work very well for me.  This Talon and Jason go from being combatants to confidantes in the space of a single page, for no plausible reason that I can see.  The only thing I seem to be able to connect is that Jason reminds Xiao of the Haly's circus he was part of in his former life, and that alone seems to bring the Talon out of his devotion to the Court.  It seems a pretty weak ploy, and not something that would have plausibly worked on an agent the Court spent so much time, money, and resources on conditioning for obedience.

I was not impressed.  Which is sad, because I think with a little more development, I think this plot point could have worked.  Instead it just seems very throwaway.

Artistically, I think this is a fairly solid issue.  Rocafort knows how to draw a variety of action scenes, facial and body types, and environments convincingly.  Freeze looks menacing, Starfire looks unbelievably hot in her ridiculously skimpy costume, and Jason looks convincing in his costume and action shots.  His few shots of Batgirl are actually pretty stunning, and his depiction of an unmasked Xiao Loong, while not enough to make me forget the drivel that plot point was, was still striking and sympathy-inducing.  Pretty good work on that front!

Overall, I'd have to say this title, along with what's currently happening in Teen Titans, really helps make the justification that Scott Lobdell should consider toning down his workload.  He has good ideas, but doesn't do the legwork to develop them properly, and it shows in the lazy, lackluster writing.  The artwork is good, and Freeze's involvement in all this make it a component to the larger story, but not a necessary one.  I did enjoy it, but couldn't help the feeling that it could have easily been better.  Recommended.

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