Lobdell Looks Under DC's "Red Hood"

This September, DC Comics' the Batman family are experiencing a shake-up as Dick Grayson once again becomes "Nightwing," Bruce Wayne returns as "Batman," Barbara Gordon returns in "Batgirl" and Jason Todd returns as Red Hood in "Red Hood and the Outlaws."

One of the brand-new comic book series set to debut in September as part of DC Comics' 52 title relaunch, "Red Hood" will feature art by Kenneth Rocafort and is written by "X-Men" and "Generation X" scribe Scott Lobdell. Starting with issue #1, the series follows the adventures of Jason Todd as he's joined by former Teen Titans Roy Harper, currently known as Arsenal, and the ex-alien princess Koriand'r, also known as Starfire.

While fans may know Jason best as the Robin who rose from the dead to become one of Batman's most persistent and morally ambiguous foes, he is not the only member of "Red Hood And The Outlaws" with a shady past. As Green Arrow's sidekick, Speedy, Roy struggled to kick a heroine addiction in writer Dennis O'Neil's award-winning 1971 "Green Arrow: Snowbirds Don't Fly" story, wrestling with the issue once again in the recent "Justice League: The Rise of Arsenal" story arc written by JT Krul. For her part, Starfire's DC origins involved her being imprisoned and mercilessly tortured, first by her power-hungry sister who sought to replace her as Queen to the planet Tamaran, then by a group of sadistic alien scientists.

Bringing these three battered souls together in one book, Lobdell, who is also the announced writer for "Teen Titans" and "Superboy," was more than happy to speak with CBR about his new series, addressing fan concerns and sharing details of how he became involved with the relaunch.

CBR News: The full title of the book is "Red Hood and the Outlaws." Is this a deliberate play on "Batman and the Outsiders?"

Scott Lobdell: Hmmm, not that I'm aware of. That was never expressed to me. I will tell you, though, that I don't see "the Outlaws" as part of a team that Jason is leading. I see it as more of a designation for the people who are going to find themselves in Jason's orbit. I read a post last night where someone raved, "Oh, great! How original! Roy is a hothead and he's always going to be challenging Jason for leadership of the team! How many times are we going to see that?! It isn't even original, because Hawkeye was a hot-headed archer and he fought with Captain America!" It was quite a lather this fan was working himself into!  

But the reality is, there is no team for Roy to fight for -- there is no leader, and the first person to tell you that would be Jason! He bristles at even the utterance of the word "we" from Roy and Kory. As far as Jason is concerned, there is no "we." While he may eventually come to like having these people around him, having his back sometimes, he doesn't see them as teammates, and I don't think we will either. They are just three (for now) people who all have some pretty beaten and battered skeletons in their closet.

So, no -- this isn't a roundabout update on an "Outsider" title. It is a book about people, not about a team. My editor had notes on my second issue asking why Roy and Kory didn't follow Jason when he left to go do what he's going to be doing for issue two and three. They are doing their own thing -- it wouldn't occur to them to tag along with Jason. Plus, they are going to be way too busy, neck-deep with their own respective adventures! At least for the first few issues, as the readers get to know and care about them as individuals.

So, we've got Jason running around with Roy and Kory. Why put these three characters together?

This is going to sound like an odd answer, but I don't really see them as being "put together." As I'm writing them, they feel like the most natural characters in the world -- I feel like I am peeking in the window of their Character Living Room (and sometime Character Bed Room) and just taking copious notes and running back to the keyboard to send those observations to the artist. When you read it (and you will!) you'll see what I'm saying -- they just belong together.

Now, do I make choices as a writer? Sure! Was I a little taken aback when DC said they wanted two street level guys teamed up with a walking nuclear reactor from another planet? Hell, yeah! But when you see them all together and you see the way they interact and the way they rub up against each other or the way they care (and in some cases don't) about each other? It just feels so organic that I can't wait to start on the fourth issue!

DC has been pushing the idea of making their properties accessible to new readers. How do you go about doing this with "Red Hood" when most of Roy and Jason and Kory's personalities were shaped due to events in past books?

There are sort of two answers to that question. The first is, imagine going out on a date, or even meeting someone in a coffee shop for the first time, and demanding to know everything there is to know about them in the first five minutes of talking to them. It doesn't happen that way, not in real life and not in comic books. You get to know people over time, you find out where they went to school, if they are divorced with kids, if they are a cat person or a dog person. It is why I find those "the story thus far..." [summaries] so stultifying at Marvel. Could you imagine having never met me in my life and I go up to you and say "My name is Scott Lobdell and I was deathly sick as a child, spending most of my early life in the hospital until I got better and became a standup comic for five years before my comic book career took off and eventually got married and I did that for a decade before moving to L.A. and writing television and movie scripts and now I'm working for my former boss at the company that was once our greatest competition." Who the hell would ever do that?

Like a good conversation, I think people will learn that this awesome, no-nonsense kick ass in the Red Hood has an interesting and complicated past, that there is a reason Roy is always so adamant of getting out of his mouth the first thing that's in his head. They'll want to know how this alien powerhouse came by her serenity and will be surprised to discover how this light person came from such a dark place.

The second answer is, I never watched "Lost," but I was very aware of the show (how could you not be?). I have always loved the use of flashbacks to fill in the back-story of characters, and it felt to me "Lost" did that to perfection. It wasn't a storytelling technique, it was actually the story itself. A lot that will be happening in this book. We'll be filling in details of Jason's "Dead Year" even as we see that a lot of his current actions are the results of his past. Similarly, we'll be filled in on Roy and Kory's background as those stories inform the present. In this way, we can have the knockdown, drag-out action, but also temper it with the small and quiet and profound moments that made the characters we're watching into the people they are today. And, any continuity tweaks aside, I think the reader will be surprised. I know I am whenever these characters present something new to me!

Since emerging as Red Hood, Jason has been a villain. Is this a chance for you to develop Jason Todd beyond his role as the "Evil Ex-Robin?"

I think of "Evil Ex-Robin" as the first mile of a hundred mile marathon. You had it rough, Jason, nobody likes to be murdered. Got it. But to think it is going to inform his every footstep of the race, every sip of water along the way? I don't see it. The good news is, for anyone who wants to see that side of Jason and that side alone, there are some very excellent trade paperbacks and an awesome DC animated movie written by the foremost authority on Jason Todd, Judd Winick. Judd did an excellent job reintroducing the character into the DC Universe -- I'm honored that such a complex baton has been handed off to me and I'm hoping to make Judd proud. But yes, like all great characters, Jason is going to grow, his branches reaching to the Heavens even as his roots as ex-Robin are still in the ground.

Are Arsenal and Starfire also working through issues in "Red Hood?"

Who isn't?! But yes. For Roy, it is a daily working through of issues. There is a saying in AA that goes, "Any day you wake up sober and go to bed sober, that's a good day." Roy, as a recovering addict, feels it is always important not to keep things inside of him where they are going to fester: he tells you what he's thinking when he's thinking it and not always with the best results -- there are, as we all know, some things and thoughts that just shouldn't be shared or inflicted.

Similarly, there is a reason why Kory wakes up and goes to bed with a smile on her face, and it isn't because she's a bimbo. It is because she has survived the worst that the universe could throw at her, and she is acutely aware of that. She doesn't just love Earth, she loves life and she loves freedom in a way that those of us who've never had it taken away could never hope to understand.

Now, do "Red Hood," "Superboy" and "Teen Titans" mark your first work for DC?

Only if you don't count one issue of "Superboy," one issue of "Gotham City Sirens" and two eight-page G'nort stories. I'm pretty sure it was that G'nort story that was reread and passed around the offices that got me the job! And yes, that is me being silly.

How did you become involved in the relaunch? Did Bob Harras (who used to work with you at Marvel) bring you onboard the DC relaunch train?

Three days before Christmas, I landed in NY from LA to an email asking if I was free for lunch the next day. I hadn't seen Bob for, I don't know, three or four years? When I got to the offices, I bumped into Jim Lee on the elevator and I said I was there to see Bob for lunch. He's like, "Yeah, I know -- I'm coming too." I was thinking, that'll be fun. We sat around talking about "Modern Family" and what everyone was up to and just the type of small talk you have at lunch when Bob, after squirming in his seat for about five minutes, finally jumped in with "Okay, here's why you're here. We want you to work for DC."

I was like, "Interesting." But in my head I had jumped onto the table, danced on the plates, swung from the rafters shouting "Weeeee!"

Seriously, it has been a long time since I had the opportunity to work at the Big Two -- and I had a very thin resume at DC at the time. I couldn't have been any happier. Or any more surprised.

I have to say something, which always make me laugh whenever I read it on the Internet. There are often people who say, "Great! Bob is just hiring his friend! That sucks!" Frank Miller chimed in years ago with the news that Bob and I were in third grade together! The truth of the matter is that Bob and I shared maybe ten really awkward sentences between us in the three years we knew each before he handed me a pile of faxes and asked if I could script "Uncanny" #386 overnight in an emergency. I don't have Bob's cell number or his home number. I know he has three kids, but I'd be hard pressed to tell you the names of two of them. I'm sure he couldn't tell you the name of my movie if you held a gun to his head. We are friendly because we like to work together and we share a similar sense of what makes for the best character-driven comic series.

So, a week later I met with Bob, Eddie Berganza and Dan DiDio to start discussions about what type of book -- singular at the time -- I would be interested in writing. They said, "We want you to start today!" Then, other than some sporadic email exchanges with Bob that read like Magic 8 Ball responses like "Future cloudy" and "My sources say 'No,'" I met him at the Seattle Con for lunch. It was a very interesting lunch because I had not signed an NDA. He couldn't tell me anything about anything, so we talked about comics in general. Then, later in the day I had the opportunity to sign one and fax it in to DC. It was only that evening that we met in the hotel bar and he laid it all out for me -- the whole relaunching, et al. And yes, I was as taken aback as everyone else was at the audacity and the scope of what he was talking about -- but my mind was already racing at a thousand miles an hour at the possibilities of what would follow.

I felt like Matt Damon in the "Ocean's 11" movie: "You in or you out?" I was most definitely in!

"Red Hood and the Outlaws" #1 hits stores September 21

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