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Showcase Presents: Batman and the Outsiders, Vol. 1 Paperback – September 12, 2007
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Top Customer Reviews
So something about the best laid schemes of mice and men and bats going oft awry. Batman hadn't planned on other characters bumping into his covert extraction ops. Metamorpho is in Markovia to see if Markovia's leading scientist can make him normal again. A katana-wielding woman (whose name is, shockingly, Katana) carves her way on the scene. Batman stumbles onto an amnesiac girl who projects an aura of varying colors and effects, and Batman instantly dubs her "Halo." Meanwhile, Prince Brion of Markovia, seeking an edge in his country's fight for peace, allows himself to be experimented on, and so he gains powers over the earth. Just like his younger sister, Tara. Can Batman shape these misfit personalities into a well-oiled fighting machine?
Yes, he can. 'Cause he's the goddamn Batman.
In the early 1980s Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo got on a good roll with BATMAN & THE OUTSIDERS. Batman can shout to the world all he wants about how he's a loner and works best alone and that he'd rather lurk in the shadow being all broody. But it ain't so, yo. The reality defies the perception. From WORLD'S FINEST to THE BRAVE & THE BOLD to his stints in the Justice League, no, this bat is a social bat. The Outsiders are only the latest affiliation. Barr and Aparo created three new characters for this title and dusted off two veteran capes in Metamorpho and Black Lightning. It's an interesting and eclectic mix, a melting pot composed of a teen and adults of various nationalities. Maybe one difference is that he doesn't browbeat this bunch quite as harshly as he does his inner Bat circle. I don't think Katana or Prince Brion would take well to being browbeaten.
SHOWCASE PRESENTS: BATMAN & THE OUTSIDERS collects, in black and white, the first nineteen issues of this title, as well as the inaugural BATMAN & THE OUTSIDERS Annual (41 pages long), BRAVE & THE BOLD #200 (which features the first appearance of the Outsiders), and TEEN TITANS #37. I bet most of you don't even know who Jim Aparo is. Aparo did his damn thing back around three decades ago, and what I realized, with this black & white collection, is how much craftsmanship Aparo invested into his illustrations. His stuff really pops out in black and white, and he draws a mean Batman. Bill Willingham and Trevor Von Eeden guest pencil once or twice. We gaze at George Perez's terrific pencils in that Teen Titans crossover. Mike W. Barr delivers his always solid storytelling.
Several noteworthy sign posts in this trade. The most memorable is probably the Outsiders' classic crossover with the Teen Titans as both teams brace the Fearsome Five, and we also see Robin standing up to Batman and taking over tactical operations. We learn Katana's mysterious origin and just exactly what is up with that mystical sword of hers (and the Yakuza's role in all this). Later, the Outsiders time travel to ancient Egypt, and it all has to do with the strange meteor that transformed Rex Mason into Metamorpho. The Masters of Disaster arrive, contracted to kill Black Lightning, and Black Lightning seems almost okay with that. In one Christmas issue the Phantom Stranger guest stars in a plot involving babies getting their life force drained. In another Christmas issue, Superman pops in to slug it out with an incensed Geo-Force. Geo-Force is probably the Outsiders' big gun, but does anyone actually think he's got a shot against the Man of Steel? It could only end one way. With a snow avalanche.
For forgettable villains, there's the cheesiness of the organ-harvesting Cryonic Man and the low-rent, patriotic-themed malevolence of the Force of July. And to absolutely date this era, the Outsiders invade the 1984 Olympics as they compete against the New Olympians in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
What sells it for me is the Outsiders' personal interactions (because, honestly, the superhero battles follow familiar patterns). The team name is actually pretty apt. These cats are misfits and come with personal baggage. Jefferson Pierce (Black Lightning) is a reluctant warrior, still raking himself over the coals over the death of an innocent bystander during a past adventure. Metamorpho, who is as malleable as Plastic Man, is hung up about his inhumanity. He's also miserable because he and his sweety are being kept apart by the girl's daddy. Katana, the willing killer - real name, Tatsu - becomes guardian to the teenaged Halo, and Halo, by the way, comes across as one of them wide-eyed innocents; it's hard to resist her, she really livens up this team. Tatsu and Halo develop sort of a mother/daughter relationship, and Mike W. Barr injects some good emotional resonance in how they relate to each other. Geo-Force (or Prince Brion) is a royal hothead, and I don't really care for him much. His regal demeanor occasionally clashes with Batman's demanding ways. And, really, who thinks it's a clever idea to second guess Batman and call him out on it? Again, this is the goddamn Batman. Back in the '80s, his Outsiders made huge inroads into my lunch allowance.
The Outsiders formed when Batman, in a fit of pique over the Justice League's lack of intervention in a civil war, decided to go it alone to rescue a friend. This civil war, in the land of Markovia, would attract other heroes as well. These other superheroes were much rawer in their talent and Batman decided to lead them and train them.
The Outsiders consisted initially of Batman and five other heroes, some of whom were new to the DC Universe. Metamorpho could change his form and his chemical composition but was bothered by his freakish appearance. Black Lightning had electrical powers but was bothered by the death of an innocent bystander in one of his fights. Katana had no special powers but had a magical sword and great fighting skills. Geo-Force was a prince of Markovia, given powers to help his country during the war. Halo was an amnesic teenager who had light-based powers, with each color representing a different power (sadly, Halo's powers show the shortcoming of the black-and-white Showcase format).
This is typical early-`80s DC material, decent if not really spectacular. Most of the stories are one or two issues long, often pitting the Outsiders against supervillain teams like the Fearsome Five, the Masters of Disaster and the Force of July. It's all okay, but outside Batman, neither the good guys nor the bad guys are particularly memorable. But if you enjoy superhero comics, this is a slightly above average collection.
Upset about the Justice League of America not involving in a civil war in Europe, Batman resigns from the group and, through a strange and often forced series of incidents, forms his own team of superheroes. These involve the aristocratic Geo-Force, the grim Katana, the compassionate Black Lightening, the strange Methamorpho and Halo, an amnesic teen who seems, like a bit too many characters of the era, to be inspired by Kitty Pryde of the X-Men. The Outsiders go on to have numerous adventures with Batman though they do not exactly tangle with the most feared lineup of villains in the DC pantheon.
Despite almost three decades passing since these comics being released, this collection holds up surprisingly well. The art is excellent, even if it is not colorized. Some of the plots and dialogue are corny of course (especially in regards to Halo) but it amuses more than it annoys. What makes this series so memorable was how flawed most of the characters are. It draws the reader's interest and engages them. While the plots will not always make the reader sit on the edge of his seat (though there are some exceptions--including an interesting crossover with the Teen Titans), the character development is very well done. While I would not say the stories are great, they were very enjoyable. It was a fun ride and I hope DC releases a second volume.