Batman: Urban Legends #1
Now that Jason Todd is back in Gotham City, its problems have become his problems again. The concern of the moment: an incredibly dangerous new drug making its rounds in Gotham. With both Batman and Red Hood investigating it from different angles, will the threat of Cheerdrops bring them closer together, or put them at odds once more?
Imagine being a Gotham City resident right now. Just after being brainwashed and taken over by Bane, you survive a massive Joker attack in which unknown people – maybe your friends, your neighbors, your relatives – all don masks and vent their anger at the world by committing massive acts of carnage and even murder. Even once the attack has been contained you can’t trust the people around you – what if your boss is the guy who killed your cat with a hatchet? You don’t know, do you? You can’t know – they were all wearing masks. Now Arkham Asylum has fallen and if you didn’t think there were lunatics among you before, now you know for sure. Just imagine it. Maybe you’d be angry, hurting. Almost certainly you’d be terrified.
Then someone releases a new drug into the streets. They’re called Cheerdrops, and their whole shtick is flooding the user with euphoria and equally enjoyable vivid hallucinations. So, they make people happy. Really happy. It’s like a vacation in your head, which is probably all you can afford with the repairs you need to do on your car and your apartment after the past few weeks.
The downside is rough, though. Sometimes people don’t come out of it. They end up trapped in their own dreamscape, wandering through fields of nonexistent flowers or mansion hallways hand in hand with loved ones who aren’t there… and they keep going until they stumble into traffic or off rooftops and bridges.
That one-two punch of ultimate happiness and lurking destruction would be dangerous anywhere, but in present day Gotham it’s devastating. Now, Cheerdrops are ravaging the Bowery, and bringing the city to its knees.
That’s where Red Hood comes in; he’s trying to hunt down and put a stop to the source of the drug in Part One of “Cheer,” featured in Batman: Urban Legends #1.
In the aftermath of the Joker War and Infinite Frontier #0’s A-Day, there’s an argument to be made that Jason is a more honest representation of Gotham than Batman – like Jason himself, the city is hurting, angry and Joker-scarred. More, as the child of a drug-addicted mother and a petty criminal father, Cheerdrops offer perhaps the most devastating opponent Jason could face: the reflection of his own haunted past. Cheer brings that past to bear through both flashbacks and echoes of his history that bring out both the best and worst in Jason.
Needless to say Batman has also taken up investigating Cheerdrops from his new brownstone inside the city limits. As is typical for Bruce, his approach is distanced, more scientific, and it is this ability to emotionally disengage and become all principle- and results-driven that separates the two now and in the past. Unlike Jason, Bruce is not prone to fits of passion, but while this makes him extremely effective, it also makes him intransigent, and that can lead him to make decisions on principle that would have been better considered from a more empathetic angle. This, like Jason’s situation, is highlighted through glimpses of the past and its parallels in the present.
In short, the difficulties each man has experienced, the way they’ve developed as people and toward each other, has set them up for a crash. The question is, when their paths cross, will they be able to move past the pain and mistakes of their past to find a way forward?
It’s not surprising at all, but Chip Zdarsky is in fine form here, making use of the recent changes in Gotham’s status quo to excellent effect. His Batman is as quality as one would expect, but his Jason Todd is a revelation – fiery, kindhearted and full of rage as an adult, endearingly rough around the edges as a child. Jason’s time as Robin can be controversial due to the stark difference in characterization between his pre- and post-Crisis incarnations but for me, at least, Zdarsky hits the sweet spot with a child Jason that displays the potential to become Red Hood without a sense of inevitability around his fall from grace.
The artwork featured splits down two lanes with Eddy Barrows and Eber Ferreira alternating with Marcus To, and both teams joined by Adriano Lucas on colors and Becca Carey on lettering.
Far from disappointing, the split duties are put to excellent effect. Barrows and Ferreira’s heavily detailed and generally grungier work makes a perfect fit for the modern sequences of the horror-tinged Gotham of Tynion-era Batman. The artwork itself is beautiful, and it hits every note – Batman is unrelenting and imposing, Jason nearly as intimidating but fragile and more overtly human. Their action scenes are intense, impactful, but it’s the human moments and the carefully rendered facial expressions that really do it for me. There is a sequence toward the end of the story where tracking Jason’s emotional place is crucial despite his relative silence, and it worked flawlessly.
Marcus To has fewer pages to work with, but they are beautifully used. His work is lighter in tone, smoother, but no less expressive and the stark contrast brings the changing atmosphere in Gotham – and the changing relationship between Jason and Bruce – into clear view.
Bringing it all together is Lucas’ rich color pallet – jewel tones and neon to reflect the changing face of Gotham.
All in all, a fantastic “restart” for Jason Todd in the post-Death Metal DC Universe. It’s something the character has long needed, and you really can’t do better than Chip Zdarsky to kick him onto the right path.
It’s hard to say for sure what is to come, and certainly the Future State: Red Hood backups in Detective Comics imply the potential for continued troubles in the batfamily paradise.
But for now, I walked away from Cheer thinking there is a whole lot of trouble brewing… but also that there is the potential for understanding in the days to come if these flawed individuals are able to see past their own hang-ups to repair their long-broken connection.
In the meantime, I’m along for the ride 100%.
Oh also, give Chip Zdarsky a Jason Todd solo.
"Cheer" part one is a haunting, heartbreaking opening for what promises to be an excellent and consequential Red Hood (and Batman, I suppose) story. Bringing both Jason and Batman face to face with their respective demons… it also puts on course to come face to face with one another as well, for good or for ill.
Batman: Urban Legends #1: The Red Hood in "Cheer"
Writing - 10/1010/10
Storyline - 9.5/109.5/10
Art - 9.5/109.5/10
Color - 9.5/109.5/10
Cover Art - 9/109/10
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