Outlaw no more! Writer Shawn Martinbrough relocates Jason Todd to Gotham's quietest neighborhood for Red Hood #51. A far cry from the exotic adventures and super-powered supporting cast of Scott Lobdell's decade-long run with the character, Martinbrough teams up with penciller Tony Akins and inker Stefano Gaudiano to weave a contemporary tale of gentrification and streetwear-financed crime.
Written by Shawn Martinbrough
Art by Tony Akins, Stefano Gaudiano, and Paul Mounts
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by DC
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
In a story that mostly sees Jason take some time out to rebuild his social life, debuting villain Thomas Misell takes center-stage here. A preening posh boy with an anarchic alter-ego, Misell is responsible for the DC Universe's answer to Supreme, specializing in limited drops of villain-inspired merch while he intimidates rival gangs behind a Purge-esque mask. And he's got friends. Ever wanted to see Killer Croc clad like an old-school Mafioso? Akins and Gaudiano have got you covered.
Outside of the turf wars, Martinbrough spends the rest of the debut issue's runtime establishing the tone and texture of the Hill. The Hill itself is a deep cut. Originally created by Christopher Priest and Martinbrough for 2000's Batman: The Hill one-shot, Martinbrough returns to their creation after 20 years to show us how an influx of cash has changed its landscape. Behind this backdrop of a neighborhood battling gentrification and a sudden outburst of crime, he introduces a varied group of people who banded together to protect their neighborhood during the Joker War. Community is the main theme of the book, whether it's an uneasy alliance between criminal elements or a neighborhood watch formed out of solidarity. Make no mistake - this is very much a villains and supporting characters issue, decentring Jason to provide depth to his new surroundings. The Hill is a compelling setting, and the gang wars provide enough action that the issue's lack of the main character in action doesn't feel like too much of an omission.
Despite the high issue number, Red Hood #51 is an accessible jumping-on point for new readers. It's surprising that DC didn't opt for a shiny new #1 here, especially since the title has undergone a slight retitle. While the old soul in this reviewer prefers the nice big number emblazoned on the left corner of the cover, let's hope it doesn't deter fresh eyes from picking the book up off the rack.
Tony Akins' pencilwork comes alive for shattered wood and angry outbursts. The world behind Jason is dusty and worn and buildings are appropriately weathered. There are a few shaky moments, a completely out of place butt shot on page 20, but generally, Akins turns in solid art. Stefano Gaudiano inks Akins' pencils with care, ensuring every crack and stain is appropriately highlighted. Paul Mounts colors in a predominantly blue palette to cement Misells' night-time activities, flaring up with yellows and reds as the explosions begin.
Martinbrough, Akins, and Gaudiano envision a grounded take on the Red Hood here. Like Burnside and Bludhaven, The Hill looks to be a solid sandbox for another member of the Bat-Family to establish themselves out of the shadow of the Bat. Freed from the dodgy dealings of Generation Outlaw, Martinbrough establishes Jason as a full-on good guy. Although it is refreshing to see Jason Todd outside of the lens of edgy bad-ass, it is not quite clear exactly what Jason Todd stands for going forward. With narrative focus firmly on the setting and the stakes, there's loads of room for Jason's character as this arc moves forward.
We first met Jason Todd on the streets, so it's thematically appropriate for Red Hood to tackle purely street-level crime. Everything about Red Hood #51 is squarely aimed at taking him back to basics. There's nothing outstanding about this issue, but it provides a solid foundation for the future of Jason Todd – freed from having to play the hyper-violent bad boy without completely losing his alleyway origin.
Read our interview with writer Shawn Martinbrough on this Red Hood arc.