Page 45 Review by Stephen
Both previous, out-of-print UNDER THE HOOD books conjoined. Of book one, I wrote:
Winnick writes a more than competent Batman. Indeed there's a refreshing directness in his style. He also structures it for maximum page-turning, with the identity of the new Red Hood revealed to an unmasked Batman several issues before it is to us, when the main action catches up with itself during the finale. The artists too are clear and tight, even though some expressions could have done with more subtlety to accurately convey the emotions involved. You'll get the point though: the main man's not happy.
New factions have arisen in Gotham. At the top of the criminal ladder sits the Black Mask (a bit like the Red Skull, only with a more refined dress sense, fewer guttural exhortations geared towards conquering the world, and a complexion similar to that ready-meal you left in the oven four hours longer than you should've when you fell asleep in front of the TV last night). He doesn't do much except twiddle his thumbs and make caustic remarks. On the crime-fighting front, however, we have that new Red Hood, whose more aggressive methods, he persuasively argues, produce more effective - and final - results than Bruce's. And that's what this is about:
"Which is what?"
"You. I'll be you. The you you're supposed to be. If you had killed Joker... years ago.. beyond what happened to me... you know what hell you would have saved the world. But no. His murder is a long list of sane acts you refuse to commit. You never cross that line. But I will. Death will come to those who deserve death. And death may come to those who stand in my way of doing what's right."
Guest appearances by Superman and Green Arrow, who have something specific in common with the Hood, and you may want to read IDENTITY CRISIS before this, or you won't get what's niggling Batman when he takes Zatanna to one of the old Lazarus Pits:
"I still don't know why you needed me here."
"I needed someone I could trust. But I had to settle for you."
Of book two [SPOILERS - but hey, if you don't know by now..!]:
Most of the better Batman material tends to be found in the self-contained mini-series, and although this isn't of the same calibre as, say, BATMAN: DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, KILLING JOKE or even LONG HALLOWEEN, there's no arguing that Winnick has greased the seats so successfully over the last year that if readers are left clinging to the edge, Batman's in danger of losing his grip entirely.
Why? Years ago he took on a second young lad called Jason Todd as Robin. He didn't last long: The Joker blew him to bits. But recently a new vigilante, The Red Hood (an alias previously employed by The Joker himself), has been working Gotham's underground, using lethal force to stamp out crime and leading him into inevitable confrontation with Batman. But that was the plan all along, because The Red Hood is Jason Todd, and he's well-pissed not simply because Batman could have averted his death - and those of hundreds of other innocent people - by permanently ending The Joker's sadistic murder sprees early on, but because he failed to avenge Jason's death by doing just that: by putting mad dog down. In a final trap, Jason strips away Batman's options, forcing him to choose between killing The Joker, or - to stop Jason murdering The Joker - killing Jason himself.
Even though INFINITE CRISIS rudely intrudes on the final pages leaving it anyone's guess as to the eventual repercussions, I did come away from the finale thinking words like "ironic" and "harsh". Then I cooled down a bit.
This collection also includes the annual "explaining" how Jason's feeling so chipper after all these years. Further relevant reading might included BATMAN: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (which is when readers themselves phoned in to decide Jason's fate - it was out of Batman's hands!), and BATMAN: HUSH wouldn't hurt either. For some down and dirty commentary on the fatal phone-in itself (as long as you're over 16), please see Rick Veitch's soiled and seedy BRATPACK, along with its introduction by Neil Gaiman.