Guest Writer – Andrew
While I have enjoyed a lot of the DC Rebirth process to date there are two releases so far that for me tower far above the rest of the titles. Those two books are Red Hood and the Outlaws and Batgirl. Indeed if I were forced to pick just two DC books each month then (with some reluctance, especially at not being able to throw Green Lanterns in too) it would be those two as things stand.
Each represents two separate qualities of what I want when I make a trip to my local comic shop. I’ve been thinking about my core requirements from a comic book recently (these things keep me awake at night) and I’ve finally settled on the fact that the two qualities I seek above all others are ‘vibrancy’ and ‘artistry’.
By ‘vibrancy’ I’m referring to a level of energy and vitality that cuts across every feature of the book, the artwork, storytelling, characterisation and plot. ‘Artistry’ on the other hand I see as a complimentary (and not mutually exclusive) trait which is conveyed through a degree of expert craftsmanship. Maybe its a term best defined by looking at what lacks artistry within comic books; sloppy slapdash art and stories that aren’t thought through and don’t stack up. Both vibrancy and artistry are the two qualities that make me want to retain a work on my bookcase long, long after I have read it. Usually you get one or other of the qualities but these titles combine both, in my eyes, to a staggering effect.
I’ll start with Batgirl. It is a superb book so far, managing to take traits of a character that we have come to know and appreciate in recent years, and crystallize them into a hard flawless diamond, and what a multi-faceted jewel of a title it is. The first thing that strikes me about it is its sheer deployment of color within the book’s art. The covers (and variant covers) of the two issues to date have accurately reflected the content within. The art in the book proper is brimful of character – bizarrely I keep noticing how much Barbara’s facial expressions immediately convey her mindset or humor – sometimes just a little wry twist of the mouth or narrowing of her eyes – amazing. The book is fresh and exciting, new and different. It’s a Bat-title but not as we know it. Gone are the dark brooding Gotham nights, here we are in Japan, and Singapore in neon-lit Asian cityscapes, meals with Octopus as a staple ingredient, date nights with Kai, mysterious people called Fruit Bat (!), peeping toms deploying drone devices brought to justice by Babs, and Mixed Martial Arts! Take that; she’s kick ass!
I love this book. I love the story, I love the art. Batgirl looks ultra, ultra, ultra modern (that’s ultra x 3!). Her story is told in a fresh color code of yellows and bright blues and pale greens and pinks. The art matches Hope Larson’s quirky writing. Batgirl’s kinetic activity crackles off the page. It’s like this, I shall be actively seeking out work by the creative team behind the book in the hope of replicating the experience of this title in some small way. For me this title represents how I want to see Barbara Gordon and Batgirl (and I liked Gail Simeone’s previous take too). From now on it will be this depiction that is marked out in my mind when the character is mentioned. This is a positive image to carry with us given some of the coverage on the Barbara Gordon character history recently (which is still a part of the DC universe post-Rebirth – see Bird of Pray Rebirth 1).
The Red Hood title gives the same effect of wonderment but through employing a completely contrasting style. As with Batgirl, in two issues we have been given much descriptive richness in relation to the life circumstances of Jason Todd. The reader, old or new, has been able to base themselves in the character’s narrative and quickly appreciate the tensions that are played out within his personality as a result of his upbringing. In the Rebirth Issue #1 we saw an amazing recap of his origin story told in flashback form throughout set excerpts of the book. We saw poignant memories of his time as the Boy Wonder, and a suggestion of what once worked well between him and his mentor. What underpins the title however is the contrasting modern day circumstances, and residual lack of trust between the Batman and Red Hood. Batman automatically assumes in Rebirth Issue #1 that Jason is capable of killing the Mayor; we see the frustration in Jason in subsequent pages of the book that his father figure (and dare I say the reader?) did not have more faith in him. It is a point underscored by the fact that the act against the Mayor takes place on the 9th page proper, and yet on the first 6 or 7 pages we have had flashbacks to the positive times in Bruce and Jason’s history together.
There are individual accents of humor overlaid on top of a dark palate. When I think of the Red Hood book and I think of the Blacks, Greys, Reds, Browns and Navy used. Those are the tones that feature most prominently. Within the book are some lovely set pieces; Alfred’s photograph of Jason’s debut in the Robin suit, and in Issue #1 proper a glorious panel of Jason slouching over the desk with the contents a messy hamburger spilling out of the bun onto his t-shirt. Essentially Jason is the shown as the bad-boy rebel, the anti-Grayson. Weird Science DC made an interesting point of comparison in relation to the education of the rest of the Boy Wonders. Issue #1 of Red Hood makes the observation that Jason was sent to Ma Gunn’s School for Wayward Boys on Crime Alley. Turns out Bruce’s detective prowess went awry in choosing Jason’s educational establishment – we are later told in issue #1 that, “Bruce thought he was doing me a favor by enrolling me in Ma Gunn’s Boarding School, turned out ‘crime’ was the only subject she taught”. Not wrapped in cotton wool like Mr Grayson then (and Grayson is my favorite DC character so no letters of complaint please!).
In a previous post I referred to the elegiac nature of Red Hood. I still think that is the word that conveys it’s content, an elegiac title laced with some humour. Jason definitely inhabits the dark end of the Bat-spectrum (perhaps along with Batwoman and Batman himself). That is the space this book occupies, and so reading it alongside Batgirl means that the titles pleasantly contrast. Red Hood shows the reader a darker dynamic. Batgirl occupies a different space that is colourful, bright, and busy.
Both these titles are worthy of a place you your shelf or your collection. For me they are the cream of the Rebirth crop in my eyes. If you don’t normally buy them then they are monthly titles both of which retail at $2.99, so its not a big price tag for some high quality entertainment from two great creative teams. I hope you enjoy them.
Batgirl:- Hope Larson (writer), Rafael Alberquerque (Art), Dave McCaig (colours) Deron Bennet (letters)
Red Hood and the Outlaws:- Scott Lobdell (writer), Dexter Soy (Artist), Veronica Gandini (colorist), Taylor Esposito (letterer)
[Michael’s Note – As always you can connect with Andrew on Twitter and you should absolutely check out his gorgeously diverse Star Wars blog The Astromech Journal. You can find his other posts for this site here and here.]