With Sofia Ramos safely on a plane headed toward Gotham City, it appears as though The Outsiders have gotten their first victory. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple with Duke Thomas still in the clutches of Ishmael. The acolyte of Ra’s Al Ghul seeks to convert the young hero to the dark side. Will the team be able to rescue him, or is Duke destined to succumb to evil?
“All I can see is the dark.”
Batman and The Outsiders #7 is one of the best issues of the series thus far. The success of this issue is primarily due to an improved focus on a couple of narrative threads. In the earlier issues of the series, it felt like Bryan Hill was trying to cover an immense amount of story. Several new characters were introduced in addition to the entire team. Moreover, all the groundwork was laid for each narrative thread. Although the execution was serviceable in the earlier issues, there was so much information flying at me that I felt a bit overwhelmed. As a result, I’m not sure any single element was done justice. With Batman and the Outsiders #7, we have an issue centered upon Duke and Cassandra’s conflict with Ishmael as well as Black Lightning and Katana’s battle with Babylon. I think the convergence of all the plot points into these two conflicts helps the story.
The sequences involving Duke, Cassandra, and Ishmael are a highlight of the book for me. Bryan Hill uses this conflict to explore Ishmael’s backstory further. Hill’s reveal of Ishmael’s ability to fundamentally alter any metahuman’s powers is particularly intriguing. I believe that this power-set makes the villain more dangerous than I initially thought, as they must be exceedingly useful in conjunction with Ra’s indoctrination methods. As Ra’s Al Ghul alters their mind, Ishmael alters their body, essentially creating an entirely new person.
One thing that I particularly love with this issue is Bryan Hill’s use of Ishmael’s powers of Duke. Since Duke’s powers are based on the manipulation of light, having Ishmael alter it to the manipulation of dark serves as a perfect symbol of the character’s turn to evil. He is literally shifting from the light side to the dark side. Although we do not see him succumb to the darkness, Hill has alluded to Duke’s mistrust of both Black Lightning and Batman. Additionally, I think the continued exploration of Duke’s power as a symbol could give the story some much-needed depth.
All of the sequences are illustrated by Cian Tormey using a style that evokes Batman stories from the ‘90s. Tormey’s artwork shines during the action sequences. My favorite pages from this book involve Cassandra’s battle with Ishmael. In particular, the panels where Cassandra takes control of the fight and breaks Ishmael’s arm stuck out to me.
“…It’s all darkness.”
Despite the issue’s improved focus, there are still a few issues with the book. In this previous issue, Sofia seems reluctant to accept the team’s help. However, her characterization doesn’t imply that she does not want their help. With this issue, it feels like Sofia’s characterization drastically changes as she is willing to kill Katana for Ra’s Al Ghul. This action seems too extreme for someone ready to leave with the team to get help.
I usually don’t complain about solicitations when reading a book because I do understand that things change. However, I don’t feel like this issue’s solicitation is a true representation of the content. The solicitation is one of the reasons that I wanted to pick up the book. It promised that Duke would join Ra’s finding himself unable to cope with Batman and Black Lightning’s methods. I was curious to find out what actions would drive Duke away from his mentor. As a result, this feels like a missed opportunity for drama and character exploration as Hill has planted the seeds for this betrayal throughout prior issues.
Ultimately, Batman and the Outsiders #7 is one of the best issues of the series due to its refined focus on two conflicts. Using Ishmael’s alteration of Duke’s powers as a symbol to represent his fall from grace is incredibly impressive. Unfortunately, Sofia’s change in characterization took me out of the moment. Additionally, I hope that we will get to see Duke choose which path to follow in upcoming issues, as I believe this will be an intriguing path to follow.