I've seen a lot of talk about the first issue of Revenge of the Red Hood being a weaker entry in Morrison's run on Batman and Robin, and I guess I'll preface this by saying I hope Part 2 steps it up for you, although I have the feeling it'll remain divisive for three reasons. 1. Philip Tan's art - Morrison bent his writing style to suit Tan's gritty, heavy-black, and slightly 90's style. 2. Jason Todd - Anything with him in it is hated by people who still aren't over his comeback. 3. No Frank Quitely. Yeah, granted, that falls in somewhere with Tan being the artist, but admit it - if Frank was penciling this thing, even naysayers could say "Well, at least the art is amazing."
In my blog about the previous issue RED RIGHT HAND, the biggest point I made was that Jason Todd's tragedy as a character - the one Robin who beyond Batman failing, wasn't cut out for being plucked from the streets as a 14 year old and turned into a soldier - keeps being hinted at here. I'll get more into it as I go, though, since there's nuance to how his interacting with crime (via internet viral marketing and murder) is leading to the wrong kind of escalation, and bringing in more elements as fucking twisted as Professor Pyg. So I guess I'll do this on a page-by-page basis.
Page 1 - For starters, bad enough they were associates, it turns out Professor Pyg is actually Scarlet's uncle. This super-drug cartel is really twisted, and has Russians, South Americans (El Santo makes a comeback later), who knows who else? In one panel, we get another shot of Professor Pyg that shows his corpulent body, but not his face. Why keep it secret, I wonder, when he was sort of already unmasked in Batman # 666?
Page 2 - Ooh, edgy backstory (more on that later). This issue is called Scarlet, and true to form, we get to see her narrate some of it. Did I mention how ironic and hypocritical it is that Jason Todd is quoting Milton and accusing Bruce Wayne of turning children into soldiers (putting their lives at risk) but he's just done the same thing with Sasha?
Page 3 - Full-page spreads don't require much analysis.
Page 4 - Another "Batman and Robin double-move" moment (B&R#1 had the double punch of Toad, B&R#3 had the double punch that took down Pyg, etc ... it's a classic element of the 60's show and seems to be the strongest direct element Morrison has borrowed). The trash talk between Damian and Jason is excellent - Morrison giving us a little self-aware dialogue about how Damian and Jason aren't all that different from one another. Important things to note: Damian mentions the Joker (inherent in Jason Todd's backstory) - it always pays to take note of Morrison's use of the Joker, even if it's just a character like Damian referencing him. I'd put odds that when Quitely comes back for the 5th story arc, Damian (who hasn't met the Joker yet) meets the Joker, and we get a scene that parallels Joker/Jason Todd (only with different results). Another thing to notice - Jason actually gives Damian some anti-Robin, genuinely bitter talk about "don't expect job security" (putting children in danger) and actually draws the line there - he isn't going to kill Batman and Robin, they aren't "bad guys". It gives the sense that Jason is fairly immature (in that Boondock Saints kind of way where there's "good and there's bad" and he's a good judge of it) but also shows that he's not totally lost to villainy or anything - he has some nobility, Bruce Wayne DID get through to him, in some small way, even in this incredibly stubborn prick.
Page 5 - Penguin escapes. I didn't think Morrison would kill an A-Lister like Penguin off to show how bad-ass Jason is (when later this issue he actually strives to show that acting bad-ass is NOT a good thing) but you never know these days. Side-note: Still can't stand how Tan draws Penguin, although in some later panels he looks okay.
Page 6 - Sasha is still filming Jason with a BlackBerry. The whole "viral marketing" thing pays off for Jason hugely, in both the way he wants (public favor) and the way he doesn't see coming. Dick's dialogue here is one of those out-of-the-ballpark Morrison quotes that's so good you don't see it coming: "Stop talking in slogans." (See: Let the Punishment fit the Crime) Jason's ego is off the scales here, as by saying "Do you honestly think they'll dare come here now?" he's literally daring them to come to Gotham, since all his dialogue is being recorded for his web campaign. Then Jason gives what many fans would call a "valid argument".
A day doesn't go by when a new topic will pop up in a forum about "Why doesn't Batman kill the Joker?" or "Shouldn't Batman kill?" Morrison is doing something I didn't actually expect - he's showing us exactly why Batman shouldn't kill.
Page 7 - Damian breaks rank again. He and Dick are working better together, but there's still plenty of Damian left in Damian. Jason hands him his ass - but then again, what do you expect? Jason had a couple years of training from Batman, where Damian has had ... I guess less time. Not that much less time. After that? Jason was trained by the League of Assassins. Jesus, they really are practically the same character at this point, aren't they? Interesting point here: Sasha calls Jason "Hood" short-hand. Apart from wearing a hood ... it really is an appropriate term for him, isn't it? That's all Jason Todd has ever been - a hood, as in, a hoodlum. A street kid.
Page 8 - The situation devolves as Dick takes Jason's hands off Damian by force. They might be fairly balanced opponents, but there's no question who'd take it in a fight - Dick Grayson is the next best thing to Bruce Wayne. The interaction devolves too, into the kind of squabble trash-talk you'd expect young 20-something brothers to do, as Dick taunts Jason about embarrassing him in front of his "new girlfriend", Jason replies "she's not my -", Dick quips that he's not interested in her "super-hero backstory" (another bit of self-aware humor), Sasha threatens to kill Damian, Jason can't help but insert her super cool backstory anyway by saying "She's not kidding, the mask made her crazy." and leaves, leaving his Red Right Hand calling card. Wow, Jason, you're so edgy ... (then again, sibling rivalry with Batman aside, he did leave a room full of bodies - the contrast between how sophomoric and arrogant Jason is, but how capable of dispensing ass-kicking because he was trained by Batman and assassins, is pretty crazy).
Page 9 - Robin realizes that Scarlet is the same girl from Professor Pyg's lab. He's a little bit delusional, as he refers to her as "the girl I tried to save" when really, he ditched her to try to take on Pyg by himself - he's trying to live up to Dick's expectations with white lies. More importantly though, Dick pulls a domino off of El Santo, who is still alive. The men with dominos have been Toad, Pyg, and El Santo, and they all seem to be involved in this "Super-Drug Cartel". But that doesn't explain how a "Domino Killer" is going to play into it. Still, it's worth mentioning that Joker is at large and killed Robin once, who wears a domino mask. Joker as a hitman cleaning out a new super-cartel? Stranger things have happened.
Page 10 - Alfred cleans and watches the morning news. This bit is pretty big, as we get our next glimpse of Oberon Sexton, who appears to be "on the trail of a globetrotting serial killer". He was in Gotham before Flamingo was sent for, so one must assume that Sexton is looking for the "Domino Killer". Sexton being an England-based character could lead to future interaction with Knight & Squire. Using him as a pundit though, an "expert" for the media to talk about the new dynamic duo of Red Hood & Scarlet, is pretty cool exposition. He ultimately sides with Batman & Robin's non-lethal ways, saying no matter who Hood murders, he's still a murderer.
The main thing here, I think, that's worth noting, is that Oberon is supposedly "out of nowhere", a B-Plot, but he's the closest thing to strengthening and evidencing the whole over-arcing "mystery" Morrison is laying out behind the main events of each title.
The second thing here is more speculative. I think Oberon Sexton is the Joker in disguise. Dig this:
1. They have the same build. Tall and thin.
2. His entire body is covered, which could hide Joker's features. Even a mask to cover his cut grin. Even red sunglasses to hide Joker's yellowed eyes.
3. Joker has worn white gloves and top hats before.
4. An English accent. Joker is quite a capable actor.
5. Gordon: "His face was scarred by criminals who killed his wife." - Is that not literally just the backstory from The Killing Joke? And spoken by none other than Gordon, the very guy from Killing Joke ... in a series that has already had Gordon reference The Killing Joke.
6. Oberon: Lord of Faeries, seems like just the name a joker like Joker would take if he was pretending to be British. Also, Oberon played a role in Faust, which dealt with The Devil. Ironically, Joker was just dealing with The Devil in Batman, R.I.P., but opted to go for being a trickster instead, two-timing all of them.
7. Oberon actually pays Joker a back-handed compliment on TV: "Let's not forget. The name RED HOOD has been used by more than one notorious Gotham criminal in the past." That punk ass Jason Todd is running around using HIS material!
8. His book is called "Masks of Evil". Masks. Evil.
Page 11 - A quick bit of Dick Grayson blowing off Lucius Fox. He might be finding his way of filling the role of Batman, but filling Bruce's shoes at Wayne Enterprises? Not quite. But Damian seems more than willing - a chip off the old block? Dick still calls Alfred "Alfie" - awesome. Alfred is concerned with the Red Hood, making the news.
Page 12 - And indeed he's made the headlines. We get Dick's pretty candid feelings about Jason, and learn that the public opinion poll is divisive on Red Hood, but the majority is all for killing criminals outright (another bit that reminds me of Boondock Saints (itself an homage to Bronson flicks) which ended with a news reporter asking people in a park what they thought, and the public was split nearly 50/50 pro-killing and anti-killing).
Page 13 - Gordon, always the cop. El Santo is alive, Gordon wants information. The list of names that Jason killed is great - really fun "criminal names" like "High-Rise Romero", "Gentleman-G Merriwether". More talk from El Penitente, who could, I suppose, be the leader of this super-drug syndicate. I still speculate that El Penitente is Hurt - Devil or not, Hurt's always had "mind-altering" as part of his backstory, and he loaded Bruce up with quite a cocktail of hallucination-inducing drugs as well. And of course, we get garbled talk about "oh no, you've unleashed Flamingo!" He did mention that it's the "airplane from Hell" with HELL all capitals, so take that with a grain of salt as a hint about who El Penitente might be.
Page 14 - Jason's been reading books about marketing. It's so over the top ... but the big thing here, and my favorite thing in the whole issue - Morrison has brought in a lot of pre-Crisis elements, and this is the mother of them all. Jason Todd is a red-head again, an extra layer of ultra-bitter icing on the cake as Batman of course had him dye his hair to look like Dick Grayson (now his bitter rival). Which was actually an editorial decision at the time (Detective Comics # 531)
Hard to account for Tan's facial construction, which aim to make him look different from Dick Grayson, but it's important to note that the gray streak from Hush remains, and his talk of getting pimples from the sweaty conditions in the Red Hood helmet (while slightly evocative of Rorschach - another "non" Alan Moore reference), Jason Todd is only 20 years old. Hell, Dick Grayson is only 22. And of course, Sasha asks the inevitable question of "what happens when we get our own rogues gallery?"
Page 15 - At least Jason has a "similar" goal as Batman. The name of the game is still eradicating crime.
Page 16 - Here we get the sicko meter dialed back up to Professor Pyg levels. Flamingo's plane has landed on a small airfield outside town. He'd partied with women on his plane and during the flight he skinned and ate their faces. I guess El Santo's calling him the "Eater of Faces" wasn't a bluff.
Page 17 - Gordon gets on the phone with Batman. "Nobody walks into his town like this", he claims. He refers to the syndicate as the Penitente Cartel, so I presume that organization will be clarified (a bit) at some point. "It looks like the Red Hood's antics have attracted the wrong kind of attention, Commissioner. This is what happens when the crime fits the punishment." That's Morrison's morality one-liner of the issue, summing up the inherent problem with vigilante killers (at least as far as super-hero comics go). But you will take notice that Dick Grayson makes a point of calling him "Red Hood" and doesn't actually reveal Jason Todd's identity. Either he's worried that Jason Todd could be traced back to Bruce Wayne, or it's just some "Robin" bond that he won't break, is an interesting question. Luckily Dick knows just where to find Jason - he's at Gotham General Hospital, attempting to finish off El Santo.
Page 18 - Batman and Robin crash his party. Scarlet tazes Robin. On an aside, it's pretty funny just how much Robin Hood reference is running around. Robin (Dick, originally) was named, partly for the bird, mostly for the character of Robin Hood (one of the first glorified vigilantes). Jason Todd was Robin is now "Red Hood". That evokes both Little Red Riding Hood and Robin Hood. Or hell, "Red Robin Hood" (Since before Tim, he was Red Robin, too). So who was Robin Hood's sidekick? Little John ... but you can't call a girl named Sasha Little John, but you can call her Scarlet, who is just as inherent to the Robin Hood legend. Will Scarlet.
Page 19 - So she hurts Robin (cuts him with one of those weird blade things) and Jason shoots Dick in the chest (knowing full well it won't kill him because of the kevlar and armor).
Page 20 - Like he says, "It had to hurt". And they have Batman and Robin at their mercy. They load them into the Red Hood's car ... yeah, he's got a car. Actually ... a heavily armored truck painted bright red. The most un-subtle thing you could ever imagine.
Page 21 - He locks them in something or other. But by saying "let's see them get out of that with their dignity intact" he kind of hints that he's put them in some sort of non-lethal situation, but one that they can survive at the risk of being humiliated. It's more like he's out to ruin the public view of Batman and Robin than anything. Then Red Hood is shot in the helmet by El Flamingo, and Sasha gives us a little bit of backstory for this "King of Killers", "Ace of Assassins". He was a crimefighter, got lobotomized and turned into an inhuman monster. (Jason's helmet was shattered, but don't count him out yet. I imagine in typical "bat-family" fashion it's bullet-proof, and he was trained by assassins as well).
Page 22 - Last page, we finally see the guy. He's interesting, to say the least. Pink hair and pink dyed goatee. Purple domino mask. Tacky looking biker jacket and possibly a Victorian looking frock for a shirt under it. Sniper rifle and a whip ... custom pink motorcycle. He's so over the top, I really don't know where to begin other than to say I hope Jason Todd kills him.
The crazy has officially been escalated.
CORRECTION - Pyg is not Sasha's uncle. It'd been a few since I'd read the first arc, but obviously her Uncle Lev is in the first issue.
SECOND CORRECTION - It was Lucius who gave Gravedigger's backstory, not Gordon.