Batman: Under the Hood

It’s amazing to read a comic that completely changes your understanding of the Batman world.  Batman: Under the Hood will do just that (well, as long as you’re like me and haven’t read any comics  that were published in the last decade).

Gotham’s underworld is being plagued by a new player: the Red Hood, a masked man who is neither hero nor villain.  He goes on a crime spree, but only against criminals: he steals the Black Mask’s product, kills his thugs, and all in all just ruins his day. All the while we’re following Batman as he tries to figure out who lies beneath Red Hood’s mask, and watching him try to rationalize his way out of it once he realizes the truth.

The comic grants us access to a number of scenes featuring Red Hood himself. Rather than traipsing around after Batman the entire time, we get to see things from the Red Hood’s perspective, and learn a little bit more about him straight from the source.

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The most important thing we learn is that he’s extremely good at what he does. He’s a fighter, but he’s also incredibly smart.  A deadly combination to be sure, he also has a penchant for being quippy, making him a very readable character.  I can’t lie, I loved his scenes; they just felt so real.  Batman is generally very cut and dry as far as the law is concerned; he may operate outside of it, but he still works in its name.  Red Hood is far more convoluted.  He has no problem crossing the line into committing acts of crime, but he’s only hurting those who hurt others.  It’s not technically right, but considering his effectiveness, can anyone really argue that it’s completely wrong?  Red Hood operates in the grey areas of the law, going to lengths that Batman never would to try and make Gotham a safer place.

As Red Hood dishes out his own unique brand of justice, Batman is struggling to come to terms with his hunches about who the Red Hood is.  He never says it in the comic, but he alludes to the fact that it’s impossible, because this person is dead.  Being a man of science and reason, Bruce can’t wrap his mind around how this could be possible, and so he seeks out a few friends who have died and come back to ask them just how it was done.  None have a truly satisfying answer, leaving him to ponder what it all means.

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Batman’s search for answers leave him unsatisfied, and ultimately he is forced to face off against Red Hood himself.  The two engage in an impressive one-on-one battle, with the fight resulting in Red Hood taking off his mask and revealing his identity:

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HOLY HELL, BATMAN! JASON TODD IS BACK!

Of course, this isn’t the first time we thought Jason had returned from the dead.  Back in the Hush storyline, Bruce faced another foe whom he believed to be Jason, only it turned out to be Clayface in disguise.

…Or was it?  According to this Jason, it really was him, and he and Clayface just switched places midway through the battle.

Talk about completely changing your understanding of that story, as well as everything else we thought we knew about the loss of Jason Todd.

It was a shock seeing Jason return, and while we didn’t get an explanation of how, we did learn why he’s chosen to resurface.  Essentially, it’s to do the job that he believes Bruce is incapable of doing.

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Like it or not, he makes a pretty compelling argument.  I love me some Batman, and he does what he can to keep the city safe, but in a place like Gotham, maybe it’s not enough.  Crime is still king, and psychopaths, dirty cops, and mob bosses run the city.  Everyone else just keeps their head down and hopes to make it out alive.  Jason’s version of justice isn’t nearly as cut and dry as Bruce’s, but then that’s what makes it so interesting.  Jason and Bruce are so similar, and yet now we see what Bruce would have been like had he gone down a different path.  What if he wasn’t so staunchly against killing?  What if he believed the end justified the means, and was harsher with those he viewed as criminals?  Jason reflects those ideals, showing Bruce what he could have become.  Whether it’s for better or worse, Jason Todd has clearly adopted a new identity and a new role in Gotham.  The question is, is he a scourge or savior to the city?  Truthfully, maybe he’s a bit of both.

Batman: Under the Hood was easily one of the most entertaining Batman comics I’ve read in a while.  Every character was interesting (I didn’t even go into the wildly comical relationship between Black Mask and his right hand man.  It was so darkly hilarious that I kept wanting them to pop up in more scenes).  Watching Bruce come face to face with what he believed to be his greatest failure was fascinating, and completely changes the entire history of the character.  How will Batman react now, knowing that Jason is alive?  Will he still consider Jason his responsibility?  He may not be dead, but has Bruce failed him just the same, causing him to adopt this darker image of justice?  The comic leaves these questions open.  The big reveal is made, with little else said about how Bruce is dealing with the news.  I can only hope that the follow-up comics are written half as well as this, and that the story remains just as compelling as it was here.

-Jess

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