Back Issue Bin Review: Batman and the Outsiders v3
|October 29, 2012||Posted by Jess under Back Issue Bin Review, Comics|
Coming at you from Hurricaneville to finish up my jaunt through every Outsiders back issue! I’ve bundled the Outsiders-related comics from 2003-2011 into one post because they published continuously with overlapping team members, but the team had several different lineups, series names, and creative teams during that time. Rather than try to discuss it all as a whole, I’ll take it mini-era by mini-era.
A quick note: the pencillers on these books changed so often that I don’t tend to mention them unless they had a particularly long or significant run, or were noticeably awesome or awful. Next time I cover a recent series with lots of art changes I’ll take notes as I go along, because I do want to give credit where credit’s due.
1. The team was relaunched in 2003 as Outsiders v3 by Judd Winick and Tom Raney. After the events of Graduation Day cause the Titans and Young Justice to disband, Arsenal reforms the Outsiders out of former Titans and new heroes as a proactive strike force. Members include:
- Arsenal, a.k.a. Roy Harper, Green Arrow’s former sidekick.
- Nightwing, a.k.a. Dick Grayson, the first Robin.
- Grace, a.k.a. um, Grace Choi, a half-Amazonian bouncer.
- Thunder, a.k.a. Anissa Pierce, Black Lightning’s oldest daughter, with the power to manipulate her density.
- Shift, basically a separate, sentient snippet of Metamorpho.
- Indigo, an android from the future who turns out to be (unbeknownst to her) a plant by Brainiac.
- Jade, Jennie-Lynn Hayden, daughter of original Green Lantern Alan Scott, who has all the powers of a Green Lantern without needing a ring.
- And eventually Starfire, a.k.a. Koriand’r, a flying, super-strong, blast-firing space princess.
I am not the world’s biggest Winick fan, but there’s a lot to like in this run. For starters, the team consistently has more female members than male ones, which is astonishing in a world where, say, the biggest superhero movie of all time is about a team of five dudes and one woman. And there are technically only two white faces, though I don’t actually think aliens/robots/people whose powers change their skin color count as authentic diversity, especially since the two humans in that group were white before getting their powers. But Anissa and Grace are both non-white and great, as well as eventually making an extremely cute couple. (Shift and Indigo are also super cute together.)
The series starts off as kind of a fun, scruffily badass romp, with lots of one-liners and nice character notes to cut Nightwing’s unrelenting angst. It’s trying a little too hard to be edgy, but considering how much worse DC has gotten on that front in the past nine years, these early issues seem almost quaint. And honestly, the two attempts at big, shocking stories – the crossover with Teen Titans wherein Lex Luthor and Brainiac manipulate Superboy and Indigo into betraying their respective teams, and the bizarre crossover with America’s Most Wanted starring John Walsh – are more silly than anything else.1
As always, Winick is a little too in love with the word “bitch” and I will never stop being angry about the gratuitous abduction of Arsenal’s daughter Lian, but he makes up for that to a certain extent with the vocal and diverse female cast. He’s consistently at his best, though, with quiet issues about people struggling to lead normal lives; the hands-down best part of his run is the issue where the Outsiders cope with the fallout from Indigo’s betrayal.
Everything falls apart into a mess of confusing crossovers around Infinite Crisis, which leads us to…
2. After the One Year Later jump in 2006, the team reorganizes. From issues #34-50 (still written by Winick, now with pencils by Matthew Clark), the team consists of Nightwing, Grace, Thunder, Shift, Katana, and:
- Captain Boomerang II, a.k.a. Owen Mercer, the original Flash villain’s boomerang-throwing, short-bursts-of-super-speed-having antihero son.
The 2003 Outsiders were envisioned as a dark, gritty team of proactive strike agents willing to make the tough calls, so it’s fairly ridiculous that every single time the lineup changed significantly, there was a lot of talk about how now the team would be really dark and really gritty and really making the tough calls. So it is with this change-up, which starts with the team believed to be dead and attempting to topple a dictator in Mali. Any sense of fun from the first iteration is gone, and our heroes lose more than they win.2 One of these losses leads to Shift, guilty over the deaths he’s inadvertently caused, merging himself back into Metamorpho. Another, a spectacular failure of a crossover with Checkmate, has Batman deciding to retake control of the team, which leads to…
3. Batman and the Outsiders v2, which ran for 14 issues, the first 10 of which were written by Chuck Dixon and the last four by Frank Tieri. During the Outsiders: Five of a Kind mini, Batman carefully vets potential members and selects Katana, Martian Manhunter, Metamorpho, and Grace, while rejecting Thunder, Aquaman II, and Captain Boomerang II. Nightwing leaves on his own, disgusted with Batman’s jerkitude, while Catwoman joins for basically no reason. However, this team only lasts for two issues and Catwoman and Martian Manhunter promptly leave, to be replaced by Geo-Force, plus:
- Green Arrow, a.k.a. Oliver Queen, expert archer and lovable-ish jerk.
- Batgirl II, a.k.a. Cassandra Cain, who had just come off a run of being evil for no reason.
The whole run gives off a vibe of executive meddling, what with the team changes and plots that don’t really go anywhere. Cass Cain is wildly out of character, and frankly, her and Oliver Queen on any kind of team together hurts my brain.
More to the point, though, this run realizes all my fears about the original Batman and the Outsiders run – that it would be a series about how Batman is so great you guys and how no other superheroes find their own asses without his help. I mean, come on, the whole thing started when he rescued all the Outsiders plus Checkmate. I am fully willing to acknowledge Batman’s competence, but competence is not a zero-sum game.
And, as you might imagine, the book finds itself in a bit of an awkward place when Batman dies in Final Crisis, forcing DC to change the title to…
4. Outsiders v4, which started with issue #15 and ran until #40. The first half was written by Peter Tomasi, with Lee Garbett on some very charming pencils. Following a message left by Batman, Alfred recruits a new team of Outsiders that consists of Katana, Halo, Geo-Force, Metamorpho, Black Lightning, and:
- Creeper, a.k.a. Jack Ryder, a talk show host who can transform into an unhinged, zany semi-monster.
- Owlman, a.k.a. Roy Raymond, Jr., a detective and wannabe-Batman.
- I will never take bald evil Superboy seriously, DC. He just makes me laugh so hard. ↩
- “Heroes who lose more than they win” is super popular with DC these days. I have no idea why. That’s not fun to read! ↩
- Also, Technocrat returns for like four pages! No 1 curr, Technocrat. ↩
- To say nothing of the immortal line “Looks like I am going to taze you, bro!” ↩
- Did I mention that the other female characters in the book consist of a demoness who kidnaps and attempts to rape Creeper, and Geo-Force’s adorably mousy ex-wife who has apparently turned into an evil rock monster and is summarily killed by Eradicator? Because they do. Man, no wonder Didio is always so baffled when people say DC has a problem with women! ↩
- Though he manages to do it in the most annoyingly Batman way possible, having somehow hacked into NORAD to prevent the government from nuking Markovia. ↩
The first half of this run was actually pretty enjoyable, but following #25 and the events of Blackest Night, Dan Didio took over on writing and Philip Tan on pencils, though there were multiple fill-ins, sometimes in the middle of issues, including a few issues by Keith Giffen. Plotwise, Geo-Force goes rogue and Katana, Halo, Looker, and Eradicator stick by him, while Black Lightning walks off with Metamorpho, Owlman, and the idiotic new character Freight Train, then returns with Grace and Thunder to fight Geo-Force again.3 It’s all very stupid.
Now look. I’ve made no secret about the fact that Dan Didio is not my favorite person; I think he’s a bully, frankly, and his editorial vision is so far from what I want for the DCU they’re not even in the same universe. But I figured he’d be a serviceable writer – nothing to write home about, but good enough to crank out some workable Outsiders comics, probably fairly in line with the team’s original incarnation.
Hoo boy, was I wrong. Every issue is a pointless slugfest. The whole thing is mired in crossover events, causing it to make even less sense than it would normally. It’s a mess of continuity errors – Black Lightning somehow doesn’t know Metamorpho’s father-in-law/mortal enemy Simon Stagg despite having been close friends with Metamorpho and his wife since the early 80s, not to mention having met Stagg multiple times; Metamorpho is attacked with the Orb of Ra, which he destroyed in the Five of a Kind mini; Eradicator treats Katana like a stranger despite having been on a team with her in the 90s. The dialogue is astonishingly bad – at one point Geo-Force tells Black Lightning to stand down, “or I will beat you into submission,” to which Black Lightning replies, “KISS MY BLACK [full splash page of an explosion].”4 The narration reads like hyperbolic marketing copy, and the text is riddled with spelling errors and misattributed dialogue bubbles because, shockingly, the Big Boss’s comic isn’t very tightly edited. Oh, and Looker spends an entire issue complaining about multiple dresses being ruined when the art clearly shows her in the same pair of pants the whole way through.
But the biggest sin of Didio’s Outsiders is how wildly out of character Geo-Force and Katana are. (Black Lightning, Metamorpho, and Owlman aren’t exactly on target either, but they spend most of their time grunting and running from explosions rather than being egregiously OOC.) Geo-Force abruptly becomes an arrogant, snobbish tyrant who severs diplomatic ties with the rest of Earth and talks to the rest of the Outsiders like they’re his servants. While the dudes storm off, Katana obeys docilely, repeatedly defending Geo-Force as “her king,” even though she is in no way Markovian; they’ve also abruptly started a romantic relationship even though she’s like 10 years older and way too good for him, which makes her mindless subservience even creepier. (As a bonus, there’s a weird and pointless love triangle with Owlman, because what else is the single remaining female character on a team good for besides making out with all the boys?)
While Geo-Force’s enormous personality change is baffling, Katana’s is downright infuriating. She’s never been one to blindly follow someone she thinks is incorrect, much less a didactic upstart like Geo-Force. This is the woman so determined to do things her way that Batman, the bossiest, most tyrannical superhero out there, who won’t let anyone kill anyone ever, worked alongside her for years, always treating her with the utmost respect as a peer and equal, as she killed bad guy after bad guy with her sword. I have no idea whether Didio made Katana a mindless, eyelash-batting drone because she’s a woman, because she’s Japanese, or both, but whatever the reason, his portrayal of her is deeply offensive.5
The whole thing disintegrates rapidly into chaos (and Geo-Force turning into a giant rock monster? I don’t even know, you guys) and it’s a mercy killing when Batman returns from the dead and shuts the whole thing down.6 It’s a shame, because this team has been charming in many of its incarnations. Here’s hoping that when it inevitably reassembles in the DCnU, it’s charming again.