Batman and the Outsiders volume 2

By Mike W. Barr, Jim Aparo, Alan Davis, Jerome K. Moore, Alex Saviuk, Jan Duursema, Rick Hoberg, Bill Willingham, Trevor Von Eeden, Ron Randall & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7753-6 (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…

The core premise of the new series revealed that Batman was convinced that the JLA was no longer 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.

To fix the problem he recruited a new team intended to be living weapons in his arsenal: a combination of old allies and new talent.

Markovian scientist Dr. Jace specialised in creating superpowers. When King Victor died, she used her process on Prince Brion and his sister Tara to create Earth-powered Geo-Force (and Terra). Rex (Metamorpho) Mason is a chemical freak able to turn into any element, and Jefferson (Black Lightning) Pierce is an electrically powered urban vigilante.

They were supplemented by female samurai/ninja Katana who wields a magic soul-drinking blade and an amnesiac American girl with inexplicable light-based powers answering to Halo.

The introductory stories cleverly peeled back layers of mystery shrouding all the newcomers, with plenty of plot threads laid for future development in the tried-&-tested super-team formula that had worked so well with the New X-Men and New Teen Titans.

This enticing hardback collection (also available as an eBook) resumes the daring departure of the Gotham Gangbuster, re-presenting BATO #14-23 and Batman and the Outsiders Annual #1, collectively spanning October 1984-July 1985, and also includes relevant pages from the Who’s Who Guide to the DC Universe. The entirety of the book is graced by the adroit writing of Mike W. Barr which – for the majority of the run – meshed perfectly with the understated talents of Jim Aparo; an artist who gave his all to a script. Eventually though he would move on to be replaced by a growing star of the “British Invasion”…

The action opens with the first Annual as ‘…Land Where Our Fathers Died…’ introduces a gang of ultra-patriots seeking to head the country in their own hard right direction called the Force of July in a barbed epic written by Barr and episodically illustrated by Jerome Moore, Alex Saviuk, Jan Duursema and Rick Hoberg with Aparo on inks.

Illustrated by Bill Willingham & Bill Anderson, BATO #14’s ‘Two by Two…’ and #15’s ‘Going for the Gold’ (spectacularly and moodily rendered by Trevor Von Eeden) comprise a two-part thriller set at the 1984 Olympics with raving loon and self-proclaimed god Maxie Zeus unleashing a super-powered minion on the team in an ploy to reclaim the Great Games for his own glory…

Aparo returns in #16 for the start of extended epic ‘The Truth About Halo’: as inconclusive opening ‘…Goodbye…’ sees a couple claiming to be her parents reclaim the memory-wiped child before the next two issues spotlight Metamorpho. This diverting digression takes the depleted team to the desert and back three millennia for ‘We Are Dying, Egypt… Dying’ and ‘Who Wears the Crown of Ra?’, to explore the fateful origins of the ancient antecedents of Element Man.

Seasonal Christmas tale. ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Red “S”?’ then offers a powerful tale of date-rape and sexual bullying, which results in Geo-Force battling Superman to a standstill, after which a new year resolution details ‘The Truth About Halo: Part Two’ as grotesque gang boss Tobias Whale, debased criminal surgeon Dr. Moon and kinky assassin Syonide reveal the sordid, shocking truth about teenager Violet Harper, if not how she lost her memory and gained her powers. Powerful and haunting, the Barr/Aparo thriller drops as many bodies as secrets…

BATO #23 offers a triptych of solo tales by Barr, with Katana getting ‘The Silent Treatment’ (Jerome K. Moore) while saving priceless and extremely fragile Japanese pottery from thieves in, after which Geo-Force battles a tricked-up and amok robot shark in ‘Jaws 4… Gotham, 0!’ (limned by Von Eeden) and Black Lightning clashes with a sham radical social activist in Ron Randall’s ‘The Roar of the Ghetto-Blaster!’.

Slick stylist Alan Davis became regular artist with issue #22, as ‘The Truth About Halo: Part Three’ promised to disclose ‘What She is and How She Came to Be!’. Invading the recently wrecked and abandoned Justice League Satellite, Batman’s squad and Dr. Jace utilise its advanced technology to scan Violet and finally find what they’ve been looking for…

Sadly, that only leads to Halo being abducted and imprisoned by immortal, antediluvian light beings called Aurakles, prompting the heroes to breach the walls of reality to get her back…

With a full cover gallery, Who’s Who data pages on Black Lightning, Geo-Force, Halo and Katana and a team pin-up by Davis, this is a splendid package to appeal to dedicated Fights ‘n’ Tights fanatics. Batman and the Outsiders was always a highly readable series and is re-presented here in most accessible manner so open-minded new readers in search of quality storytelling could do lots worse than try out this near-forgotten corner of the DCU.
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