If you’ve been keeping up with AiPT!’s Red Hood and The Outlaws coverage over the last three months, you’d know I’ve been pretty harsh on the series’s super-genius Bizarro storyline. Being a tremendous fan of Jason Todd and his adventures, being so critical of one of my absolute favorite series is not enjoyable, like being kicked in the shins by your sweet cousin at a family reunion. It’s why I am so happy with Red Hood and the Outlaws #22- it’s an emotionally fueled examination of the toll Bizarro’s changes have taken on the Superman clone while setting up a gut-wrenching finale to the entire arc in the next issue.
This series may not have his name in the title, but the last year of Red Hood and the Outlaws has focused on Bizarro’s sudden transformation into a supergenius with a harmful addiction to synthetic Kryptonite. Past issues have felt meandering with incremental advancements in the plot while not offering anything particularly memorable, while this issue perfectly sets up the genius Bizarro saga for it’s climatic, heartbreaking finale.
When readers meet Bizarro in #22, he’s doing something extraordinarily out of character- simply ordering a hot dog from a street vendor dressed in a three piece suit. In the ensuing pages, Bizarro breaks down the new experiences he finds himself so fascinated by, like the simple act of enjoying a hot dog or feeling the sun on his face, all while basking in comfort that he keeps the people of Gotham safe. All things he otherwise wouldn’t experience as his normal self.
It’s a stark contrast from the equally fantastic ramblings of Bizarro’s past from issue #12 and reverses the egocentricity found in previous issues following his increase in I.Q. As Bizarro’s intelligence starts to slip, he comes off like a dying man appreciating what little things he has left to enjoy. It humanizes Bizarro in a way that makes this recent story so much more impactful than ever before. Suddenly, I found myself pulling for the big blue guy, genuinely feeling sorry about his looming demise (while experiencing tinges of remorse for being so harsh on previous issues.).
Things culminate in a touching yet heartbreaking moment shared between Bizarro and Jason Todd as the two discuss the imminent rough patch to come. The scene is damn near perfectly rendered by mainstay Red Hood artist Dexter Soy and colorist Veronica Gandini. The sun sets on the duo as they lay in a field, with the horizon slowly darkening in indication of the coming darkness in Bizarro’s mind while both Jason and Bizarro look absolutely distraught.
Here is Bizarro, one of the most powerful beings alive, drawn with the expression of a helpless child powerless against his own demise. Meanwhile Jason, the wise-cracking a-----e, can’t manage to even fake a smile as he realizes just how tragic the coming days will be for his best friend. All of this is supported by gut-punching dialogue that’ll make the end of Infinity War look like a birthday party. Bizarro’s world as he knows it is coming to an end, and he’s terrified- make no mistake, readers will be too.
Aside from the brutally sad foreshadowing of Bizarro’s return to form, this issue serves as a reminder that these characters are still outlaws- operating in the grey areas most heroes shy away from. Readers gain insight into Artemis’s shady years as a merc for hire under Lex Luthor while Red Hood’s confrontation with the Penguin informs forgetful readers that Jason is still, in fact, a Gotham crime lord. There’s been less focus on the actual outlaw aspect of this rogue squad making these subtle narrative choices a refreshing return to form amidst so much turmoil.Writer Scott Lobdell even manages to tease the direction of the next arc in this issue with easter egg shots of the mysterious, multiple faced man seen at the end of issue 19. It’s a little frustrating, however, that nothing new is revealed about him and he’s really given no progression at all. Regardless, his appearances are subtle enough to not take away from the main narrative while still drumming up excitement for what’s in store for the outlaws- once they save Bizarro from himself, of course.
This feels like a penultimate issue in a story that has been in the making for the better part a year. It’s so good that it will make fans of the series appreciate Bizarro’s recent plight so much more- even people like me who have been so harsh towards this arc. This issue is truly a must read that will leave readers teary eyed and just as terrified for Bizarro’s future as the big blue man himself.
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