Friday, 10 June 2011

Review – Batman: Under the Hood Volumes 1 and 2

Written by Judd Winick
Pencilled by Doug Mahnke (Vol 1 & 2), Paul Lee (Vol 1), Shane Davies (Vol 2), Eric Battle (Vol 2)
Inked by Tom Nguyen (Vol 1 & 2), Cam Smith (Vol 1), Rodney Ramos (Vol 2), Wayne Faucher (Vol 2), Lary Stucker (Vol 2),  Marl Morales (Vol 2)
Coloured by Alex Sinclair
Published by Titan Books

Who is the Red Hood?
While battling new criminal chieftains raiding his city, Batman in confronted with a face from the past – or rather, a hidden face from the past. Welcome the return of the Red Hood!

The Black Mask is now in control of the Gotham City underworld. But as he tightens his grip on the city there is a new player in town, The Red Hood who systematically embarks on a tour on intervention and disruption much to the chargrin of the Black Mask.  Also thrown into the mix you get Gotham’s own Dark Knight Batman, an array of familiar old foes, a host of shocking revelations and finally the gut wrenching truth, the identity of Gotham’s newest vigilante.  
Ok so my catch up with Batman continuity (not in any order mind) continues and I’m onto  Under the Hood by Judd Winick and Tom Nguyen (as well as everybody else in the DC company going by the credits) the controversial story line published by DC in 2005. Of course being back on the Geek train meant that I all ready knew who was under the eponymous hood but I can honestly say that it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of these two volumes.
After reading bits on the internet it seems that the story garnered a fair bit of controversy when it was first published as it notably brought back to life a supporting character who had been killed off in 1988 and re-imagined him as the blood thirsty vigilante Red Hood, who was not afraid to cross the line and actually take out the criminals of Gotham City, making him the ying to Batman’s yang. Of course if you don’t know already SPOILERS the Red Hood is in fact the second Robin Jason Todd.
But how can that be? wasn’t Jason Todd was violently beaten to death with a crowbar by the Joker back in 1988’s A Death in the Family – I hear you cry. Well Winick takes the idea from Jeph Loeb’s Hush that Jason is fact alive and totally runs with the ball. Which, except for the actual explanation of his resurrection is no bad thing.
There a lot going on in this story and in some parts is extremely continuity heavy but with a little help from Wikipidea I was able to get by, however there are still some parts that are just beyond my understanding for example the whole Super Boy Prime thing just makes my head hurt.
On a side note perhaps this story is a good example of the problems with the big two’s years of continuity, yes there is a massive history with all of the DC and Marvel characters but with the current trend of slavish devotion to continuity, comics have become more than a little off putting to the ordinary Joe on the street. With a little research and determination you can do some research and get a fair handle on the history/story of these characters but are the comics companies expecting too much of non comic book fans? Which surely must be one of the reasons why the comics market is in it’s current state of decline. If only one of the companies would take the bold decision of rebooting all their current titles with new #1’s in the hope of reigniting interest in comics – oh hang on.
Any way back on topic, I really enjoyed these two volumes the final three way confrontation between Batman, Jason Todd and the Joker is a classic and is extremely powerful. In particular Jason Todd’s incomprehension that Batman has never avenged his death at the hands of the Joker is brilliantly written by Winick and Todd surprisingly becomes a sympathetic character as he becomes just another casualty of the eternal war between good and evil and the Batman and Joker, classy stuff.
The art work by Doug Mahnke and the rest of the DC gang is great through out and the colouring by Alex Sinclair is fantastic. Also included in these two collections are the covers, the first volume are all by Matt Wagner which have a very pulpy noir feel to them and then as a seemingly complete opposite to Wagner the covers in the second volume are by Jock which seem ultra modern in comparison. However the standout cover for me is the one from the second printing for the Batman Annual #25 by Shane Davis which is extraordinary.

Final thoughts
Despite the issues I had with the continuity this is a great Batman story and I suspect it must have been pretty special back in the day when the identity of the Red Hood was revealed. My only problem with these collections is the shoddy binding for volume two, the back is all warped and the spine hadn’t been glued properly resulting in all the pages falling out during it’s first read through – very annoying.

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