I do think the book started out strong with plenty of action and a solid showing of the guys friendship. It has a nice role reversal from the previous series with Jason being the one trying to pull Roy out of his funk. The character work is the greatest strength of both series (*1) and despite the obvious editorial interference Lobdell does manage to roll with the punches to make it fit with his narrative.
The Art: I've never had a problem with any of the art in this title. There were some stiff or ugly characters with a few of the previous artists in RHATO but not here. Medri has a great style, I enjoyed his costume designs and the level of detail he put into his work. He managed to not only make Roy look like he was the older of the two but attempted to give Jason a look to separate him from the other Robins. A haircut that's similar to Roys', perhaps a silent sign that he's supporting his friend? Naturally no other artist kept this change in style. Look at what's going on in the image below:
Roy is wearing a more relaxed look while Jason has a causal suit. This has been the norm since RHATO but what I noticed is that (so far) Jason only wears this when he's away from his family. When the first series started some called B.S. saying he'd prefer to wear jeans and a t-shirt. The thing is Jason started dressing in nicer clothes when he moved to the manor. He had more of a choice and I think it makes sense that he'd want to change his look when he could. Clothes can project an image and make you feel different. I believe the only time he's had a tie (and a handkerchief) is when he has a meeting with Battleworth. This puts him somewhere between dressy and causal. It gives a mature vibe without being stuffy.
On the flip side Roy just grabs whatever he can that's comfortable. It's easier to work with when he's doing tech stuff plus Roy is more open. What you see is basically what you get. Where Jason probably knows all too well how you can be judged on your appearance Roy just doesn't care. Jason would be used to people judging him based on things beyond his control. He was a kid from the streets with a drug dealer father and an addict mother. The second Robin that had to meet the impossible standard of the first. Building a persona with clothes could also be another way to build a wall and throw people off. Both were taken in by rich guys that's households treated this differently. Bruce knows how to use the image to his advantage and Alfred would stress these lessons. Ollie does what he wants and would leave Roy to his own devises.
There's also the detail of the food they ordered. Roy gets a hamburger, french fries and either a milkshake or a soda. Judging by the shape of the glass I'd say milkshake. Jason has a more healthy looking meal and bottled water. Remember Jason lived on the street and ate whatever he could steal which probably wasn't that good for him. Junk food would likely be easier to take. One of his greatest fears was starving to death (*2) so what he eats is important to him. A lot of good thought was put into this and while I enjoyed other artists I think Medri was my favorite on this title.
The Set Up: RHATO VOL. 1 had the trio basically following up on whatever comes at them when they weren't actively looking for bad guys to shut down. Red Hood/Arsenal not only gave the guys a focus--being heroes for hire--but attempted to up their status from Outlaws to a more heroic image. They moved from their island into a warehouse, which sadly wasn't used much.
Unfortunately the tone started to shift when they arrived in Gotham. Once again it felt like the editors were forcing changes as they went to confront Underbelly. The guys stayed in Gotham too long and while they took jobs the fun by-the-seat-of-your-pants mood disappeared. There was always a sense of seriousness stemming from the guys' issues but Jokers' Daughter shook up the dynamic even more. Half of the series mission statement (the business) was overshadowed by this change although the friendship still worked despite the newbie. Still change was enviable especially since plans were already in place for the leads and to his credit Lobdell builds this up pretty well.
Things I didn't like: I'd like to see Jason kick ass more than he does in general but he still does far better in this title than others. It does feel like Roy does most of the impressive things. I've been waiting for Jason to use different weapons he's been picking up from the All Caste or when he was in space. Yet he keeps using his guns which even Bat-Gordon called out.
Jason has been too open with his I'D in general for ny taste although this happened previously in RHATO too.
Suddenly Jason just knew Underbelly was connected to some vague mission when he was Robin? It felt like Underbelly was being built up as an older evil and it's not really clear how Jason figured this out. The death was also disappointing but I'm sure there could be a way to undo this too. Personally I thought the guys believing they could offer redemption to Underbelly--the literal embodiment of evil and crime--was out there. (*3)
In #8 there was an implication that Jason was fine with violence until Ducra taught him it was wrong. I'd like to think this was a mis-wording because that's not the case even in Lobdells' past work. Pre-Robin Jason was said to avoid harming others.
The cameo from Babs really annoyed me for various reasons. Unfortunately I'm not fond of this current version thanks to all these titles making her come off so unlikable since the relaunch. Lobdell makes her kinder but thanks to the other appearances it reads fake to me. I didn't like the out of character booty joke from Jason either as it doesn't fit the character. And finally she does nothing of value when she shows up. Yes she tells him about Roy but couldn't the bad guys do that directly since they had no problem recording it for the internet? Babs could have alerted other heroes or stopped the feed from reaching viewers. Even hacked the votes in Roys' favor.
I really don't want more Suzie Su. It also takes away the impact of Jasons' resurrection to have so many return from the dead in this series.
We sadly got more disposable villains. Sometimes that worked with the one shot story format Lobdell wanted to apply, sometimes it didn't. Underbelly had potential and seemed to be a lasting threat. Instead of being built up as part of a rogues gallery the bad guy is soundly defeated. I know this isn't the writers' fault because he's talked about having ongoing villains before he even wrote the Outlaws then mentioned DC making sure the Untitled ended. I'm not sure why DC has his counterproductive mind frame. The bat kids all need their own rogues. Now Dick is fighting off with the Owls and Jason will be dealing with Black Mask again. While this is fine for them for a handful of tales and makes sense given their connections that doesn't work long-term. These characters will never get out of Batmans' shadow if their so focused on fighting his enemies.
I really wish Lobdell would have just left Susie Su dead. I was more than satisfied with her end. Not only was her resurrection rather pointless it makes Jason's return less notable. The only differences is we know how she and Iron Rule came back. While Suzie Su remains one note the addition of Roys' former team adds more depth.
I've read some reactions when JD was offered a spot on the team. Many thought it was out of character or stupid for Jason to give her an invite. The Joker's Daughter ? First let me state what a total surprise it was to have her show up in the book. From what I've seen everyone was blindsided by her presence. Which is fitting because that's who she is in the comic. Jason isn't an idiot, far from it. He knows it's a bad idea to trust her much less give her a chance. But this is his greatest weakness: his compassion for those he empathizes with. Even those that were likely to betray him like his mother.
He sees the connection to Joker and want to save her. I saw a few readers say they thought that JD was being redeemed and felt a bit disappointed that she wasn't. I just couldn't buy into it although it's nice to know some were so invested in her. I guess the biggest reason I didn't believe her change was the fact Jason himself could never fully except it. I like that while he wanted to help her get better he was never blind. That not only speaks of his experience as Robin but his time on the streets. He's smart and knows to be careful of who he trust. I was also struck by how Lobdell linked this to Secret Origins #5. Jason seems to be aware that he's partly helping her because he's trying to help himself. In Secret Origins Jason suspected that Bruce was partly helping him for that exact reason. (*4)
Jokers' Daughter seems impulsive all the time but she's actually plotting throughout this. While no one really buys her act she is good at getting them to sympathize with her. JD is Jokers' legacy and having Jason deal with it is actually pretty clever. Not just the meta stuff like the death poll or even the parallels you could find in Countdown. She makes Jason confront aspects about himself that he'd rather not. How Joker basically created him and how much he needed help. Jason sees JD and wonders if he could have been shaped into someone like her. JDs' deception while expected is nevertheless disappointing because Joker once again wins and there's nothing he can do about it.
She's by far the best bad guy in Red Hood/Arsenal because of the build up. Unlike Joker her chaotic nature does mess her up as she doesn't take the smell of the mask into account. It also works in her favor as she manages to kill her enemy in front of them and gain sympathy in one move. Since it looked like she was committing suicide JD could get away with the fact she broke their no-kill rule. I haven't read all of Jokers' Daughters' appearances but it does seem apparent that this is the best she's been used since the character was rebooted. Instead of desperately trying to get people to take her seriously (Bat-Gordon didn't) JD is actually disturbing.
I think I always knew Roy would shoot her although it is a bit anticlimax since he doesn't kill her. That would go against the moment in the final though.
Most of the new characters are villains and many of them don't get enough time to be fleshed out. The closet thing to a supporting character is Tara Battleworth. She's a highly capable "fixer" that helps get the guys out. The character doesn't appear often so there's only so much information one can get when she appears. When they first meet Roy asks to take the suitcase of money she brought for a hostage exchange to pay them for their assistance. She has no problems with it but says they stole it the next time they meet. Battleworth plays it off that she isn't sure she wants to continue working with them. Yet she gets upset when they start their own business since it makes it hard to hire them again.
I don't think that's an inconsistency I think that's her trying to play a game to get what she wants. Because Battleworth is used to making deals and you never put all your cards on the table. So she plays it off like she doesn't care while testing them and making it seem like they have to constantly twist her arm. There are still some things that don't make sense to me though. I don't know why Battleworth didn't give JD a real psychologist other than having the unnamed Lilith Clay/Omen cameo. Battlworth insists that the guys are on their own if JD fails yet she doesn't get the best help? Not only does she fail on her end of the agreement she risks ending any working relation with Rent-A-Bat.
There's also the unexplored plot thread of Jason and Roy switching out the information she wanted. Tara Battleworth is able to find their warehouse (I blame Roy) yet she doesn't figure this out? To her credit she leaves you wondering just how good she is compared to the guys. There's no hint of a romantic interest which is also a nice touch.
The only other new character that wasn't a villain that stood out just showed up for a few panels. Still those panels had quite the impact on me so I'm mentioning Jasons' friend Gabby Christensen, She knew Jason before he became Robin and provided some good insight on his character. Showing who he was and who he is. I'd like to think Lobdell was setting her up for future appearances as he made the effort of giving her a last name. Jason seems disconnected with "normal" people so it might be the link he's looking for.
*1 When Lobdell was writing as Tynion and Pfeiffer didn't really add anything and at times made the characters regress/act uncharacteristically foolish.
*2 Jason mentions this when they meet Superman in RHATO #14 VOL. 1. When Roy spends all their money in Red Hood/Arsenal #2 his first concern isn't where their live but how their going to eat.
*3 I have no idea why they thought Underbelly could be redeemed. He told them he was only using the murdered man's body.
*4 For some reason I feel more sympathetic towards Jason than Bruce doing the same thing. I've given this some thought to see why that is. I think it's because Bruce does this a lot with different people and Jason is just starting to try to help himself. Before he's been sacrificing himself for others. Plus JD was just using Jason while Jason really wanted a family and felt used with Bruce.