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.

Outsiders: Five of a Kind


By many and various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1672-6

Set after and resulting from the earth-shaking events of 52, this tension-drenched, fast-paced series always combined gritty metahuman angst with ferocious action and a huge helping of wry, bleak cynicism as it followed a band of outcast and undercover champions into places and situations safe, regular superheroes wouldn’t and couldn’t go, but times and changing fashions – and probably shrinking sales – eventually predicated the return of Batman to the masthead and the mix of epic unrealpolitik and edgy, cynically grim-and-gritty nastiness…

Finally exposed to a world which had believed them all dead, and also blamed for setting off an atomic blast which devastated a large part of Russia, the underground metahuman coalition known as The Outsiders – “rogue” superheroes who proactively sought out threats and ignored political boundaries or repercussions – found themselves on the edge of oblivion as their series hurtled towards a blistering climax and a major reboot.

Following the spectacular crossover Outsiders/ Checkmate: Check Out this concluding collection gathers five one-shots (released under the umbrella title Five of a Kind) in which Batman auditioned established members and intriguing alternates to form the core of a new covert unit which worked on the peripheries of the system, beyond the niceties of the law, but always at the Dark Knight’s express command…

Collecting Nightwing and Captain Boomerang Jr., Katana and Shazam!, Thunder and Martian Manhunter, Metamorpho and Aquaman, and Grace and Wonder Woman as well as that climactic last issue finale in Outsiders #50, the drama begins after a mercifully concise text recap with ‘Grudge Match’ by Nunzio Defillipis, Christina Weir & Freddie Williams III, wherein the super-fast son of Digger Harkness and Batman’s oldest protégé were dispatched to investigate a space station that had gone ominously dark, only to find a deadly chemical menace and brutal betrayal…

‘The Queen of Swords & the King of Rock’ by Mike W. Barr, Kevin Sharpe & Robin Riggs, saw Katana and magical maven Captain Marvel invade the ghostly realm where her sword imprisoned the souls of all the people it had killed to forestall a rebellion of the doubly-damned…

‘Bug-Eyed Monsters’ (Tony Bedard, Koi Turnbull & Art Thibert) found J’onn J’onzz and the tempestuous daughter of Black Lightning investigating an alien incursion miles beneath the Earth’s crust, only to stumble into Grayven, Prince of Apokolips, a murdering maniac fleeing the unstoppable eradicator of his species (for which check out the imaginatively titled The Death of the New Gods), whilst ‘Rogue Elements’ by G. Willow Wilson & Josh Middleton saw the Chemical Crusader and a very raw replacement Sea King try to save an aquifer under the Sahara Desert from contamination and corporate exploitation with the unexpected assistance of Arabic Avenger Hadya.

Finally ‘Member of the Tribe’ (Marc Andreyko, Cliff Richards & Thibert) plunged irascible orphan Grace into a storm of anti-Amazon prejudice and a potential nuclear nightmare that not even distant cousin Wonder Woman could help her with before all the weary applicants reluctantly reunited for a fraught epilogue by Bedard…

The convoluted  casting-call concluded with ‘You Killed the Outsiders!’ by Bedard, Matthew Clark, Ron Randall & Art Thibert, as the Dark Knight sent his newly-minted but utterly unhappy undercover ultra-squad to infiltrate a nightclub where only the weirdest and wildest of Gotham’s criminal underworld hung out.

What they didn’t know was that the sting wasn’t to trap bad guys but rather off-the-books government spooks illegally rounding them up and deporting them without due process to an alien world…

For the end of that tale you’ll need to see the companion graphic novel JLA: Salvation Run

As much a clearing of the decks as cleansing of the palate, this last hurrah still delivers a supremely stylish knockout Fights ‘n’ Tights punch that older fans will truly appreciate and if you love outrageous adventure, sexy heroes and truly vile bad-guys (many of them working for “our side”), this deliciously dark, utterly OTT compilation has great pace, superb dialogue, loads of gratuitous violence and beautifully cool art.

Brutal, uncompromising and savagely action-packed, the maverick tendencies of the Outsiders ended long ago, yet these painfully plausible superhero sagas are still gripping, shocking and extremely readable: compelling comics tales which will enthral all serious fans of the genre.
© 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman and the Outsiders: The Snare


By Chuck Dixon, Carlos Rodriguez, Julian Lopez, Ryan Benjamin, Bit & Saleem Crawford (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-136-6

Following the forcible dissolution of Nightwing’s covert and pre-emptive strike force, Batman resumed leadership of the Outsiders and, after a daunting series of on-going auditions, settled on a core squad comprising Metamorpho, Grace, Katana, Geo-Force, Batgirl and Green Arrow, keeping mass-moving powerhouse Thunder on a short probationary leash and with standby options on a number of others…

This second slim tome collects issues #6-10 of the return run of the Dark Knight’s covert operatives – the first occurring during the 1980s and as yet only partially re-presented in Showcase Presents Batman and the Outsiders volume 1. This epic middle section of a triptych of books (the last still forthcoming) deals with an epic struggle against a terrifying extraterrestrial plot which threatened to engulf the Earth…

Written throughout by Chuck Dixon, the action starts with ‘Ghost Star’ – illustrated by Carlos Rodriguez & Bit – as elemental changeling Rex Mason drifts helplessly in space, trapped aboard a space shuttle commandeered by the employees of mystery plutocrat Mr. Jardine.

Orbiting the far side of the Moon, Metamorpho observes a titanic alien structure under construction. When the marooned hero finally contacts Earth, Batman, who had assumed his agent had burned up in the ship’s launch, immediately sets a rescue-plan in motion. Worryingly, it involves stealing a rocket from a top-secret and ultra-secure Chinese military base…

Meanwhile Rex has infiltrated the mystery construct and discovered it to be manned by possessed human astronauts all working like soulless drones to complete the cosmic conundrum…

And on Earth, Outsiders Green Arrow, Grace and Katana are captured by Chinese metahuman guards Dragonfire, Angry Wizard and Barefoot Tiger. A massive international incident seems inevitable but the general in charge seems to prefer a quieter, far more final solution…

In ‘The Snare’ Batman allows his new boffin Salah Miandad access to the Batcave supercomputers to defeat the Chinese electronic security measures as, half a world away, Batgirl attempts to free the captives from their brutal interrogators and Geo-Force seeks assistance from the US Pacific Fleet.

Beyond the Moon, Metamorpho is running for his life from the mindless construction slaves only to be ejected from the bizarre artefact into hard vacuum…

The rescue of Rex’s rescuers gets underway when the Dark Knight brings in old Outsiders team-leader Nightwing, but before he can begin, Batgirl is forced to very publicly save her comrades from a firing squad in ‘The Hard Way’ (pencilled by Julian Lopez). Out in space Rex manages to find sanctuary on the space-shuttle he’d previously vacated and discovers the purpose of the mystery device when it unleashes a devastating particle beam at the Lunar surface, shattering the crust and vaporising untold tons of dust, rock and lunar ice…

In Inner Mongolia things look bleak for Batman’s overmatched and outgunned operatives until Nightwing and Thunder appear, teleported in by the reconfigured and repurposed Observational Metahuman Activity Construct – now dubbed Remac.

The former Omac – originally designed to nullify metahumans – is under the telemetric control of Salah (still safely closeted away in the Batcave) and together they make short work of the Chinese super-squad, leaving Nightwing and Thunder free to help the already-liberated Outsiders trash the conventional military forces on the base before beaming back to Gotham City…

By the time ‘The Uninvited’ begins, Metamorpho has returned to Earth and been arrested by the Europeans for hijacking their space-shot – although he quickly escapes in his own uniquely embarrassing manner – whilst Outsiders science officer Francine Langstrom has been piecing together the informational snippets Mason had gleaned whilst aboard the astral weapon…

For months Jardine has been covertly co-opting astronauts from many nations, using them to build his honking giant space-gun; returning them to earth with their memories erased. His goal, now apparently realised, was to vaporise moon ice and store it beneath the satellite’s surface. Luna now has an underground sea at its core… but why?

To answer that question Batman determines to probe the subconscious of the unwitting astronauts and calls on the particular talents of Lia Briggs: once the psionic Outsider Looker and now an even more formidable telepath, thanks to her death and resurrection as a Vampire Queen…

Her mental probing almost costs Lia’s undead life but she discovers that the abductees’ minds were temporarily switched with those of incomprehensibly alien mentalities with dark designs upon our world. She also finds a connection to a rave-bondage club in old Gotham…

This tome concludes with ‘Monsters’ (illustrated by Ryan Benjamin & Saleem Crawford) as a raid on the club reveals a ghastly form of Russian Roulette where thrill-seeking kids pay to be attacked by a monstrous alien parasite. For most it is instant death, but a very lucky few find the fatal bite activates their latent metahuman powers…

However the gullible super-stooges have no idea just what their benefactor’s true agenda actually is and, even as Batman and his team pursue the creature, back at base, Francine and her newly-returned husband Kirk (Man-Bat) Langstrom can only watch in horror as Salah’s consciousness is absorbed into and trapped within Remac…

To Be Concluded… One day, I hope.

Fast, furious, cynically clever, beautifully illustrated and utterly compelling, this is another old-fashioned rollercoaster romp that fulfils every dyed-in-the-spandex Fights ‘n’ Tights fan’s fevered dreams and art-lovers will also adore the gallery of superbly evocative covers by Doug Braithwaite, J. Calafiore, Mark McKenna & Brian Reber.

Straight-shooting rough and tumble comicbook clamour at its very best…
© 2007, 2008, DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman and the Outsiders: The Chrysalis


By Chuck Dixon, Julian Lopez, Carlos Rodriguez & Bit (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-070-3

Following the forcible dissolution of Nightwing’s covert and pre-emptive strike force, Batman once again took over the leadership of the Outsiders and, after a daunting series of auditions, settled on a core squad comprising the Martian Manhunter, Metamorpho, Grace, Katana and Catwoman, with standby options on a number of others and rejecting mass-moving powerhouse Thunder mooching about on probation…

This first slim tome collects issues #1-5 of the second run of Batman and the Outsiders, and is the initial book of a triptych of volumes (the last still forthcoming) covering an epic struggle against a terrifying extraterrestrial plot which threatened to engulf the Earth; eventually growing to involve a goodly portion of the planet’s metahuman protectors…

Written throughout by Chuck Dixon and inked by Bit, the breakneck action erupts in ‘The Chrysalis’, illustrated by Julian Lopez, wherein master strategist Batman dispatches Katana, Metamorpho and Catwoman to infiltrate the skyscraper HQ of mystery Eurotrash money-man Mister Jardine, whose corporate conglomerate has been making some very peculiar purchases – items dubious enough to set alarms roaring in the Bat-computer…

With the Martian Manhunter inserted as a psionic Trojan Horse inside the building, the infiltrators discover the enigmatic billionaire has not only illegally stockpiled radioactive and fissionable materials but also unearthed a deadly anti-metahuman weapon of the sort which nearly overran the world during the Infinite Crisis…

The Observational Metahuman Activity Construct – or Omac – is a nanotech-purposed cyborg designed to overcome any super-powered foe, and in ‘Infestation’ (pencilled by Carlos Rodriguez) the freshly repurposed death-machine goes after the Outsiders whilst the Manhunter plunders Jardine’s data.

With the situation rapidly going south, Thunder defies Batman and rushes to the rescue, proving his assertion that she is not professional enough for the team. Already en route, rowdy Amazon Grace Choi is preparing an escape route for the sorely pressed team when, in a desperate move, the Element Man channels all the citadel’s power through his own unique body and immobilises the Omac…

‘Throwdown’ (with Lopez returning to the pencil art) sees the terrified and self-preserving Catwoman quit and replaced by Cassandra Cain, the reformed assassin who was briefly the third Batgirl, as Batman and the Outsiders defy the Justice League by refusing to destroy the captured nano-nemesis.

When it suddenly reactivates itself, both teams are simultaneously attacked and only a tremendous joint effort subdues it once more.

In the aftermath, JLA-er Geo-Force quits and rejoins his old Outsider allies, unaware that the Dark Knight has manipulated his former comrades, allowing his science squad Francine Langstrom and Salah Miandad time to reprogram the death machine as another member of the covert team…

In ‘Mission: Creep’ a pair of mysterious strangers also enlist, as does radical wild card Green Arrow, before the Outsiders invade French Guiana to stop a commercial space launch. Langstrom’s investigations have revealed that the sinister Jardine has been using Omac technology to create new biological species designed to live off-Earth…

Whilst the billionaire moves to take over the site, eliminating the launch personnel and loading two ships with his mysterious payloads, in the surrounding rainforest wildly differing perspectives and methodology have set the Outsiders at each others’ throats…

Meanwhile in Gotham, Salah has finally erased the captured cyborg’s protocols and dubbed the reformed member Remac, blissfully unaware that the giant automaton still has a measure of its old sinister sentience…

And in the jungle, Batman and his squad close in on the launch-pad determined to stop whatever Jardine wants rocketed into space, blithely oblivious to the cadre of metahuman mercenaries waiting to ambush them…

This first cliffhanging chronicle concludes with ‘Ghosts’ as Batman’s ethereal emissaries Ralph and Sue Dibny (dead but still battling evil as Ghost Detectives) scuttle the trap, allowing Metamorpho, Katana, Green Arrow and Batgirl to overcome murderous assassins Gunhawk, Militia, Bunny and Camorouge, whilst even Jardine’s personal Omac bodyguard is unable to withstand the gravity-warping power of Geo-Force.

Nevertheless, the mission is not a success as one of the ships manages to launch, carrying with it into appalling unknown dangers the valiant but vastly over-matched Metamorpho…

To Be Continued…

Fast and furious, beautifully illustrated and totally mesmerising, this spectacular romp is a fabulous Fights ‘n ‘Tights thriller to delight fans of the genre and art-lovers will also adore the gallery of covers and variants by Doug Braithwaite, Ryan Sook, Eric Battle & Art Thibert.

Straightforward action adventure at its very best…
© 2007, 2008, DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Outsiders/Checkmate: Checkout

New expanded Review

By Greg Rucka, Judd Winick, Joe Bennett, Matthew Clark, Eddy Barrows, Ron Randall, Jack Jadson & Art Thibert (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-737-2

Finally exposed to a world which had believed them all dead and now also blamed for setting off a nuclear explosion which had devastated a large part of Russia, the underground metahuman coalition known as The Outsiders – “rogue” superheroes who proactively sought out threats and ignored political boundaries or repercussions – found themselves on the edge of oblivion as their series hurtled towards a blistering climax and a major reboot.

Set after and resulting from the earth-shaking events of 52, this slick, fast-paced thriller co-written by Greg Rucka & Judd Winick combined the daily devious duplicity of Checkmate (a covert UN agency tasked with overseeing superhuman activity) with the take-no prisoners-and-make-no-excuses crusade of the Outsiders for an epic of unrealpolitik and edgy, cynically grim-and-gritty nastiness…

Collecting a six-part crossover (Checkmate #13-15 and Outsiders #47-49, June-September 2007) it all began in ‘Checkout part 1’ illustrated by Joe Bennett & Jack Jadson, with off-the-grid fugitives Captain Boomerang, Katana, Metamorpho, Thunder and Grace attacked and subdued by Checkmate operatives. It didn’t go strictly to plan however and Nightwing soon turned the tables by invading the agency’s HQ and capturing Black Queen Sasha Bordeaux

Part two, with art by Matthew Clark & Art Thibert, saw him liberate his comrades and set about trashing the place until the Queen convinced the Outsiders to work with them on a mission far too dirty for their own rule-bound agents; namely invading Oolong Island, a rogue state peopled by criminal absconders and the mad scientists of many nations.

Checkmate wanted the deranged tinkerers stopped, but the new nation had hidden international allies and its proximity to China and North Korea made the situation a political powder-keg…

The Outsiders accepted the offer, but knew they were being played…

Illustrated by Bennett, Eddy Barrows & Jadson, the third chapter opens when a combined force which included Bordeaux, Count Vertigo, Fire, Thomas Jagger, Josephine “Mlle. Marie” Tautin and disembodied electronic intellect The Thinker infiltrated the fortress of evil, and Boomerang let slip that he’d worked with some of the agents before – on illegal, unsanctioned missions – compelling White Queen Amanda Waller to sabotage the mission and save herself from the censure of the Checkmate Royal Council…

Trapped on Oolong the squad desperately fought free of a bucket load of technological terrors and retreated, but Boomerang, Nightwing and Bordeaux were left behind after the Black Queen ordered her operatives to escape with crucial data and evidence that Waller was a traitor, in a blistering all-action chapter from artists Clark, Ron Randall & Art Thibert.

However, apparent proof of Chinese involvement in the malignant Rogue State appeared when symbionic super-fighter Immortal Man in Darkness intercepted the fleeing Outsiders jet, whilst far behind them monstrous scientific sadist Chang Tzu AKA Egg Fu prepared to vivisect and examine his prisoners under the supervision of the People’s Hero August General in Iron

‘Checkout Part 5’ (Bennett & Jadson) saw terse diplomatic double-dealing almost disclose China’s role before that nation cut loose all its embarrassing ties. As a rescue mission began, Chang’s appalling investigations brought Boomerang and Bordeaux to the edge of a merciful death before Nightwing finally broke free…

‘Checkout: Conclusion’ (by Clark, Randall & Thibert) saw the united forces of Checkmate and the Outsiders roar to the rescue only to find they’d be played for fools. Happily White King Mr. Terrific and Batman had a better grip on matters and tracked Chang to his true sponsors in North Korea…

With the battered team survivors rather than victors, the Dark Knight then decided to take charge of the Outsiders and run things his way again…

If you love outrageous action, sexy heroes and truly vile bad-guys (many of them working for “our side”), this dark, utterly Gung-Ho blockbuster has great pace, superb dialogue, loads of gratuitous violence and beautifully cool art.

Brutal, uncompromising and savagely action-packed, the dark saga the Outsiders inevitably led to a big finish long ago, yet these painfully plausible superhero sagas are still gripping, shocking and extremely readable: compelling tales which will enthral older fans of the genre.
© 2007, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Outsiders: Pay As You Go


By Judd Winick, Carlo Barberi, Ron Randall, Scott McDaniel, Freddie Williams III & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1366-4

Finally exposed to a world which  believed them dead and now also blamed for setting off a nuclear explosion which destroyed a large part of Russia and poisoned the atmosphere for miles around, the underground metahuman coalition known as The Outsiders found themselves on a path to oblivion as their series peaked even whilst winding down for a major reboot.

This sixth compelling compendium (collecting #42-46 and Annual #1of Judd Winick’s grim and witty Outsiders comicbook) saw Nightwing, Grace, Thunder, Metamorpho, Katana and Owen Reece (speedster son and heir of the recently – and temporarily – deceased Captain Boomerang) – up to their muscular armpits in trouble as the story-arc ‘Mad Scientists’ continued with ‘The Weaving Factories’ (illustrated by Ron Randall, Pop Mhan, Art Thibert & Steve Bird) as exposed mastermind Dr. Sivana attacked Sydney, Australia with a weapon that neutralised technology and turned people into infinitely suggestible idiots (no, even worse than usual…).

First to respond was Nightwing’s team who flew straight to the smug mad scientist’s new lair and straight into a trap. Rather than kill them all, however, the demented doctor made them a staggering offer in ‘The Man Behind the Curtain’ before Katana spectacularly turned the tables on the maverick savant.

Even while being driven off Sivana gloated that an irresistible seed had been planted in the rogue heroes’ minds…

The eponymous ‘Pay as You Go’ storyline then begins with ‘The Skeleton Crew’ (art by Carlo Barberi & Thibert): an untold tale from the year that was skipped in the ‘One Year Later’ event and the exploit which led the world to believe the entire team was dead…

At that time the Outsiders were struggling to cope after the Infinite Crisis, particularly Anissa Pierce AKA Thunder, who was grieving for her father Black Lightning.

Elder hero Jefferson Pierce, believing himself guilty of murder, had surrendered to the authorities and chosen to serve time under an alias in the metahuman prison known as Iron Heights, but when Batman-trained vigilante and part-time villain Red Hood reached out to Nightwing with evidence that Lightning had been deceived and was completely innocent of the crime which had crushed his spirit, heart and soul, the conflicted Dick Grayson had no choice but to inform the team he had just quit…

The drama further unfolded in ‘Sins of the Father’ (Freddie Williams III, Barberi & Thibert) as the details behind the guilt-driven Lightning’s self-incarceration were revealed and Red Hood named the who, how, and why of the real killer before ‘Friends, Lovers and Other Strangers’ (additional inks by Bird) saw the team initially refuse to bust him out because of the political ramifications before changing their minds and sending the new Captain Boomerang in to infiltrate and pave the way…

Unfortunately Jefferson refused to go, but when Boomerang realised Black Lightning’s cover had been broken and an entire prison of super-criminals was hungry to kill him the Outsiders had no choice but to go in hard and heavy…

It all went bad in ‘The Wrong to do the Right’ (illustrated by Scott McDaniel & Andy Owens) as the hasty plan quickly misfired, resulting in the entire prisoner population breaking free and hard-line warden Gregory Wolfe maniacally over-reacting. In the resulting catastrophe 43 inmates and guards perished and the Outsiders, although believed dead too, were blamed.

Nightwing and Arsenal, who had been noticeably elsewhere at the time, were perceived as not involved, but they knew the truth and shared the blame: the plan had been theirs and in the undertaking of it they had destroyed the team’s standing and reputation forever. Moreover, in the aftermath, one of the Outsider’s, unable to bear the guilt of his actions, ended his life…

Brutal, uncompromising and savagely action-packed, the dark secret of the Outsiders had been revealed just in time for a big finish, but these cynically plausible superhero sagas are still gripping, shocking and extremely readable: compelling tales which will enthral older fans of the genre.

To Be Concluded…
© 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Outsiders: The Good Fight


By Judd Winick, Matthew Clark, Pop Mhan, Ron Randall, Tom Grindberg, Art Thibert & Steve Bird (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1195-X

After the never-ending calamity of the DC Infinite Crisis event, the company re-set the time line of all their publications to begin one year later.  This enabled them to refit their characters as they saw fit, provide a jumping on point for new converts and also give themselves some narrative wiggle-room…

This fifth compelling compendium gathers issues #34-41 of Judd Winick’s grim and witty Outsiders comicbook, resuming the odyssey twelve months after the universe was reshaped by the Infinite Crisis with the team – Nightwing, Grace, Thunder, Metamorpho, Katana and Owen Reece (the super-fast son and heir of the recently perished Captain Boomerang) – all believed long dead but actually working deep, deep, deep undercover…

The eponymous and decidedly dark epic ‘The Good Fight’ (illustrated by Matthew Clark & Art Thibert) begins with ‘Cain and Abel’ as in the war-torn African nation of Mali dictator Ratu Bennin hoards Weapons of Mass destruction and makes plans to destroy the unchecked legions of out-of-control boy soldiers who fuelled his bloody rise to power.

The tyrant is particularly impressed with ambitious lieutenant Adanna Abioye, unaware that she is in fact American infiltrator Anissa Pierce: the Outsider known as Thunder

Nighwing is the only member of the team still publicly active; running his team as covert operators eliminating truly evil men rather than wasting time fighting costumed lunatics. The Outsiders have spent months penetrating Bennin’s gore-soaked regime, but when the army plans a massacre, Thunder breaks cover to save lives and endangers not only the mission but also the squad’s hard-earned and precious anonymity…

Forced to improvise in ‘Meet the New Boss’ the team tortures one of Bennin’s most trusted aides for information before raiding the dictator’s citadel and discovering not only conventional chemical WMDs but also a super-speed sentinel who almost destroys them all in seconds…

Concluding with ‘Gone in a Flash’ the team’s triumph exposes a new kind of arms-dealer selling cloned super-humans as terror-weapons to the world’s worst countries and companies. Inexorably drawn into jurisdictional conflict with UN metahuman oversight agency Checkmate, they follow the trail of ‘Silver and Grey’, encountering ‘Familiar Faces’ (art by Tom Grindberg, Clark & Thibert) on a trail which leads to disembodied Brotherhood of Evil supremo The Brain and his devoted disciple Mallah – a gorilla genius with a penchant for genetic tampering and ballistic slaughter…

With the world’s bright and shiny legitimate superheroes increasingly anxious, Nightwing stubbornly continues with his unsanctioned, illegal enquiries in ‘Looking For a Fight’(Pop Mhan, Thibert & Steve Bird), but when his team invades the Brotherhood’s lair, unaware that the clone-dealers have a deadly silent partner, they are quickly overcome and seem destined to become the latest batch of raw materials…

The story-arc culminates in ‘Since You’re Here, Why don’t you Stay Awhile?’ (Clark, Ron Randall & Thibert) as the Outsiders break free to face bastardised versions of the World’s Greatest Heroes in a blockbusting showdown which leads seamlessly into the first chapter of ‘Mad Scientists’ as the trail to the Brotherhood’s partner leads to even greater struggles in ‘…You Make Lemonade’ before the hidden mastermind is revealed in ‘Raising the Dead’ only to turn the tables on the hidden heroes with a very public nuclear detonation which exposes the clandestine crusaders to the harsh light of global scrutiny…

To Be Continued…

Hard-hitting, breathtakingly barbed and astoundingly action-packed, the latter run of Outsiders was one of the most intriguing and cynically plausible superhero sagas of the last decade. Still gripping, evocative and extremely readable, these bleakly powerful stories will delight older fans of the genre and, as this volume has the added advantage of being designed as a “jump on” point for new readers, there’s nothing stopping the intrigued becoming the latest converts…
© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Outsiders: Crisis Intervention


By Judd Winick, Jen Van Meter, Matthew Clark, Dietrich Smith, Art Thibert & Steve Bird (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0973-5

Once upon a time superheroes, like firemen, sat around their assorted lairs or went about their civilian pursuits until the call of duty summoned them to deal with a breaking emergency. In the increasingly sober and serious world after Crisis on Infinite Earths, that precept was challenged with a number of costumed adventurers evolving into pre-emptive strikers…

Arsenal and Nightwing always intended to run their new team as a covert and pre-emptive pack of self-professed “hunters”: seeking out and taking down metahuman threats and extraordinary criminals before they could do harm, but they were continually thwarted as events always seemed to find them off-guard and unready…

Now, following the deaths of more beloved comrades (see Teen Titans/Outsiders: the Insiders), Arsenal decides to finally live up to the brief by going after the villainous scum with all guns blazing and the gloves off…

This fourth edgy compendium eschews individual issue titles but for your convenience and mine I’ve again supplied them from the original issues (#29-33 plus relevant portions of Firestorm #19, covering December 2005 to March 2006) of Judd Winick’s grim and witty Outsiders comicbook, with the barely-functioning team – Arsenal, Starfire, Grace, Thunder, Shift, Jade and Captain Marvel Jr. – facing their lowest moments in the aftermath of their betrayal by Indigo

‘Unoriginal Sins, Part 1: All Together Now’ by Winick, Matthew Clark & Art Thibert begins with the out-of-control divine force The Spectre declaring war on magic-users and destroying mystical fortress The Rock of Eternity, thereby unleashing the Seven Deadly Sins.

These personified spiritual anathemas find a new home inside Outsiders antagonist Ishmael Gregor who had previously transformed himself into the benighted and demonic Sabbac in his unquenchable thirst for power (see Outsiders: Sum of All Evil)…

When Deathstroke the Terminator offers the painfully ambitious Gregor a position in Lex Luthor’s criminal elite The Society the stage is set for an epic confrontation, but before the devil can mobilise, Dr. Sivana and the survivors of the Fearsome Five attack Alcatraz and provoke an immediate response from the mad-as-hell Outsiders…

When Sabbac at last arrives, in the concluding episode ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ using the powers of the Sins to derange friend and foe alike through waves of Lust, Rage, Envy and more, founding Outsider Katana is inexorably drawn to the conflict by her ensorcelled sword and saves the day, just before demi-goddess and old friend Donna Troy shows up, hoping to recruit the more cosmic team-members for a mission in deep space…

‘Out of Town Work’ (illustrated by Dietrich Smith, Thibert & Steve Bird) directly ties in to the company crossover Infinite Crisis with Troy seconding Jade, Shift, Starfire and the young Marvel as part of a task force to save the universe.

Significant portions of Firestorm #19’s ‘The Forests of the Night’ by Stuart Moore, Jamal Igle & Rob Stull are also included as the voyagers head for the heart of Creation to battle the unknown enemy but become sidetracked and embroiled in lethal sibling rivalry as Starfire’s sister Blackfire ambushes the squad in ‘Detour’

Meanwhile on Earth, Katana sticks around when Arsenal decides to attack Deathstroke and the Society, culminating in a devastating ‘Deep Impact’ wherein the Outsiders finally deliver a crushing and costly defeat on the super-criminal army just as all reality goes insane thanks to the aforementioned Infinite Crisis hitting the Cosmic Reset Button.

The next volume will begin with the first One Year Later story-arc…

Wickedly barbed, action-packed and often distressingly hard-hitting, Outsiders was one of the very best series pursuing that “hunting heroes” concept, resulting in some of the most exciting superhero sagas of the last decade. Still gripping, evocative and extremely readable, these bleakly powerful stories will astound and amaze older fans of the genre, but this volume at least is best seen in conjunction with too many other books to truly stand on its own merits.

The action is intense, and the dialogue wonderful, but the story won’t appeal or even be understandable to casual readers whilst the effect of the notional cliffhanger ending is rather negated by the deliberately ambiguous closing scene. Page by page and scene by scene this is great stuff, but the imposed conclusion renders all that sterling work irrelevant. This is another one for completists only, I’m afraid.
© 2005, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Teen Titans/Outsiders: the Insiders

New Expanded Review

By Geoff Johns, Winick & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-247-6
Once upon a time superheroes, like firemen, sat around their assorted lairs or went about their civilian pursuits until the call of duty summoned them to deal with a breaking emergency. In the increasingly sober and serious world after Crisis on Infinite Earths, that precept was challenged with a number of costumed adventurers evolving into pre-emptive strikers…

After the deaths of two Teen Titans, Arsenal convinced the heartbroken Nightwing to run a covert and pre-emptive pack of self-professed “hunters”: seeking out and taking down metahuman threats and extraordinary criminals before they could do harm …

Nominally the fourth Outsiders collection this tome is also technically a Teen Titans graphic novel, as a case involving the kids overlaps and crosses over with the covert hunters’ latest disaster as originally seen in Teen Titans #24-26 and Outsiders #24-25 and 28…

This edgy chronicle is set in the slow and ponderous build-up to DC’s Infinite Crisis crossover event with lots of long-running story-threads pulling together ready for the big bang, and the tense tale contained herein collects a shared storyline that began with ‘The Insiders Part 1’ by Geoff Johns, Matthew Clark & Art Thibert, from TT #24, wherein Superboy, who had always believed himself a clone of Superman, discovered that part of his DNA was Lex Luthor’s – just as a deeply embedded psychological program activated, forcing him to mercilessly attack his fellow Titans.

With Wonder Girl, Cyborg, Kid Flash, Beast Boy, Raven and Speedy out of action the severely injured Robin desperately contacts the team’s mentors, but the Outsiders have a few problems of their own…

‘The Insiders Part 2’ in Outsiders #24 (by Judd Winick & Carlos D’anda) opens moments after the embattled team – Nightwing, Arsenal, Shift, Jade, Grace, Thunder and Starfire – have discovered that the innocuous Indigo (a robotic being from the future who travelled back to our time and inadvertently caused the death of Omen and Donna Troy) is in fact the deadly artificial invader Brainiac 8, with her affable cover personality finally subsumed by the cybernetic monster within. Her mission has always been to ensure the future dominance of the planet Colu by assassinating key Earth heroes and re-configuring the time-continuum, and now the time has come…

The battered heroes unite in the third chapter as Lex Luthor and the first Brainiac rendezvous with their corrupted pawns. With a wave of robotic automatons reprogrammed by the former Indigo massing to attack humanity, the Titans once more confront Superboy in a cataclysmic battle…

Despite being painfully outmatched, some vestige of their comrade still remains and they narrowly survive, whilst Brainiac 8’s conversion also seems less than total and she alternatively taunts and begs the Outsiders to kill her if they can…

The crisis culminates when Superboy at last turns on Luthor, and a heartbroken Shift finally acquiesces to his former lover’s pleas and destroys Indigo in a manner only he can…

In the aftermath a key member quits the outsiders whilst in ‘Soul Searching’ (Johns, Tony Daniel & Marlo Alquiza from Teen Titans #26) the restored Conner Kent ponders his recent actions and agonises over whether a test tube hero with the genes of the World’s Wickedest Man has any right to happiness or any spark of the Divine, before mystic Raven offers him a shred of redemption, whilst from Outsiders #28 ‘Letting it Go’ (Winick, Clark & Thibert) shows the individual survivors each commemorating their lost comrade Indigo in their own unique way

In case you’re wondering: issues #26-27 were a fill-in tale starring Batman and the original Outsiders and are neither germane nor included here…

Riotous, rocket-paced and compellingly poignant, this engaging Fights ‘n’ Tights thriller reset and repositioned both series for the cosmic shenanigans to come and, whilst not perhaps the sort of tale to tempt a casual reader, will certainly delight any devotee of Costumed Dramas.
© 2005, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Outsiders volume 3: Wanted


By Judd Winick, Carlos D’Anda, Shawn Moll, Dan Jurgens, Karl Kerschl & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0460-0

Once upon a time superheroes, like firemen, sat around their assorted lairs or went about their civilian pursuits until the call of duty summoned them to deal with a breaking emergency. In the grim and gritty world after Crisis on Infinite Earths, that precept was challenged with a number of costumed adventurers evolving into pre-emptive strikers…

After the deaths of two Teen Titan comrades, Arsenal convinced the heartbroken Nightwing to run a covert and pre-emptive pack of self-professed “hunters”: seeking out and taking down metahuman threats and extraordinary criminals before they could do harm …

This third edgy chronicle eschews individual issue titles but for your convenience and mine I’ve again supplied them from the original issues (#16-23) of Judd Winick’s grim and gritty Outsiders comicbook, with the barely-functioning team facing their most disturbing cases yet and by the end of it all nothing will ever be the same…

The action opens quietly with ‘A Change of Plans’, illustrated by Dan Jurgens & Nelson, with the battered team recuperating after their battle with the Fearsome Five. Soon however recriminations lead to violence and, with co-founders Arsenal and Robin literally at each others’ throats, Jade takes charge, bringing in alien powerhouse and veteran Teen Titan Starfire to bolster the ranks and her position.

The three-part shocker ‘Most Wanted’ (with art from Carlos D’Anda) featured a guest-role for real-life TV criminologist and manhunter John Walsh, whose America’s Most Wanted programme hunts down actual criminals and human monsters with people power and video appeals.

The tale begins when a regular gun-bust also uncovers a child-sex slave ring where all the victims bear the same brand mystery Amazon Grace Choi bears on her back…

With her ghastly past back to haunt her, Grace goes ballistic whilst tracking down the human filth she only barely escaped from when she was twelve, and knowing the elusive slave-master Tanner is still operating drives her crazy…

Pitted against the kind of criminal superheroes almost never encounter, Nightwing calls in an expert to help them find and stop …

With boys and girls being abducted almost weekly John Walsh and the Outsiders pool resources to hunt the predators: going public on America’s Most Wanted where a viewer tip brings the outraged heroes to Tanner’s latest human warehouse a full hour before the police.

The operation is dismantled with uncharacteristic but justified excessive force, but Tanner escapes. Later Arsenal discovers his babysitter has been murdered and his four-year old daughter Lian has been abducted…

Terrified and ballistic with rage, the full force of the Outsiders comes into play as the team smash through the city’s criminal element in a frantic race to save Lian from Tanner, and when Grace finally gets her hands on the beast who has haunted her nightmares for a decade, the result isn’t pretty…

‘Back to Normal’ (Karl Kerschl art) finds the heroes winding down with elemental metamorph Shift and sexy-future android Indigo planning an exotically amorous night in, until exploding villain Shrapnel somehow invades their super-secure HQ. Meanwhile evidence is found that shows the team is being secretly bankrolled by Bruce Wayne, against Nightwing’s express wishes…

The inevitable confrontation between Nightwing and his dark mentor is further exacerbated when Arsenal admits that all their intelligence and target-tips have been supplied by Batman in ‘Silent Partner’ (D’Anda again), but during the heated clash the Dark Knight reveals that although he interfered and provided funds he hasn’t spoken to Arsenal for over a year…

‘Deep Throat’ (illustrated by Shawn Moll & Kevin Conrad) discloses the shocking answer when Arsenal confronts his source and finds that his bat-winged benefactor has been a mere disguise for the Teen Titan’s most implacable enemy: a man who has ruthlessly used the Outsiders to further his own ends almost from day one.

In the ensuing battle the still-recuperating hero quickly realises just how pitifully over-matched he actually is…

The book but not the saga ends on a spectacular cliffhanger in ‘Lockdown’ (Moll & Conrad again) as the Outsiders are sealed within their own citadel by the battered, bruised but unbowed Arsenal. The ex-leader is determined to unmask the mole in the team who has compromised, betrayed and endangered them all. The revelation and brutal dispatch of the traitor will stun you all… and the worst is yet to come in the next volume…

Wickedly barbed, action-packed and sometimes distressingly hard-hitting, Outsiders was one of the very best series pursuing that “hunting heroes” concept, resulting in some of the most exciting superhero sagas of the last decade. Still gripping, evocative and extremely readable, these bleakly powerful stories will astound and amaze older fans of the genre.
© 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.