What seems like forever ago now, I watched (and loved) the animated movie based upon this particular run of Batman comics. I didn’t even realize at the time that it was pulled directly from the comics, since I was used to the Marvel method of comic book moviemaking, which generally is to hodgepodge stuff from the comics together into something that’s simultaneously old and new. Thankfully, this isn’t the case with Under the Red Hood, because I was in the market for more of the same.
In Under the Red Hood, we’re made to further analyze the actions of Batman; is he a force of good, or do his methods only temporarily spackle over the gaping problems in Gotham? Is our system even capable of “rehabilitating” the criminals that Batman imprisons? Do they even try? Under the Red Hood doesn’t do a complete deep dive into all the nuances of this conversation, but it does probe it enough for it to be a refreshing new angle on the character of Batman. Him being a vigilante, functioning outside of (though sometimes also simultaneously side-by-side with) the law, has enough baggage on its own to be ripe for plenty of debate, but this story arc steers that debate in a different direction altogether, questioning not if Batman is in the wrong, yet rather if he’s not doing enough.
We’re keyed in on The Joker in particular when weighing the pros and cons of Batman and Red Hood’s altogether different methods of dealing with Gotham’s highly recidivous villains, and that’s probably in the spirit of keeping it simple. Surely nobody is going to come to bat for The Joker, right? Not after all he’s done, not after he’s even gone so far as to make it deeply personal for Batman… right? The eventual confrontation where Batman has to ultimately make the decision to go down Red Hood’s path or stay the course puts Batman at an extremely tense crossroads and I can’t say I wasn’t a little disappointed by the decision he eventually comes to. That being said, it is certainly in keeping with his character and all that precedes that moment.
With this story arc, Winick really critiques Batman and his own moral code, I’ll call it. But, at the same time, he doesn’t seem to be portraying Red Hood as this arc’s hero either. In the end, there is no real “right” answer, it would appear. There’s a reason the death penalty has been a hot debate for what seems like forever. Morally, we understand that “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind,” yet you still see people normally opposed to the death penalty waffle sometimes when presented with overwhelming evil, or when that evil shows up at their doorstep. Under the Red Hood outs Batman as the inadequate solution he is at the same time as it shows how far off the reservation you might go if you give into your base impulses. What it doesn’t do is hint at a solid alternative solution, which allows the arc to remain subjective and get the reader to really mull it over on their own. Because of this, it works better still, not feeling preachy or full of itself like it would otherwise.
So if you’re wanting a Batman story that’s a bit off the beaten path, Under the Red Hood is as good a place to start as any.