Whenever something momentous happens in superhero comics history, mysterious figures always seem to appear and observe proceedings. In the Marvel Universe, it's the Watcher (we still have no idea why he was at the Black Panther/Storm wedding. I'm betting it was for the hors d'oeuvres). In the DC Comics Universe of the 1980s, the Monitor observed the actions of heroes and villains. In the new DC Universe ushered in by the publisher's New 52 initiative, the latest arcane observer -- and the record holder for the most appearances of a single comic book character within one month (53
to be precise) -- goes to the enigmatic and sensational character find of 2011, The Woman in the Red Hood.
We don't know her true name or powers yet, which definitely cuts down on her potential to become a DC Direct action figure, but she does give the attentive comics reader a seek-and-find game in the style of Where's Waldo?
I've read the New 52 comics and found the Woman in the Red Hood hidden in each and every comic, with varying degrees of difficulty. To paraphrase those Scrubbing Bubbles: I found her, so you don't have to.
Red-Hooded Woman appears at the end of Flash's odyssey in Flashpoint
#5 in the double-page spread on page 24-25 (all page references in this article are based on the story pages, not comic pages) and tells Barry Allen he's instrumental to weaving three earths together. Barry's able to put his universe back into place...but not quite
. Fittingly for the first hero of the Silver Age, Barry's created this new
DC Universe, a home of heroes and villains we're still exploring. But, with Barry's usual luck, he's not only created a world in which his mother was fated to die, but in which he hasn't (yet?) become romantically involved with wife Iris. Good job, Flash...and tough breaks.
The Woman in the Red Hood won't speak again throughout the first month of the New 52, but she appears in one panel in each of DC's 52 relaunch comics
, from Justice League
New 52, Week Zero -
: She's in the bleachers at the Ford Titans football game starring Vic Stone (page 18, panel 2). No word on whether she was at the pre-game tailgate party. Why here rather than at the historic Batman/Green Lantern/Superman meeting? We'll find she doesn't always show up at what we think are the most "important events."
New 52, Week One:
: She's the only calm passenger on the crashing Metropolis train (page 23, bottom panel) turned into a bullet targeting Superman.
And, could this be her in the crowd at the bottom of page 17? If so, it's the only double appearance in a single book that I've spotted in the 52 books.
: She's present at the San Diego hospital where Animal Man defuses a hostage crisis, watching as Buddy's eyes start bleeding (page 12, bottom panel). He gets better, but that's gotta
: Speaking of hospital rooms, she's reflected in the window as Batgirl fights Mirror (page 19, bottom panel). Is she standing on a window ledge outside? Or floating
? Needless to say, everybody's a little too busy to notice her.
: Standing alongside Batwing's Tinasha police car (page 17, panel 1). He gets into the car in the next panel and doesn't notice her. Is she invisible to those around her, or has she vanished quickly? And also, that's a rotten
parking job. How's that red truck going to get out?
: The Woman in the Red Hood is outside Roscoe's Pharmacy when the Joker's bomb explodes (page 15, bottom left panel). Batman spies a figure with a purple overcoat and umbrella entering an elevated rail station, but he doesn't seem to notice her
, at the front of the crowd. Is she beyond the perception of the World's Greatest Detective?
: While Oliver Queen quotes David Byrne, she's present in the crowd on a leisure boat cruising the Seine in Paris (page 8, first panel). She's a little overdressed for a high society party.
Hawk & Dove
: She's alongside the Capitol Reflecting Pool in the Washington, D.C. National Mall (page 19, first panel). Perhaps not unusually for a comic drawn by Rob Liefeld, we don't see her feet.
Justice League International
: Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice...she's glowing among the protestors behind Booster Gold (page 7, panel 1).
Men of War
: The Red-Hooded Woman is in the crowd as Rock's company fights a destructive superhuman (page 17, bottom panel) in an unnamed foreign country. You know, when armed men and jeeps with mounted guns are storming right in front of you, it's time to get out of the way.
: She's present in the crowd of employees evacuated from Cadmus Industries during OMAC's attack (page 6, lower left panel). Appropriately for a comic created by Jack Kirby, she's surrounded by a subtle red Kirby Krackle energy signature.
: Peeping Woman in the Red Hood! She's outside the Hawkins home in New York City, looking in as Virgil talks to his Dad (page 15, top panel)...
: ...and she's spying on Apollo in a Moscow alley (page 15, panel 1).
: The Woman in the Red Hood is unseen by Dr. Alec Holland and friend Paul on a construction site in Louisiana (page 5, panel 3).
At this point it's worth noticing that she appears at what seem to be random moments of widely varying importance. She's at a vital emergency which will result in Superman's capture, and she's at a football game watching a future hero score touchdowns. She's present at a major explosion in Gotham City, but she's also hanging about a parking lot. Are these seminal or random moments to her? They aren't by any means the most vital and significant incidents in the story.
Further, we can now tell she can either travel through time or has been appearing for many years. The Red-Hooded Woman is present prior to the formation of the Justice League, and during the early career of Superman. Both events occur before the current "now" time of most of the New DC 52 books.
New 52, Week Two:
Batman and Robin
: The second week of the New DC begins and she's really getting around: she's standing alongside the pool Batman uses to extinguish a fire at Gotham University's Miller Building (page 17, panel 4). Why they built a swimming pool above an atomic research reactor, no one can say. Did you design this building, Frank Miller?
: Look for her in crowd behind Commissioner Gordon, in the upper right-hand corner of page 17, one of J.H. Williams' impressive double-page spreads. Since Batwoman
was scheduled nearly a year ago and then postponed for the September launch of the New 52, it's probable this figure was added to the artwork well after the page was created.
: Right on page one, third panel: observing an assault team facing off against Slade Wilson in Moscow. She's behind and to the right of the assault team; when you're facing Deathstroke the Terminator, you really don't want to be anywhere near his enemies. She's behind a concrete plinth, or maybe she can't be harmed by bullets, even the extra-special mega-deadly ones Deathstroke shoots.
: Time traveling again? She's in the Dark Ages among the marching, conquering army heading for Alba Sarum (page 7). It's a splash page so here's a closer view of her, in her familiar red buttoned cloak. Hiding behind the giant "n."
Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.
: She appears smack-dab in the middle of a two-page spread of Frank battling monsters in Bone Lake, Washington (pages 17-18). She does not
choose calm places to visit, does she? Also present: a "foom" sound effect, presumably on loan from Marvel.
: ...and then she appears in the Coast City crowd as Hal Jordan has a conversation with Carol Ferris (page 12, panel 4). Nothing world-changing or dramatic here, if you don't count Hal asking Carol out for a date in the next panel.
: Grifter five-finger-discounts a hat and scarf from a New Orleans costume shop (page 14, lower left panel) and Red-Hooded Woman is there! Wait a minute...red coat...knows when you're naughty and nice...I think we're on the right track here. She's Ms. Santa Claus!
Eh, possibly not.
: Red Lake Falls, Minnesota, in an atypical setting for the Legion of Super-Heroes: the 21st century! 31st
century escaped criminal Alastor is tearing up the town (page 10, top panel). How bad is his rampage of destruction? He has totaled Van Halen's car.
: In London, the World's Third Smartest Man is too busy chasing battle-suited CEO Miles Dalton across London to notice the Woman in the Red Hood in the crowd (page 4, panel 2).
: Page 16, top panel: In Small Ockdon (a UK fictionopolis in the DC Universe), the Red-Hooded Woman watches as the grandsons of a murdered mugging victim address their blood-spitting rage. Is this the origin of a new Red Lantern? Ehhhhhhh...might be!
: She might not be immediately
obvious, so I've highlighted her appearance here to save you many minutes searching (page 15, panel 1), while Mitch Shelley flees the scene of the plane crash that killed him (Spoiler: He got better).
: Nobody notices Red-Hooded Woman in the ultra-secret torture room (page 4, panel 2) holding Deadshot captive. It's a strong argument towards the theory that no one can see her. Except us. We are the most powerful beings in the DC Universe!
: Zaniel Templar arrives at N.O.W.H.E.R.E. to order the release of Superboy from the virtual reality world (page 19, panel 1), and Dr. Caitlin Fairchild isn't happy about it. And the RHW is there...not to see Superboy released, but the landing of Templar's helicopter. Superboy narrates "There is someone else, too. No. Some...thing." Is he detecting Templar...or our mysterious woman?
We're now halfway through the New 52 and a few more patterns begin to emerge. Although we have seen her travel to or exist in other time periods, we have not yet seen the Red-Hooded Woman off of Planet Earth. There are extensive off-planet scenes in Green Lantern
and Red Lanterns, but her appearances in those books take place on Earth. Nor does she appear in Superboy's virtual reality or the Ant Hill, S.H.A.D.E.'s microversal headquarters in Frankenstein
. We also see her in a cloak of different shades of red, violet, and sometimes even grey, with subtle design differences from appearance to next. I'm going to chalk that up to different artists rather than an in-story shape-changing ability.
: At the bottom of the first panel on page one, the Red-Hooded Woman stands near, but not with, Gotham City homeless warming themselves around a burning garbage can. Her glowing eyes give her the look of a Jawa, but I think we can discount that
theory. Unless she later says "utini," I'm not counting that as a possibility.
Birds of Prey
: In the Gotham City of "two weeks ago," she stands in a doorway as Black Canary is tailed to a meeting with Barbara Gordon (page 8, panel 3). She doesn't notice the woman in a red hood in the next doorway.
: El Paso, Texas: She watches as Jaime Reyes flees the pursuing Venom (page 17, bottom panel). No, sorry, not
Venom, but an assassin sent to capture the beetle scarab from the Brotherhood of Evil.
: She's in a crowd of onlookers in New York as Captain Atom battles radioactive meteors from a nuclear plant hit by a volcano (page 18, panel 1). Busy day for Cap there.
: If we weren't all so busy watch Batman and Catwoman boink in that last book, we might have spotted her on Catwoman
's page 8: in the large first panel, a hedonistic party of a Gotham City criminal mob is infiltrated by Catwoman and
the Red-Hooded Woman. Catwoman's serving drinks, RHW's just watching. As we've learned by now, "she likes to watch."
DC Universe Presents: Deadman
: Page 2, panel 3: the Woman in the Red Hood stands behind clowns at Deadman's circus. Nobody
likes to look at clowns. She is clearly, as Monty Python taught, a master of not being seen.
Green Lantern Corps
: Another comic book with outer space action and still she only appears on Earth -- in, as we're reminded, Space Sector 2814 (page 9, panel 2). She's standing directly between construction workers -- some facing her directly -- and John Stewart's power ring-created architecture plans. AT this point it's clear she's invisible to human (Kryptonian, Martian) senses and technology (CCTV and Lantern rings), and most important, invisible to Batman
. And he sees everything
(as we saw in Catwoman
Legion of Super-Heroes: At last! Concrete proof she can travel off-world, to the planet Panoptes in the 31st Century (page 7, first panel). She's watching Chameleon infiltrate a base on the border of Dominator space, but still, she's there at one of the quietest moments of the book. She's either not looking for specifically important periods in time, or these relatively peaceful moments are later to be of great importance. My cynical guess/theory: The DC New 52 creators were told to toss a cameo in each issue and like many things in analyzing superhero comic books, I may be overthinking specific appearances. That said, I bet she can keep track of all forty-seven thousand six hundred twelve active members of the Legion, and their civilian names and home planets.
: In Gotham City, Red-Hooded Woman is in the stands at Haly's Circus when Dick Grayson returns (page 12, panel 2). That's the second time she's been to the circus in one month. I hope she's getting her circus frequent guest card punched.
Red Hood and the Outlaws
: Let's get this out of the way first: she's not on this page:
So you can stop staring at that page
for hours at a time.
In fact, she doesn't even pop in on the heroes -- she's outside a Chicago slaughterhouse (page 16, panel 1) for the "B" plot of someone discovering via internet that Starfire's on Earth. R.H.W.'s very clearly hovering in this panel, but her cloak appears white. Artistic license, probably? More important, what's she here for? What's she looking at? A truck full of sausages?
: With her new-found super-hearing, Supergirl's overwhelmed by deafening random noises and sounds from around the globe (bottom of page 14) including quotes we've seen spoken in Nightwing, Aquaman
, and Birds of Prey
is set in Gotham under night-dark skies, and there's storm lightning in the sky. Aquaman is in a Boston seafood restaurant at sunset. It's a rainy night in Gotham City when Starling quips about being damned in Birds of Prey
. It's dawn in Russia, as the rising sun fuels Kara's superpowers. That scene in Gotham City (long set in DC history as located on the East Coast) can't be pure night at the same time it's sunset in Boston, but it could
be a very dark dusk exaggerated by the pouring rain on the Birds of Prey's side of town and the fast-approaching storm around Nightwing. If this is the case, then whether by intent or design, this timing is all absolutely accurate
. Many timezones encompass Siberia including twelve hours after East Coast time. In other words, dusk on the US's east coast equals dawn in parts of Siberia. That's the kind of cool synchronicity that makes me love shared-universe fiction, whether the creators planned this or not. (And oh, yes, the Red-Hooded Woman is there, too.)
: The Woman in the Red Hood is watching from the woods as Diana and Zola face off against murderous centaurs in Virginia (page 17, panel 4). I don't care how expert Wonder Woman is, that's definitely not
a proper dressage mount there.
After examining the first three weeks of the New 52, we can start to put together a rough timeline of some of the stories: The beginning of Birds of Prey
#1 and the end of Nightwing
#1 take place simultaneously with the appearance of Supergirl on Earth in Supergirl
#1. The Red-Hooded Woman makes appearances (although likely not in this chronological order) two weeks before the events at the beginning of Birds of Prey
. On the morning of the day BoP
begins, she appears at Haly's Circus to watch Dick Grayson arrive; that evening she appears in Boston to watch Aquaman order but not eat a seafood dinner, then almost instantly to watch Kara Zor-El being attacked in Siberia. Instantly... or simultaneously
? Is the Red-Hooded Woman cross-crossing her own personal history by traveling in time? How much of a master of time is she, anyway? (And do we know any other red/purple hooded masters of time?)
New 52 Week Four:
All Star Western
: Back in Gotham City of the 1880s, the Red-Hooded Woman is more difficult to spot than Waldo in a sea of cowboys, frontiersman, saloon girls, guns for hire, and stuffed animal heads (page 10, panel top panel). She's wisely gone by the time Jonah Hex starts a barroom brawl a few minutes later. Let's hope she paid up her tab before leaving.
: Here's the scene that happens concurrently with three other key moments in the DCNu (page 12, panel 4). A few seconds and two panels later Aquaman says "I don't
talk to fish," but she's looking in completely the opposite direction. One of the themes of the new series is the perception the general public has of Aquaman. Is she watching the reactions of the civilians rather than Aquaman? Is that an important moment? Did she order the unlimited crab legs for $17.99?
Batman: The Dark Knight
marks yet another trip to Gotham City -- she's been here many more times than any place on Earth-DC, including Metropolis. You'll find her standing just inside the gates... the open gates
of Arkham Asylum (page 14, top panel). Is it any wonder there's an Arkham break-out twice in four Batman
#1 books? Geez, guys, invest in some Master Locks.
: Red-Hooded Woman looks right at us...or more probably, the man taking a photo of the departing Blackhawks (page 8, panel 5). She probably doesn't show up on the iPhone anyway (or the LexPhone or WaynePhone either).
: Blink and you'll miss her: in Central City, watching Barry Allen's girlfriend (and co-worker... bad idea, Barry) Patty Spivot shepherd Barry away from the flirtations of Iris Allen (page 12, final panel). It occurs to me: if there's no Barry/Iris romance and marriage, then where did Kid Flash in Teen Titans
The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Men
gives us not only the longest title in today's DC publishing plan but multiple
Firestorms. R.H.W. is there at a critical and historical moment: the birth of Firestorms Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch (page 18, panel 2). Now that's the way to please fans of both iterations of the character. (Psst, DC: Batgirl, Inc.
Everybody's happy. Call me!)
Oh, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the name of Walton Mills High's football team: The Wikings.
Green Lanterns: New Guardians
: Kyle Rayner: PWNED! I bet even R.H.W. is giggling at that (page 15, middle bottom panel). And here's another book with substantial scenes taking place in outer space, but she appears on Earth, leaving her sole journey off planet in Legion of Super-Heroes
. Even time travelers don't like to go that many time zones away, what with the spaceship lag. I would also point out that this comic book is the first time I've ever seen men line up
for the restroom. Consider this: Kyle Rayner became Green Lantern because he stepped out into an alley to pee. I bet he doesn't want that in his Secret Origins
issue. Insert your own "powerless against the color yellow" joke here.
The Savage Hawkman
: Carter Hall is on the wing; his Hawkman battle armor reappears in time for him to do some serious damage to a morphing alien warrior (page 16). The Woman in the Red Hood watches in the background. Is this comic saying that the best view of Hawkman is from the rear? In a line of comics featuring half-dressed Catwoman, naked-in-bed Wonder Woman and bikinied Starfire, why not? The DCU needs beefcake, too.
: AIIEEEEE! Red-Hooded Woman is nine feet tall!
She's blown out of proportion at the dinner for the demolition of the old Daily Planet building and the opening of the new one (page 3, panel 2). You woulda thought Lex Luthor would have taken the old Planet
globe and made a Kryptonite-lined Hamster Ball of Death out of it, wouldn't you?
: Fake police cop is heavily caffeinated as he pulls over Cassie "Don't Call Me Wonder Girl" Sandsmark, while White
-Hooded Woman lurks yet again in the woods (page 12, panel 1). I'm guessing this is just a coloring mistake, or a lighting effect, or maybe that's latter-day Raven and I'm completely mistaken.
Another oddity: Who's this ultra-tall, top-hatted black-clad man in the background at the beginning of Teen Titans? That's just too distinct a figure to be just set dressing. Is it the Shade from Starman? The Phantom Stranger with a new chapeau? A cross-dressing Zatanna? A goth version of the Mad Mod?
: Finally, and thankfully, RHW is not masquerading as a stripper at the Voodoo Lounge. You'll find her outside watching the aftermath of Fallon's fistfight with a bunch of young thugs (page 8, panel 6).
There's other hooded women in the new DCU; don't mistake them for the one we've been looking at. Below: Rama
(top), Batgirl's enemy Mirror
(bottom left), and the Brotherhood of Evil's Phobia
in Blue Beetle
substitutes for the real Red-Hooded Woman. Most of what we know is speculation and guesswork. We know she's watching the DC Universe. She watches in the past, watches in the future, and watches right now. She watches, mostly on Earth, but off-world as well. She can almost certainly travel in time and is undetectable to humans and tech. She needed Barry Allen's power to help her knit the DC, Vertigo superhero, and Wildstorm universes together, and now she's keeping watch over the result.
But who is she?
Could she be the Time Trapper, longtime nemesis of the Legion of Super-Heroes? Is she a new Harbinger, foretelling a brand-new Crisis on 52 Earths? Could she be the Marvel Universe's new Crimson Cowl, heralding a return to the great DC/Marvel crossover events? Maybe she's Red Riding Hood from Vertigo's popular Fables
, leading up to the first team-up of Batman and Jack of Fables? (A: No.)
The New DC Universe is still uncharted territory. Things we've taken for granted in a fictional universe that's almost 74 years old (Wonder Woman's origin
, Superman's pal, Flash's wife) have been changed dramatically. We've seen this multiverse break apart and change through several crises, reboots both hard and soft, and the too-soon abandoned concept of Hypertime. Maybe the clue is in that "almost 74 years." 2013 will mark the 75th anniversary of Superman's debut in 1938, and I bet DC has a big crossover event planned for that. But whenever and wherever the Red-Hooded Woman's story is told, I'm eager to be along for the ride. We're all pioneers in the New DCU, and the thrill is in the ride of discovery on the way.