Back Issue Bin Review: Batman and the Outsiders v1
|July 31, 2012||Posted by Jess under Back Issue Bin Review, Comics|
Since I started reading comics nearly ten (whew) years ago, I’ve plowed through a lot of complete runs of series. And I usually don’t talk about them, which is quite frankly pretty silly. After all, I review books, movies, TV shows, Broadway plays, and concerts – why not the form of media that I quite possibly consume the most of?
So I’m gonna kick this off with a review of Batman and the Outsiders, Original Flavor. Thanks to the byzantine and repetitive nature of comic book-naming, what that actually means is Batman and the Outsiders v1, Adventures of the Outsiders, and The Outsiders v1. Basically, we’re talking 1983-1988. It was created (and mostly written and drawn) by Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo.
I started reading the series mostly to get a handle on the four (four!) female team members for future Dimestore posts (and have in fact already written about Katana, and also because I’m an obsessive completionist who wants to read All the Comics. But to be honest, I didn’t have high hopes. I’m not a huge Batman fan, especially in team books where he tends to hog the limelight. Too often he watches his massively overpowered colleagues fruitlessly beat up on the bad guy for 23 pages1, then swings in on the last page to best the bad guy without breaking a sweat, issues some sarcastic put-down towards his ostensible friends, and fades into the shadows. Plus I was concerned about a potentially racist depiction of Katana, Halo and Looker seemed frankly ridiculous, and no one has ever cared about Geo-Force, anywhere, ever.
But you know what? I was pleasantly surprised!
Basically, Batman quits the Satellite Era JLA in a fit of pique when the League refuses to start an international incident on his say-so, and winds up assembling a team of C-listers who will do what he tells them.2 They are:
- Black Lightning, a.k.a. Jefferson Pierce, former Olympic decathlete and high school teacher, who has lightning powers and is also, um, black. Late 70s comic book diversity was clumsy, okay?
- Metamorpho, a.k.a. Rex Mason, who was given the power to turn into any element by a radioactive meteorite in an Egyptian pyramid (of course).
- Katana, a.k.a. Tatsu Yamashiro, a martial artist with an enchanted sword who became a crimefighter to avenge her murdered son and children.
- Halo, a.k.a. Gabrielle Doe, an amnesiac teenage girl who can generate a rainbow’s worth of auras, each with a different purpose.
- Geo-Force, a.k.a. Brion Markov, Prince of Markovia, given earth-manipulating powers by a scientist in order to defend his country.
- Looker, a.k.a. Emily “Lia” Briggs, a plain woman given great beauty, the full spectrum of psionic powers, and a truly abysmal costume by a weird underground civilization. Seriously, it’s one of the worst costumes ever.
- And eventually Windfall, a.k.a. Wendy Jones, a wind-manipulator and member of the villainous Masters of Disaster, who wound up defecting to the Outsiders near the end of the run.
- Sorry, 19 pages. Not that I think comics’ dwindling page counts and skyrocketing prices are highway robbery and not conducive to the kind of ludicrously decompressed plots we’re seeing these days or anything. ↩
- I’m sorry! I just really don’t like Batman! ↩
- He’s estranged from his wife and two kick-ass daughters in this series. ↩
- Looker is, in fact, an entirely ridiculous character, but as much as she’s an incredibly simplified depiction of what men think women care about, I kind of dug her? ↩
- I like Katana and Black Lightning a lot, but the former is a mess of stereotypes and the latter, stripped of the stereotypes that characterized him a few years earlier, is left with very little to do. ↩
- I am totally biased here. The JLI is my favorite team of all time. ↩
My concerns about Batman Batmanning all over everything were unfounded – he’s only a member for about half the time anyway, and none of the plotlines revolve around him. He’s just the field leader and bankroller. Which is as it should be – after all, Batman has 347 comics publishing about him any given month, so the narratives of a book like this should center around the other team members, who don’t appear anywhere else.
What I enjoyed the most about Outsiders – and what I consider to be the main reason to read any team book – was the interaction between the characters. These are people who genuinely care about one another: Katana immediately starts mothering Halo, Metamorpho and his wife Sapphire make Black Lightning socialize with them so that he doesn’t get too lonely3, the whole team willingly charges in to save Markovia the eight or nine times it gets attacked by Nazi clones. They’re legitimately fond of one another, and that makes the reader fond of them.
I also really enjoyed all of the female characters, which as you might imagine is pretty crucial for me. Aparo (I think those issues were drawn by Aparo, at least – I’m terrible at paying attention to the credits) developed different faces and body types for all four of them over the years (five, actually – Dr. Helga Jace, who gave Geo-Force his powers, is a major supporting player), which shouldn’t be such a big deal, but in a world where most comic book artists give every female character the same face, it’s delightful to see someone approaching his craft a little more thoughtfully.
I’ll save the individual gushing for future Dimestore posts, but one thing that struck me about the female characters in Outsiders is that they have relationships that are in no way based either on men or on any kind of good girl/bad girl dynamic. Katana and Halo have a deeply touching mother/daughter relationship based not so much on age difference – though I do like that Katana is very much a grownup – as the fact that Katana has lost her children and Halo has no parents at all and they need each other. When Looker4 joins the team, Halo latches onto her as this cool, glamorous adult friend – totally believable for a teenage girl – and I felt much more for Katana’s jealousy there than I ever do when female characters fight over a boy. (Halo and Looker do in fact both date Geo-Force, but they don’t appear to consider him worth fighting over. Word, girls.) Halo’s friendship and Looker’s enmity with newbie Windfall adds another layer of complexity to the female relationships on the team.
By contrast, the dudes are just kind of there, getting along with each other. It was a refreshing change!
Batman and the Outsiders is full of late Bronze Age-style silliness (seriously, the Masters of Disaster are NOT good villains), terrible costumes, and clunky depictions of minorities.5 It’s certainly not on par with some of its contemporaries, like the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League International6 or Ostrander’s Suicide Squad. But it’s charming, chockful of fun, done-in-two adventures and consistently good art, and boasts what’s frankly a more diverse team than many modern comics. I heartily recommend it.
But I still don’t care about Geo-Force.