Gone And Then Back Again: You may recall that Batman and the Outsiders was slated for late 2018 before disappearing from previews. Per sources, the book was shelved to allow for continuity edits following recent happenings in the DCU (yay oversight!). Now, the series — written by Bryan Edward Hill with art from Dexter Soy — hits shelves at last, the first such title since the team’s 2017 “rebirth”. This go-around, the Outsiders feature Black Lightning, Katana, The Signal, and Orphan, a team first seen in Hill’s “On the Outside” arc from Detective Comics.
I Still Believe: If you’ve read any Outsiders title in the past, you may still harbor a sense of commitment bordering on the obsessive. For this writer, Judd Winick’s run in the early 2000s remains an essential entry in the team’s lush catalog. Even if it was a light on Batman, the series is a proper example of the interplay the Outsiders presents — lovable losers and outcasts who save the day while struggling (and sometimes succeeding) with their lot in life. Outsiders as a whole is one of the continuously cool things DC does – a chance to strip away the scope and responsibilities of a JSA or JLA and tell a powerful story about friendship and teamwork and carving out one’s place in the world.
A Whole New Flavor: Perhaps the most interesting element of the book are the Outsiders themselves. You’ve got three long-time favs — Bats, Katana, and Black Lightning — paired up with new recruits in Orphan and Signal. In that sense, it feels closer to a Bat Family title than any previous incarnation, which is promising (the more Bats, the better) at the same time as it’s slightly worrisome (Outsiders should be something different. Always). If nothing else, the core team (sans Bats) represents a great balance of young and old, which pairs nicely with that sense of rebirth and rejuvenation that arguably rests at the core of this relaunch.
Teamwork Makes The Dream Work: Issue #1 can basically be broken down into two interconnected narrative paths. The first addresses the team itself, as everyone struggles to align themselves as a proper unit. Black Lightning, in particular, is struggling a boatload, unable to trust Batman entirely while also unsure as to help the rookies fall in line — a situation further complicated by Katana’s fickle nature as collaborator and partner. BL’s very much at the heart of this book, and rightly so — he’s been through the ringer as of late, and while he’s dedicated to his heroics, it’s clear he’s struggling with “leadership.” His front-facing position thus carries heaps of shimmery potential.
The issues with the rookies is moderately interesting — it could easily become some superhero version of Stand and Deliver, for better or worse — but the stuff with Batman/BL and Katana/BL is intriguing. It’s a tale of two very different relationships: the former pairing is a huge power imbalance — Bats is keeping secrets, and it’s setting up the team for failure — while the latter is more nuanced, and could develop into the engine for the story, the team, and the characters themselves. All is not well with the Outsiders, and it’s a compelling way to begin the book.
The Power Play: Meanwhile, the crux of issue that isn’t the character/team development is about the Ark Program, a kind of super soldier program if it were run by evil billionaires. And instead of soldiers it used poor families. Without spoiling too much, Bats was able to save one such family (the Ramos clan), only now someone’s coming after the daughter, Sofia. I’m not overly excited thus far — it feels like a pretty basic storyline, even with all the mysterious elements and extra bells and whistles. Adding to that is the issue’s ending, which basically involves a Terminator-style twist/character introduction.
The only way to make this story not “Oh man, some people got superpowers, here’s some commentary about why that’s a thing” will be the Outsiders. How this team handles the prospect of this nefarious program, and how it strengthens (or weakens) their collective resolve. Because that’s what an Outsiders book should be: an exploration of their efforts as unit, and anything that threatens that dynamic (including Batman himself) makes for all the more interesting storylines with genuine stakes.
Welcome To The Future: Given it’s just the first issue, it’s impossible to say where this series will go. There are certainly elements here that are promising (BL-Katana, Jerk Batman) but just as much that are troublesome (Signal’s bounty of issues) or outright bland (the introduction of Kaliber). But if I’m to play armchair booker, here’s hoping for a book and story that never forgets the team. Not only because that’s the emotional engine, but also that’s the only thing that will provide some much-needed consistency.
It’s easy to tell already that Hill and Soy have a lot coming down the barrel, and some elements may prove overpowering. Keeping the team central to the story, and not splintering off into respective issues and storylines, will ensure greater structure and quality. Without it, this book may feel more like a complicated Bat Family outing that no one really needs.
New Team, Same Promise: All told, issue #1 is a promising start. Some people may come to it for their love of Outsiders, and they’ll find the team in a most interesting place. Others may just need more Batman, and that’s alright, as he’s presented in a way that feels compelling without overshadowing the team. Either way, this iteration could become a worthwhile heir to The Outsiders’ long and storied history.
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