By Mike W. Barr, Jim Aparo & various (DC Comics)
ISBN 10: 1-84576-669-5 ISBN 13: 978-1-84576-669-6
During the early 1980s the general trend of comics sales were in a 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.
Batman was the star of two and two half titles at the time, sharing World’s Finest Comics with Superman (until its cancellation in 1986) and with rotating guest-stars in The Brave and the Bold, as well as his regular spots in both Batman and Detective Comics. He was also a member of the Justice League of America. In July 1983 The Brave and the Bold was cancelled with issue #200 and in it was a preview of a new Bat-title. One month later Batman and the Outsiders debuted…
The basic premise was that the JLA was not fit for purpose; that too many problems were beyond their reach since they were hamstrung by international red tape and, by inference, too many laws. This volume collects issues #1-19, the first annual, that aforementioned preview and the New Teen Titans #37, which was the first part of a crossover between the two titles.
It all kicks off 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 The Caped Crusader’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 who specialises 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 Mason, ‘Metamorpho’, is a chemical freak who can turn into any element, and he wants Jace to cure him, but Jefferson (‘Black Lightning’) Pierce is infiltrating 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. Whilst attempting to rescue him Batman finds a young American girl in a bombed-out building who has fantastic light-based superpowers – and amnesia.
As Prince Brion emerges from Jace’s experimental chamber, the revolutionaries attack and not even his new gravity and volcano powers, plus 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, was 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’) and together they invade the Baron’s HQ. 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 above average, with plenty of threads laid for future development, and the tried and 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 is an adroit scripter and Jim Aparo, an artist who gave his all to a script, is in top form – and his skill is actually enhanced by the absence of colour in this bargain compendium.
Issue #3 began a long run of high-quality super-hero sagas with ‘Bitter Orange’ as the new team get acquainted and also stop a chemical terrorist with a hidden agenda. This is followed by that preview from The Brave and the Bold #200, a hostage crisis tale designed to tease, followed in turn by ‘One-Man Meltdown’ (Batman And The Outsiders #4) in which a radioactive villain from Batman’s past returns.
New Teen Titans #37 is reprinted next. ‘Light’s Out, Everyone!’ by Marv Wolfman, George Pérez and Romeo Tanghal is the first part of a cross-over tale wherein Dr. Light and his Fearsome Five kidnap Dr. Jace and the Titans and Outsiders must unite to rescue her. Concluding with ‘Psimon Says’ in BATO #5, its most notable feature is the 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 and ‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’ is a sinister supernatural Christmas treat guest-starring possibly Aparo’s most fondly remembered character (most certainly for me) The Phantom Stranger. BATO #9 introduces a super-villain gang with ‘Enter: The Masters of Disaster!’ (the first half of a two-part tale) plus a back-up tale of Halo in ‘Battle For the Band’, written by Barr and illustrated by Bill Willingham and Mike DeCarlo. ‘The Execution of Black Lightning’ concludes the Masters of Disaster saga, and is illustrated by Steve Lightle and Sal Trapani.
Issue #11 begins ‘The Truth About Katana’ by exploring her past and the implications of her magic blade. ‘A Sword of Ancient Death!’ is by Barr and Aparo and continues with ‘To Love, Honour and Destroy’ which leads directly into #13’s impressive ‘In the Chill of the Night’, illustrated by Dan Day and Pablo Marcos, in which the desperate team must capture a dying and delusional Dark Knight.
The first Annual follows: ‘…Land Where Our Fathers Died…’ introduces a gang of ultra-patriots called the Force of July in a barbed epic written by Barr and illustrated by Jerome Moore, Alex Savuik, Jan Duursema and Rick Hoberg with Aparo on inks. This is followed by issue #14’s ‘Two by Two…’ with art by Willingham and Bill Anderson and #15’s ‘Going For the Gold’ (spectacularly illustrated by Trevor Von Eeden) a two-part thriller set at the 1984 Olympics.
‘The Truth About Halo’ begins and is inconclusively revealed in ‘…Goodbye…’ but the next two issues (#17-18) diverts to the desert for ‘We Are Dying, Egypt… Dying’ and ‘Who Wears the Crown of Ra?’ spotlighting Metamorpho, and the volume ends with another Christmas tale. ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Red “S”?’ is a powerful tale of date-rape and sexual bullying, which pits Geo-Force against Superman and in many ways is the best story in this book.
Although probably not flashy enough to cross the Fan-Barrier into mainstream popularity, this is a competent and highly readable series re-presented in an inexpensive and accessible way. An open minded new reader could do lots worse than try this example “fights’n’tights” fiction.
© 1983, 1984, 1985, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.