From the inception of DC Comics’ New 52, “Red Hood and the Outlaws” has been one of the odder titles based in the relaunched DC Universe. Pairing the previously unconnected Red Hood Jason Todd with the now no longer Teen Titans Roy “Arsenal” Harper and Starfire made for strange bedfellows in more ways than one. But as writer James Tynion IV takes the reins with this week’s issue #19, he’s looking to focus on the weird world underneath the surface of the team.
Teaming with artists Julius Gopez for an opening two-part arc, followed quickly by a double-sized Annual, the writer is looking to deepen the mythology of the All-Caste — the mysterious mountain mystics who helped train Red Hood after his return from the dead. But just because Todd takes the focus at the start, it doesn’t mean that he’ll be alone on the journey as future issues will also dig into the previously hidden pasts of Arsenal and Starfire.
CBR News spoke with Tynion about his plans for the book, and below, the writer explains how all three Outlaws will have their secrets to hide and trust to be broken as his first issue gets underway. Tynion promises that a new outlook on life is in store for Red Hood while the past comes back to haunt Roy Harper both in the form of his once mentor Green Arrow and the villainous Dr. Hugo Strange and Starfire continues to discover her post-princess purpose.
CBR News: James, “Red Hood and the Outlaws” is your second big DC ongoing book, and like your work on “Talon” it has ties to the Bat Universe without being a strict Gotham City action book. But it also has a lot of other ideas running through it from espionage action to space opera stuff. What was your biggest attraction to the series in general, and what did you want to do to set the tone for your take on the book?
The story starts with Jason Todd, and the gatefold cover we’re getting has some trippy mystical imagery to connect him to that All-Caste idea. They way you talk about it, it reminds me of the Archie Goodwin/Walt Simonson “Manhunter” comics from the ’70s. What is it about Jason’s past and identity that brings the story together?
That’s really the crux of issues #19 and 20. Basically, the way I view the start of the series is that #19 and 20 are one big story. It’s almost like one 40-page issue, and then the next part is in the 38-page “Red Hood” Annual coming out next month. Over the course of the next two months, those issues will lay out the shape and the size of the story to come. It really sets out the emotional stakes, and Jason is at the heart of the story. I mean, the book is called “Red Hood and the Outlaws” so Red Hood has to be front and center. This is a story where he is going to be having a conversation in the first issue that changes the game. At the end of issue #19, there’s a fundamental shift in Jason that’s going to really, really throw the relationships of the Outlaws in jeopardy, and we’re going to see how his decision and the machinations of the All-Caste in relation to that decision are going to…geez, it’s really hard to explain this without giving it all away! [Laughter]
Well, if the cover’s any indication it looks like things are in for a weird turn.
Right. Similar to what I just did in “Talon,” this is going to be a major status quo shift. This is going to really change up the way the three Outlaws are able to interact with each other and function as a group. It’s going to throw their existence as three warriors fighting side-by-side as friends into jeopardy. We’re going to call into question whether or not their destinies are to be together or on their own. Are they good for each other, or have they just been hurting each other? Is there something here where all the destructive elements of their mutual past will slowly rip them apart? Or is there something at their core that can bind them together?
Something big comes at the end of #19 to begin this whole story, and I’m incredibly excited for people to see it.
You mention people’s pasts playing a big role, and the tease on the Annual set for May is that we’ll get Roy’s background in the New 52. Since the relaunch got rid of some pretty recognizable elements of that story such as the New Teen Titans, people have been wondering what does and doesn’t exist for characters like Roy. What is that connection to Green Arrow like now? Was there a Speedy? And what’s your interest in telling this story now?
I think part of this is that in setting up the story we’re going to tell, we needed that information about Roy. We needed to know about how his relationship with Green Arrow fell apart, and the best way to do that was to bring Ollie into the series. I was trying to figure out the best way to introduce all that into the series, and then I found out that we had this Annual coming. That gave me a little more space to get inside Roy’s head and show this story. We’re also going to see some moments from Jason’s past in the next few issues — hidden moments about what ties him to Roy and Kori.
And I think the big issue that comes out of all this is trust. We’re going to see the breakdown in trust between Roy and Green Arrow at the same time as there’s a breakdown in trust between the Outlaws themselves. I’m playing those two stories off of each other, and the Annual was the perfect vehicle for that. Roy will be front and center for that story, and it sets his emotional stakes for the story to come. This is a book with three main characters, and each of them has a major piece of the story to come. I’m writing the big climax of Roy’s arc right now, and it’s pretty bombastic. I’m very excited for folks to see it.
I think with reworking some of these characters origins, it’s all about finding the core of the character. We want to make sure we don’t take anything away from who they’ve been for all these years in comics. If they’re totally different characters, why would we be using these characters in the first place? We’d be writing new characters instead. So with Roy, at his core he’s the same man. He’s a little bit earlier in his journey than the Arsenal we saw in the previous continuity, but he has the same sorts of doubts and fears about himself, and he’s had the same struggles. I think it’s time we showed them and really got into his head to show what led him to become the kind of insecure, jokes a little too hard guy who acts like he does because he’s afraid of who he is and how capable he is when he’s infinitely more capable than he thinks.
Down the road, we’ve got some new villains coming into the book, starting with Hugo Strange showing up in issue #21. With gaps in Jason’s memories playing a role in the story overall, that seems like the perfect villain to be involved. What’s his part in the overarching story?
Well, Hugo Strange plays a significant role right at the start of the story, though I’ll reveal that his connection comes through Roy. We’re going to see him first in the Annual and what his role was in Roy’s past. It’s something new and different from what we’ve seen before in this series. Hugo is going to help launch a much larger story. I think his machinations will become clear to the Outlaws as we move forward, but he’s playing his own long game. Over the course of the run, we’ll see what that long game is.
We’ve also got Essence in the mix, who popped up briefly in the preview for your first issue, but by the look of the cover to issue #22, it appears as though she’s going to be a major foil for Starfire. How does she serve as a counterpoint to how you view Kori’s story?
Kori’s been one of my favorite characters for years and years. She’s an incredibly powerful figure. She’s strong enough that she could be on the Justice League if she wanted to in terms of her sheer power, but instead she’s hanging out with these two screw-ups — these two guys who aren’t proper heroes. They’re not sure who they are or what they want to be in the world. And that resonates with her. She’s supposed to be a princess. She’s supposed to be of this warrior culture. But she doesn’t want to be a Tamaranian. She doesn’t want that life for herself because she feels betrayed by the fact that they sold her into slavery as a daughter while she was still a piece of the empire. It’s something where she’s still figuring out who she is and what she wants in her life — how to deal with the elements of her past that hurt her so much.
Part of the duality between her and Essence is a question of what they know versus what they’re saying. They both play their cards very close to their chest for very different reasons, but Kori’s going to be coming after Essence for some answers in the issues coming up — answers to very big questions. But she’s also not willing to give answers to the questions posed to her. So there is this great play off the two where they serve counterpoints to one another. Kori needs something from Essence that she’s unwilling to give herself.
Essence is probably my favorite character that’s been created for the series so far. In terms of “Red Hood and the Outlaws” and the whole New 52, she’s part of this huge mythology of the All-Caste. She was a former member and was exiled by her mother — the woman Ducra who trained Jason after his resurrection. There’s still so much mystery around Essence, which is great for me because I get to play with that mystery and reveal new elements of who she is and what her goals really are. Whether she’s serving herself or some higher purpose and whether she’s willing to work against her mother’s goals, is she trying to ensure the same future her mother was trying to protect? We’re going to be seeing a lot of that mythology of the All-Caste and the Untitled and Essence herself over this coming story.
“Red Hood and the Outlaws” #19 goes on sale tomorrow, April 17, from DC Comics.