Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest – Batman and the Outsiders #1

Posted: Sunday, November 18, 2007
By: Keith Dallas

Writer: Chuck Dixon
Artist: Julian Lopez

Publisher: DC Comics

Average Rating:

Chris Murman:
Kevin Powers:
Thom Young:

Chris Murman:

With all due respect (and he deserves a ton) to writer Chuck Dixon, this just isn’t the series I was signing on for. Chuck, I know you came on at the last minute, and for that you should be commended for saving DC’s bacon when they needed some help. In that regard, to be fair, the story was a fairly action-packed, intriguing team story that lets Bats do what he does well and the new Outsiders strut their stuff. Alas, this is neither the team that Dixon put together nor does it appear to be anywhere close to the one he wants either. Tony Bednard got my hopes up with a fantastic story in Outsiders #50, and he should be shanked for leaving me at the altar.

I know it doesn’t seem realistic or intelligent to critique a book for what it was supposed to be, but give me a break; comic nerds are good at nothing else if playing the “coulda-shoulda-woulda” game. It’s my right, in fact.

Chuck’s done a few interviews leading up to the release of this issue and has stated that the team he was handed isn’t really what he would have gone with, but I didn’t have to hear it from his mouth to know that was the case. The dynamic between many of the team members expresses some much needed shake up in this initial arc in the series. Katana can’t stand Catwoman, Grace does absolutely nothing, Thunder whines, and Aquaman doesn’t even show up. Sure, Batman can put just about anyone to work and make it happen…but that doesn’t necessarily make it compelling reading.

As Selina and J’onn exit soon, we will see the entrance of Batgirl (Cassandra? I thought she wasn’t Bruce’s fan at the moment) and Ollie Queen (back from whatever Amazonian prison he disappeared to around the time of his wedding). Frankly, I don’t think Dixon is done with the line-up changes either, as he admits to not being sure what to do with Grace and Thunder. Unfortunately, they are a pair and it’s either take ‘em or leave ‘em, so I vote for leaving them off the roster. It’s not Judd’s group that we’ve been reading over recent years, but I don’t think anyone will be offended if his team isn’t cannon.

There are certain Outsiders that are just part of the team no matter who the writer is. Rex should just have a big fat “O” as part of his costume; he is that much a part of the team. Katana also seems ingrained into the make up of Bat’s group. She’s been by his side in battle for a long time. It’s a shame that the Martian won’t be hanging around long. Because of his friendship to Bruce and his skill set, he’s perfect for the team. Certainly, a powerhouse needs to be along for the ride, but we’ve addressed Grace already. Can’t J’onn fill that role as well as inside man? I’m still on the fence about Ollie coming along; Chuck’s going to have to sell me on that. Queen is as bit of a Prima Donna, managing to attract unwanted attention to himself. Does that sound like an Outsider to you? Time will have to tell. I’m guessing Batgirl will fill the “criminal street cred” role that Catwoman was doing, but if she shows up wearing a bat costume I will revoke this idea all together.

I enjoyed seeing Julian Lopez’s work on this issue, he will most likely carry the book for me through this shifting line up until we reach a set roster. His work on Katana and J’onn were of particular enjoyment to me. He certainly captures the posture and weight of drawing DC’s iconic character style; I’m interested in seeing his take on Ollie and Cassandra.

Hopefully, docking bullets off the score certainly won’t come as a slap to Mr. Dixon. His circumstances surrounding this title just dictated a bit more than he could salvage for the first couple of issues. I stuck with my pledge to read this book because if anyone can give me a decent Bat-book right now at DC, it’s him. Until then, I’ll have to make do with the Outsiders battling an OMAC instead of the Suicide Squad.

Kevin Powers:

In what appears to be another DC throwback to its past, The Outsiders has been canceled and re-launched as Batman and the Outsiders. Sure, sales may have had something to do with it and putting Batman in a title is sure to have a positive impact on sales, but the bottom line is that the title of this book harkens back to the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths days. I loved the modern incarnation of the Outsiders that debuted in 2003. Nightwing was the leader, and the team was really made up of familiar and much younger characters. But times have changed: Nightwing is heading back to the Titans, Jade is dead and Arsenal/Red Arrow is a member of the Justice League. There’s really been no star power left to carry the Outsiders. Enter Batman, Catwoman and Martian Manhunter and we might be on to something. Aquaman and Batgirl are supposed to join the ranks as well, leaving Batman with a fairly well put together team. Apparently, Tony Bedard was dropped from this title at the last minute for Chuck Dixon due to differing opinions about the book’s direction. I’m not quite sure what it could have been, but maybe it had something to do with the ending.

Overall I really enjoyed the general concept behind the title. Batman has essentially put together a “Mission: Impossible” crew to do some espionage work. While it comes off as a great idea, my only question is, why doesn’t Batman just use his soldiers to do it? By his soldiers I mean Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl and Oracle. While this issue is indeed action packed and exciting in terms of espionage, Nightwing and Robin could have easily infiltrated the targeted building, completed the mission, stopped in the cafeteria for some coffee and left without the guards ever knowing. But I know this isn’t a story about the bat-soldiers; it is one about the Outsiders under Batman’s guidance.

One thing I really like about this team is that it features Catwoman. Being that this is the 21st Century and she is no longer a villain, I really think she and Bruce need to get together again and stay together. It seems like their time passed a long time ago, but the only woman who really belongs with Batman is Catwoman. There could be a very interesting romantic dynamic between the two as this series plays out that could definitely lead to some tension amongst the ranks. However, while that sounds all well and good, it more than likely won’t be happening because of the heavy espionage action through this issue.

The espionage and the infiltration sequence is used primarily as a plot device to show off each team members’ powers and place on the team. Honestly, I think it works perfectly, and Dixon does an excellent job utilizing the characters. For example, Martian Manhunter can shape-shift so he’s used as a diversionary tactic, Katana is the ninja master, Catwoman is a master thief, Grace is the powerhouse, and Metamorpho is good for undetectable infiltration. Everyone works in terms of their place within this issue as Batman serves as the overall tactician, an “oracle” if you will. The way Dixon utilizes the aforementioned characters is great and helps establish the fast pace of this issue because everything regarding the building’s infiltration moves seamlessly and believably.

There is one character, however, that I really could have done without. It’s too bad too; Thunder was a character I enjoy from the previous volume. The daughter of Black Lightning and a very powerful being in her own right, she’s left in the Batcave with Batman while the others carry out the operation. She’s clearly upset over Batman’s decision and the dialogue between her and Batman is fairly well-written, but it takes away from the overall plot of this issue. I do think the banter regarding Thunder’s sexual orientation is entertaining, but the whole sequence took away from Thunder’s relevance. Obviously, she’ll prove herself to Batman. She’ll prove she’s not immature and can handle a major operation; the question is “who cares?” She was kicked off the team, invited back on and is now too immature to participate. I really hope “Thunder proving herself” doesn’t take precedence over a potential “Batman favors Catwoman” story thread.

Finally, by the time this issue ends there is something that cannot be avoided: a relationship to Countdown. This issue has the feeling of a Countdown tie-in from start to finish, especially at the end. It’s never really made clear what Batman’s team is looking for until the end of the issue. Personally, I thought we were done with the OMACs. They served their purpose and nearly destroyed Batman’s reputation, yet in the end one pops up. Perhaps Batman is trying to recover the OMAC to destroy it, which would actually make sense.

Julian Lopez’s pencils mixed with Bit’s inks and Marta Martinez’s artwork comes together to make a really nice looking comic. The opening two page spread feels huge in scale, and I really think the artwork is really well done in this issue. My only qualm would be that some of the characters, like Thunder, look a bit older than they should. Regardless of that fact, the artwork is definitely a highlight of this issue.

I did like this issue and I will continue to read about Batman and his new Outsiders. I like the way this issue played out with the superhero espionage and the way each member of the operation really fit into their role. I’m not sure how I feel about the involvement of the OMAC or the potential Countdown tie-in, but by itself this is a rather well-done story that could have a great deal of potential depending on how things play out.

Thom Young:

In theory, the first issue of a new comic book series should be accessible to new readers who have no prior knowledge of any of the characters or concepts in the series. After that opening statement, you might expect me to claim that Chuck Dixon didn’t adhere to that “first issue theory” when he wrote Batman and the Outsiders #1. However, in this case, the issue of “accessibility” is not as cut-and-dried as that.

I’m not a “new reader” when it comes to The Outsiders. I read the team’s first appearance in The Brave and the Bold #200 in 1983 as well as the first few issues of their own title. I don’t remember the stories at all, and I don’t recall very much about the team other than the initial members were Batman, Black Lightning, Metamorpho, Geo-Force, Katana, and Halo—with the last three being new characters who had to be introduced to the readers.

I don’t recall how Geo-Force, Katana, and Halo were introduced to new readers in 1983, but I’m 90% certain that Mike W. Barr must have devoted part of the story to expository material that provided some sort of back story for each of the three. It’s the conventional way that comic books were written back then. It’s not a “better” way. In fact, unless handled extremely well, such exposition was usually very clunky and was detrimental to the story.

Skip forward almost 25 years to The All-New Batman and the Outsiders #1 where Chuck Dixon doesn’t bog his story down with exposition to introduce new readers to the characters in the series—all of whom have existed in the DC universe for at least four years.

I admit that it’s the two characters who have only been around for four years, Grace and Thunder, that I knew practically nothing about. I had never heard of Grace before reading this issue. While I had heard of Thunder, all I knew was that she was Black Lightning’s daughter (Black Lightning, of course, being one of the founding members of the team back in 1983).

Without a bunch of clunky exposition to tell me about these characters, I was able to figure out that Grace and Thunder are lesbian lovers (at least that’s what was implied), that Grace is an Amazon warrior (implying that she has some sort of relation to Wonder Woman’s tribe on Themyscira), and that Thunder is undisciplined and immature.

Those are all very good details to impart without resorting to expository passages, and Dixon is to be commended. This type of character presentation is how such things are usually experienced in the real world. I have not yet had captions appear over the heads of people I meet that explain to me who these people are—nor do they usually introduce themselves by telling me significant aspects of their personal history.

In fact, I wish Dixon had avoided the name-caption that accompanied each character when they first appear. For instance, there’s no benefit to having “Catwoman” and “Katana” as captions next to the characters as they float down on parachutes in the opening scene. However, that’s a minor quibble.

New readers of this "new series" should be able to hit the ground running in the same way that Dixon has the characters do in this first issue. Unlike the first issue of the recent re-launch of Justice Society of America, readers don't need knowledge of DC universe history to understand and appreciate The All-New Batman and the Outsiders #1.

There were, though, three things that I really didn’t care for in this first issue.

The first is that Batman had a passive role in the operation that the team was carrying out. He stood in the Batcave behind a computer console and directed the action as Catwoman, Katana, Metamorpho, J’onn J’onzz, and Grace carried out a mission in Central City.

Batman was essentially playing the role of Barbara Gordon (Oracle)—directing a team of operatives from behind a computer. However, I’m sure that Dixon will get Batman involved in the action in future stories.

The second problem I had was the interaction between Batman and Thunder in the Batcave. He held her back from participating in the mission because he doesn’t believe she’s ready to take an active role on the team. To prove his point, he allowed her to get angry about not taking part in the mission in order to tell her that professionals don’t act that way while their teammates are on a mission on which he needs to focus.

The Batman and Thunder scenes weren’t poorly written by Dixon. I just didn’t happen to enjoy reading them. There was one point, though, in which Dixon either made one minor error or Batman was intentionally pushing Thunder into an unprofessional outburst.

On page nine, Batman tells Thunder, “I wanted you to see why you don’t belong on the team.”

Thunder responds, “Don’t--Does Grace know about this?”

Batman answers, “Grace’s opinion doesn’t enter into it, despite your special relationship with her.”

Going from the bottom of page nine to page fourteen, Thunder is surprised and then outraged, “Special . . . What do you know about me and Grace? Have you been spying on us? You like watching, freak?”

Putting her in her place, Batman says, “You’re demonstrating why you’re not ready for a commitment like this [yada, yada, yada]. . . . And I surmised that you and Grace were good friends by observing your body language when you’re together. I didn’t know it was more than that until you told me.”

Actually, Thunder didn’t “tell” him, she implied her lesbian relationship with Grace with her statements. The problem, though, hinges on whether Batman is being truthful with his last statement—that he didn’t know about Thunder’s lesbian relationship with Grace.

If he really didn't know, then Dixon should not have had Batman use the word special when he said, “despite your special relationship with her.” A discourse analysis of Batman’s dialog would show that “special” is used by people who want to imply more than what is being stated. It’s the word special on which Dixon then has Thunder focus as it leads to her outburst.

However, if Batman actually did know about the “special relationship ” and was intentionally leading Thunder into an outburst to prove his point by then falsely denying that he knew about their lesbianism, then Dixon was correct in using “special” in the way he did in the script.

If the latter is the case, then I don’t care for the characterization of Batman as someone who would lie in order to make a member of his team have an emotional outburst so he could then use it as proof that the person is too immature to be a member of the team. Such a Batman was the “Batman as asshole” that I thought we were supposed to be done with after Infinite Crisis had concluded.

Finally, the third thing I didn’t care for is the revelation of an OMAC jumping out of the “big, stainless steel burrito” on the issue’s final page. The only OMAC I ever care to see is the original One Man Army Corps that Buddy Blank became in Jack Kirby’s original series. I can’t stand these new OMACs.

Still, Dixon did a good job of moving the story along quickly by presenting plenty of action, not dragging it down with bad exposition, and providing some character bits by simply having the characters interact. For instance, on page four, Catwoman tells Katana, “No killsies, remember? The “baby talk” (killsies) is irritating, but it also hints at Catwoman’s recent motherhood (of which, I know absolutely nothing else about).

I should also point out that Julian Lopez’s illustrations are very good. He’s a newcomer to me, but he shows that he has mastered the ability to move the story along from panel to panel. He has detailed linework that is within the current “hyper-realism” school of such people as the Kubert Brothers, Jim Lee, et cetera.

Julian Lopez doesn’t go overboard with the “hyper” part of “hyper-realism,” and I think he is an illustrator whose career might be worth watching. (When I first saw that the illustrator’s last name was “Lopez,” I thought of one of my old favorites from 20 or 30 years ago, Jose Louis Garcia Lopez).

At this point, I’m not hooked on the series—but I’m intrigued enough to pick up the next issue.

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