This was an arc that was mainly put together in order to build up Artemis since we surprisingly have very little information on her despite the character appearing in the 90s. It also sets up future plot points for the other two leads and has a link with Jason's past.
I really appreciated this story more when I reread older issues to find links to that would connect later on. While old canon gave us a bit of rivalry between Diana and Artemis this fleshed it out some more. Wonder Woman doesn't appear except in a flashback but her role ties into Akila as well as highlighting Artemis' desire to be the Shim'Tar. Which is the Bana-Mighdall version of Wonder Woman. We've previously seen how Artemis feels about Diana early into the series.
Jason Todd: Oh, right--are you secretly working for Wonder Woman?
Artemis: Please. I'd eat an invisible jet before I'd let Diana tell me how to live my life. (RHATO #2 Vol. 2)
Where the sense of rivalry is still alive--at least from Artemis' perspective--she doesn't feel the same about Akila. Despite battling each other through the course of their lives and Artemis' drive to be the best there's no real ire. Akila gets everything Artemis wants: to become the Shim'Tar and being allowed to use the Bow of Ra. How could Artemis not want those things since her mother always assured her that she would be the best? That she would represent their people and be their champion.
Artemis can't hate Akila though because she loves her too much and it wasn't her choice to begin with. What I find interesting is how Akila has no interest in the title or the weapon prior to being chosen. There was no tournament of equals with her fellow Amazons like Diana had. Just whatever the gods did when they summoned her. Akila doesn't hold the same beliefs as Artemis and never prepares for it like she does. The Bow of Ra doesn't deem her unworthy because she's a bad person, she isn't. Akila never wanted any of this, she never worked towards this despite being a better fighter. Artemis wasn't ready when she tried to take it at 16 either.
Artemis: Give. Me. The. Bow. We belong together--I feel it in my core.
Nephthys: Some day. Perhaps...when the gods feel you have earned her. Not a moment before.
I'm uncertain how involved the Egyptian gods are as Akila and later Artemis claim they were abandoned. Yet their still part of the Amazons lives. Nephthys kept Artemis from getting the Bow of Ra and Akila was summoned and chosen to be the Shim'Tar by the gods. She's referred to as a goddess because of the powers she gains. Artemis claims Ra wouldn't have let Akila (or herself) be harmed by the Bow if he agreed with her cause. Unlike the Themyscirans their faith in their gods isn't that strong ironically because of their separation from the world. Does their lack of faith result in their "abandonment"?
The Bana-Mighdall just seem to have a sandstorm to protect them and it can still be traveled through. (This happened in the original version too.) How this group of Amazons work in this version I'm not entirely sure. They used to create weapons, sell them and their services as mercenaries. I'm guessing they don't have immortality/eternal youth since Artemis mentioned her mother in the second issue and grew up with Akila. Themyscirans didn't have children due to their immorality with Diana being the exception. So how do they reproduce? It used to be buying slaves (*1, seriously) and it doesn't seem like they kept any boys. It'd be interesting to learn how they functioned in another story.
Although I'm curious why the Amazons at the dining table didn't know Artemis. Sure she's not royalty but she grew up there with their Shim'Tar. I'm not sure how Akila knew the plane held Artemis or who her friends were. She had to be brought back fairly recently since Black Mask had just sent the Bow back and the Outlaws were just gathering Intel before following. Sure they made the newspapers but would it be big enough to make it overseas? Old canon literally had things like magazines with knowledge of the outside world being forbidden with death being the sentence. I'm sure this changed but we don't get the impression the Amazons have things like TVs either.
Back to the gods, it seems like they made a mistake when choosing Akila as the Bow of Ra is supposed to only be able to work properly in the hands of the Shim'Tar. While she is able to fire it the flames burned her and it drove her insane. Was it just because the gods gave her the power? Did they chose the wrong person? I was hoping to get information on who chose her and getting Artemis a foe that was a God like Ares. Learning that the process was deliberately messed up would make sense. This would explain how Akila and Artemis have their views changed by the end.
Akila knew they had to do more than hide behind a sandstorm, she later decides that means destroying the other side. She decided to go on without Artemis only to realize too late that she needed her. Something she previously didn't want to do before she was chosen. It's Artemis that's able to find a solution at the end by deciding to end the separation of their people and the outside world. This truly makes the Bana-Mighdall differ from their Themysciran counterparts in a positive way. Their the Amazons that are accessible to the outside world.
Meanwhile Artemis became the person she always wanted to be only to realized she's changed to the point she wants something else. She was someone that wanted to be Shim'Tar and the Bow for herself to someone who would do anything to prevent the Bow from falling into the wrong hands and rejects the chance to claim the title. I don't think she could have done that without Akila. The characters of Akila changed from the old version that wasn't great at fighting, left to get an education, didn't know her people well and was chosen for the role by Hippolyta. I don't mind the change though I could see it not working for everyone. It seems that she was never right for the role but at least this version had more of a claim on the title.
I don't know if you could claim Akila wasn't Artemis' lover since it's pretty much in the text. Akila refers to her as her love and Jason sees it too. But the two broke apart because Akila had to put her duties first and Artemis had to deal with the loss of her dream. They changed as people even if Artemis tried to deny it.
With this series and particularly this arc Lobdell has added more background to Artemis and has given her two iconic weapons. Making Artemis more of Diana's equal but still having her stand on her own as a character. This also helps differ her more from the last red headed archer Jason worked with by making the Bow of Ra more impressive.
Bizarro has the smallest part to play of the leads in this arc. He wants to feel useful so Jason lets him carry the plane all the way to their destination. This is a bit nonsensical for Jason but it's sweet nonetheless as it shows he's willing to make Bizarro happy. His joy that Bizarro was being careful not to kill others is especially heartening after the Joker's Daughter experience. When their ship is shot down Bizarro protects Jason with ice much like he did when Black Mask was controlling him. Even when their battling Akila at the end of the arc Bizarro looks to Jason for direction. The bond means a lot to both of them.
I feel that Artemis on the other hand needs more panel time with him to make their connection stronger. To his credit he does understand her meaning when she wants him to fly Akila away without her explaining it. When their separated he doesn't know what to do other than to seek out his friends. Yet he can't deny the refugees plea for help either. Bizarro doesn't know where to go other than getting the Reds to figure out what to do and led the people to them. His logic is simple but kind of inspirational in a way as he won't let anything stand in his way.
I wondered if he'd be somewhat traumatized by Akila exploding in his arms. Taking Akila away might have been the best option to protect others I just wonder if that's why Bizarro doesn't feel good. Was it because her powers are connected to magic (heavily implied connection since the All Blades only affect magic) and Superman is supposed to be weak against magic? Although Jason mentioned the possibility of Bizarro having a limited lifespan in the first arc.
Jason returns to the country he died in for the first time since the first issue of the last RHATO title when he helped save Roy Harper. I don't mind the retcon as the Tomasi Batman and Red Hood issue didn't seem to know how to handle the problems it raised. One of those obvious problems being how Jason's PTSD would of been triggered by prolonged exposure to the area he died in. This arc also reinforces what Lobdell has already established in passing dialogue that Jason broke his way out of his grave before being put into the Lazarus Pit. We've also heard about Jason's soul before in the first volume:
Talia Al Ghul: He was recently raised from the dead, for reasons we may never know. His body was fine, but his soul was absent until--
Ducra: Until you tossed him into the Lazarus Pit. I can smell it on him. I am certain that went over real well with your father. (Red Hood and the Outlaws #2 Vol.1)
I have some theories on this so I'm definitely interested in seeing where this goes. Jason suffers through this alone as neither Bizarro or Artemis are aware of his death. He knows it's not the right time to bring it up since the mission isn't about him. This self sacrifice is a big part of his character and I like to see it in this context as this is a subject he hasn't brought up before. Jason never had to tell anyone about his death as most just knew. He didn't date Isabel long enough for it even to be a factor. Will this be a big deal for Artemis as she just dealt with Akila after she returned from the dead? Given Egyptian mythology for the dead and Artemis' time as Requiem in old canon her reaction does intrigue me.
Jason's PTSD gets more attention as he's forced to relive the events of his death knowing he can't undo it. In the past there has been hints of his PTSD but it's never been dealt with for long. Which is a big reason why I'm glad the Tomasi story was retconned as it never bothered to properly address the topic only used the idea as proof of Bruce being a selfish ass. The story of Jason's trauma is an ongoing one that I think has been written far better than other Bat family traumas like all of the other Bat family "deaths." Bruce still suffers from his parents death so why wouldn't Jason still be going through his pain? That's not something that just goes away. Being stuck in a prison highlights that there's no escaping it.
There's a little less friction between Jason and Artemis. Partly because they spend a good deal apart but also because the guys are both there for her. Jason tries to hardest and you can really tell how far he's come if you read the first RHATO series. He's doing his best to get Artemis to open up. Much like with Kori there's moments of him being a geek that wants to know about her culture and we can see how his loneliness eats at him. How much he honestly cares and understands. In the bar he gets her to talk and seems pretty effective as she still does on the plane.
The panel of Jason reaching out as she's distraught shows how much he wants to be there for her. Does he stop himself from touching her shoulder because he thinks she'll reject any comfort? Possible and it makes the panel of her leaning against him later on all the more awesome. His expression shows how odd he finds it, Jason's quirked up eyebrow and smile show he was not expecting it.
It's kind of an odd twist with Jason as he was previously the one being the most reluctant teammate. In a way he has Roy's role of acting as the heart of the team that gets the others talking. With a maturity that makes it clear that he's the leader. While Artemis can lead, as shown by the orders she gives to the Amazons, that's something she choses to give up.
I've never been a fan of Jason drinking at bars for multiple reasons. He's supposed to be a little older than Tim so he's too young to drink. It's frequently used as a crutch by lazy writers that just think it's an easy way to show Jason is a rebel. It undermines Jason's resistance to becoming an addict like his mom or his support of Roy. As such it makes him come across as an alcoholic. Eternal never understood that Jason is in fact pretty young and wouldn't encourage underage drinking with Tim. (Horrible writing, just horrible.) I can give the bar scene in this arc more leeway though.
Because their there for a job and he only seems to be drinking since Artemis is as she's finally opening up. It's a social bonding thing. I still don't know if he's really drunk or playing it to get her to let her guard down. That said I don't want this to be an ongoing thing. I did love Jason's brief interaction with Akila as so much of his character is revealed in a few panels. He surprises her as he's able to actually harm her. Jason sees how deeply Artemis cares for Akila and is trying to help her. Which reads like he's seeing her as a past version of himself. Then his quipping when Akila gets angry which is such a Robin and Jason reply.
As for a possible Artemis and Jason romance as seemingly implied in the art? If that's the direct it's too early. I might talk about this more if it comes up but for now there isn't much to go on. Oh yeah and Lobdell doesn't want to go there but editors do. So if you're mad be mad at the right people.
While not as strong as the first arc I enjoyed this. There's a lot to enjoy here especially if you know the characters past. We have a possible set up for future stories with the next arc being about Bizarro and a possible link to Jason's soul that rumors say will be a tale we'll be seeing.
*1 No, neither Artemis or Akila would be involved in that in the old canon. Both were too young when that happened.