Batman and the Outsiders volume 1

By Mike W. Barr, Marv Wolfman, Jim Aparo, George Pérez & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1401268121 (HC)

During the early 1980s the general trend of comics sales was yet another downturn – although team-books were holding their own – and the major publishers were less concerned with experimentation than with consolidation. Many popular titles were augmented by spin-offs, a recurring tactic in publishing troughs.

At the time the Dark Knight was the star of two and two half titles, sharing World’s Finest Comics with Superman (until its cancellation in 1986) and appearing with rotating guest-stars in The Brave and the Bold, as well as his regular lead spots in both Batman and Detective Comics. He was also a member of the Justice League of America.

In July 1983 B&B was cancelled with issue #200, but inside was a preview of a new Bat-title. One month later Batman and the Outsiders debuted…

All the details can be found in ‘Out with the Bold, in with The Outsiders’: scripter Mike W. Barr’s introductory reminiscence to this commemorative hardback collection (also available as an eBook) gathering a daring departure for the Gotham Gangbuster and re-presenting The Brave and the Bold #200, BATO #1-13 and a crossover episode which spread into New Teen Titans #37, collectively spanning July 1983-August 1984.

The core premise of the new series was that Batman became increasingly convinced that the JLA was not fit for purpose; that too many problems were beyond their reach because they were hamstrung by international red tape and, by inference, too many laws.

It all kicks off in ‘Wars Ended… Wars Begun!’ with a revolution in the European nation of Markovia (nebulously wedged into that vague bit between France, Belgium and Russia) and details a telling personal crisis when Bruce Wayne’s friend Lucius Fox goes missing in that war-torn country. As neither the US State Department nor his fellow superheroes will act, Batman takes matters into his own hands. He begins sniffing around only to discover that a number of other metahumans, some known to him and others new, are also sneaking about below the natives’ radar.

Markovia’s monarchy is threatened by an attempted coup, and is being countered by the King’s unorthodox hiring of Dr. Jace, a scientist specialising in creating superpowers. When King Victor dies, Prince Gregor is named successor whilst his brother Brion is charged with finding their sister Tara who has been missing since she underwent the Jace Process.

To save his sister and his country, Brion submits to the same procedure. Meanwhile two more Americans are clandestinely entering the country…

Rex (Metamorpho) Mason is a chemical freak able to turn into any element, and he wants Jace to cure him, whereas Jefferson (Black Lightning) Pierce is infiltrating Markovia as Batman’s ace-in-the-hole. Things go badly wrong when a ninja assassin kills the General Pierce is negotiating with, and he is blamed. As Batman attempts to extricate him the Caped Crusader finds a young American girl in a bombed-out building: a teenager with fantastic light-based superpowers… and amnesia.

As Prince Brion emerges from Jace’s experimental chamber, revolutionaries attack and not even his new gravity and volcanic powers, or the late-arriving Metamorpho, can stop them. Brion is shot dead and dumped in an unmarked grave whilst the Element Man joins Batman, who – encumbered by the girl – is also captured by the rebels. The heroes and Dr. Jace are the prisoners of the mysterious Baron Bedlam

The second issue provides the mandatory origin and plans of the Baron, but while he’s talking the new heroes are mobilising. Like the legendary Antaeus, Brion (soon to be known as Geo-Force) is re-invigorated by contact with Earth and rises from his grave, whilst the girl (code-named Halo) is found by the ninja ‘Katana’.

Together they invade the Baron’s HQ during ‘Markovia’s Last Stand!’ Not to be outdone, the captive heroes break free and join forces with the newcomers to defeat the Baron, who now has powers of his own courtesy of the captive Jace.

As introductory stories goes, this is well above average, with plenty of threads laid for future development, and the tried-&-tested super-team formula (a few old and a few new heroes thrown together for a greater purpose) that worked so well with the New X-Men and New Teen Titans still proved an effective one.

As always Barr’s adroit writing meshed perfectly with the understated talents of Jim Aparo; an artist who gave his all to a script…

Issue #3 began a long run of high-quality super-hero sagas with ‘Bitter Orange’, as the new team get acquainted whilst stopping a chemical terrorist with a hidden agenda, and is followed by that preview from B&B #200: a hospital hostage crisis tale designed to tease and introduce new characters, followed here by ‘One-Man Meltdown’ (BATO #4) in which a radioactive villain from Batman’s past returns with malice in mind but acting on a hidden mastermind’s agenda…

New Teen Titans #37 (December 1983) features next. ‘Light’s Out, Everyone!’ by Marv Wolfman, George Pérez & Romeo Tanghal is the first part of a cross-over tale wherein Dr. Light and the Fearsome Five kidnap Dr. Jace and Titans and Outsiders must unite to rescue her. Concluding with ‘Psimon Says’ in BATO #5, its most notable feature is the portentous reuniting of Brion with his sister Tara, the Titan known as Terra.

‘Death Warmed Over’ and ‘Cold Hands, Cold Heart’ tell the tale of The Cryonic Man, a villain who steals frozen body-parts, before ‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’ offers a sinister supernatural Christmas treat guest-starring possibly Aparo’s most fondly remembered character (most certainly for me) The Phantom Stranger.

Issue #9 introduces a new super-villain gang in ‘Enter: The Masters of Disaster!’ (the first half of a two-part tale) plus a brief back-up tale of Halo in ‘Battle For the Band’, written by Barr and illustrated by Bill Willingham & Mike DeCarlo.

Illustrated by Steve Lightle & Sal Trapani, ‘The Execution of Black Lightning’ epically concludes the Masters of Disaster saga, before issue #11 begins exposing ‘The Truth About Katana’: exploring her past and the implications of her magic soul-drinking blade. ‘A Sword of Ancient Death!’ is by Barr & Aparo and continues with ‘To Love, Honour and Destroy’, leading directly into #13’s impressive final inclusion.

‘In the Chill of the Night’ (illustrated by Dan Day & Pablo Marcos) sees the desperate team attempting to capture a drugged, dying and delusional Dark Knight as his fevered mind and memories pit him against the gunman who murdered his parents…

With a full cover gallery – including the diptych assemblage of NTT #37 and BATO #50 – original Aparo art, house ad and preliminary character designs, this is a splendid package to appeal to dedicated Fights ‘n’ Tights fanatics. Although probably not flashy enough to cross the Fan-Barrier into mainstream popularity, Batman and the Outsiders was always a highly readable series and is re-presented here in most accessible manner. An open-minded new reader could do lots worse than try out this forgotten corner of the DCU.
© 1983, 1984, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.