DC Comics Relaunch: Red Hood And The Outlaws #1 & Nightwing #1 New 52 Batman Ex-Sidekicks Review

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Following my first double shot review of Suicide Squad #1 & Deathstroke #1 from Week 2 of the DC Comics Relaunch, comes my Week 3 New 52 version.

Two of Batman’s ex-sidekicks, Dick Grayson (the first Robin) and Jason Todd (the second) get their own series as part of the DC Comics Relaunch’s New 52. Grayson’s Nightwing and Todd’s Red Hood and the Outlaws get the #1 treatment. Here’s my take on both books.

Nightwing #1: Writer Kyle Higgins is joined by penciller Eddy Barrows as original Robin Dick Grayson resumes his Nightwing persona after one year of being Batman. Wow. Dick’s worn many costumes since the dawn of the modern age of super-heroics… just five years ago in this New 52 DCU.

The book opens with Dick roaming the skies of Gotham City on the trail of a psychotic murderer, made easy by a trail of blood. As Nightwing, Dick finds and dispatches the killer quickly, but not in time to save the two victims. The sequence is capped off by a curious choice of visual punctuating the scene: the unconscious villain with a pool of blood on his chest in a pattern similar to the crimson on Nightwing’s new costume. Odd. I can’t imagine Dick planned that, so it’s either a wink from the creative team or an unfortunate error. It was distracting or thought provoking… not sure where I land on that yet.

Through this scene, and Dick milling about at his new loft, it is clear that Higgins is trying to have the city take on its own personality be sidekick (or foil?) to Dick’s Nightwing. Dick seems to have an ongoing dialogue with himself and the city throughout the book. Barrows’ pencils give us very interesting sky-scapes and street level shots of Gotham as well as Dick’s new home in the middle of the most crime-riddled part of the city.

Batman also plays a part in the book, but only as part of Dick’s inner monologue that serves to have us understand who Dick is by showing which parts of Batman he ISN’T like. For example:

(1) Batman stays remote and lives outside of the action on the outskirts of town. Nightwing lives and works out of a loft, as mentioned, in the heart of the action in the seedy part of town, where he feels he is most needed.

(2) Batman is neat and tidy (perhaps due to his own butler Alfred than anything Bruce Wayne, Batman’s alter ego, does), while Nightwing is a younger kind of a slob; figuratively like a college student away from his parents for the first time and doesn’t realize or appreciate that his mom’s been cleaning his clothes and cooking his meals… while he’s been living in autopilot. He now, perhaps, has to learn the skills he took for granted as he was Batman’s ward and taken care of by Alfred now that he’s on his own.

(3) Batman probably keeps his several costumes in an organized fashion in the Batcave away from his personal quarters. Nightwing stores his (one?) costume on the floor.

(4) Batman, in his Bruce Wayne persona, indulges in fine dining and the finer things on the culinary side of life. Nightwing, as his alter ego Dick Grayson, probably smells what’s on his kitchen counter or what’s in the fridge to see if it’s fresh enough to eat.

At the same time as we get a very different take on Dick Grayson, we have monologue from him where he contemplates that he is a better Nightwing because of his time as Batman. This is the most confident and capable Nightwing has felt since he first donned super-hero tights.

In addition to all this, Dick’s old circus troupe is in Gotham City. They’ve been touring and this is the first time they are back in Gotham City since his aerial acrobatic parents died at the hands of a mobster named Tony Zucco (probably four years ago in the new DCU timeline). I’m a sucker for Dick Grayson’s backstory, one of the most interesting and touching origin stories in comics, and I am intrigued about how things will be changed and evolved. Great to see Hailey’s Circus still in business. I look forward to getting to know their cast a bit more over this arc.

That’s not all! There is a new costumed assassin in Gotham stalking Dick Grayson NOT Nightwing for the most intriguing of reasons. Higgins shoehorns a lot into this issue and it all works.

Also, Eddy Barrows’ art is probably the best art I’ve seen from him ever and it fits the story. I haven’t been a huge fan of his work, but I think it’s because his art just didn’t fit with brighter books like Teen Titans. However, it works with darker in tone and color books. Barrows’ art works so well with Higgins’s story.

I am definitely back next month.

Red Hood and The Outlaws #1: Scott Lobdell takes on his second DC Comics Relaunch “New 52″ title this week with Red Hood and the Outlaws joined by Kenneth Rocafort on art. This book features former Robin (numero dos) Jason Todd as Red Hood leading a team of unlikely team members (accomplices?) in the form of Arsenal (former sidekick to Green Arrow) and Starfire (founding member of the New Teen Titans). It certainly seems like an odd team mix, but that is also its appeal: the “what happens next” appeal. The team membership IS the hook for this book, which is a change from DC’s typical plot or action-first enticements and teases for readers.

The book opens with scenes teased by DC Comics already, namely Red Hood dynamically freeing Arsenal from a Middle Eastern prison after supporting an Arab Spring. They are joined by Starfire mid-escape, who serves as this unlikely team’s big guns. Naturally, the three successfully escape their armed assailants and reward themselves with some R&R by way of a fun-the-sun tropical getaway. It is through their interactions and private thoughts that we learn more about who these characters are what motivate them.

Starfire questions why she remains on Earth which in the new DCU is more xenophobic than pre-Flashpoint. She is the same larger-than-life beauty she was before, but less naïve and more in control of herself. We also learn that she is quite aloof literally and figuratively having only fleeting smells and senses (not memories) of her time in the DCU. This almost places her above humanity and perhaps reinforces the xenophobic tendencies of the world around here. Starfire doesn’t even recall her time as a New Teen Titan and her romance with Dick Grayson (DC’s first Robin, most recent Batman, and current Nightwing). She is very much a live-in-the-moment character who is probably (well there is no “probably” about it) over-sexualized in this book. You’ll know what I mean when you read the book. Whereas before her wardrobe choice was a nice contrast to her soft, innocent persona, now she is very a much a “what you see is what you get” character. There is a subplot set-up with her in the book that adds an element of mystery to the book as well as some other moments of genuine humor, e.g. the young boy gob smacked seeing Starfire and what he does next is very much a product of the 21rst Century.

Arsenal has also change quite a bit in the new DCU. Not just age-wise, as he is clearly younger, but this tatted-up grunge “guy”. He serves as the team’s opening damsel-in-distress and as the gateway character for readers to learn about Red Hood, Starfire and key elements of their shared past. Unlike the calm, cool, methodical leader Roy Harper grew into before the Rise and Fall of the Justice League debacle in the pre-Flashpoint DCU, he has regressed into an immature, yet still capable character. He is even sympathetic at times, surprisingly something that was not achieved when his daughter died in the old DC continuity. Roy is infinitely more relatable then he was in the past, but it is largely done at the expense of the character evolution he experienced in years past. His interplay with Starfire shows how far both characters have come, in a very base way.

Lastly, the Red Hood. Jason Todd actually has gone in the opposite direction of his two accomplices in this book, and has become somewhat more noble, but the focus of this sentence is the somewhat part as he certainly is no choirboy. Jason is a determined, focused tactician and a leader on one hand, and on the other he is a frat boy that likes his women and his cerveza. He is like that annoying cool kid from high school who got the girl AND the good grades. We also learn about his relationship to something called the “All Caste” that Jason was a part with a new mystery character called Essence. Revealing his loyal side, the Red Hood quickly heads to the All Caste compound in the Himalayas when we finds out trouble is afoot. He goes on his own, and gets into a heap of trouble that serves as the book’s cliff-hanger.

Overall, I like where the story is going with this All Caste mystery, but I’m not sure I like how Starfire is being portrayed. This book is very much like a summer move blockbuster geared towards the teenager crowd with a heavy does of sex-laden innuendo and some nooky too. It also has action and big effects tempered by characters that are flawed, but relatable. You want these characters to succeed hoping that with each successfully completed mission that they will regain a piece of self-worth.

Rocafort’s stylized art really suits the story. He can make battle seem ugly and dynamic, as well as portray Starfire as soft and fiery (figuratively) in the same issue. His intricate art contrasts the seemingly shallow portrayals of our leads as well as conveys the frenetic action in the opening and concluding panels. Rocafort’s art is an enimaga wrapped in a riddle, but beautiful no mater how you perceive it. :)

This fresh take on these three characters irritates me, but intrigues when they have their “game face” on as super-heroes. There is no place for them to go, but upwards, so perhaps the journey to redemption is what will appeal to readers. I’ll be back next month to see where Scott and Kenneth take this “team”.


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John is a long-time pop culture fan, comics historian, and blogger. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief at Comics Nexus. Prior to being EIC he has produced several column series including DEMYTHIFY, NEAR MINT MEMORIES and the ONE FAN'S TRIALS at the Nexus plus a stint at Bleeding Cool producing the COMICS REALISM column. As BabosScribe, John is active on his twitter account, his facebook page, his instagram feed and welcomes any and all feedback. Bring it on!