Tuesday, March 4, 2014


Batman and the Outsiders No.1  August 1983

In a lot of ways, it’s difficult to imagine that the first team of super-powered operatives specifically assembled by Batman in order to expand his war on crime was founded thirty years ago, although I stopped myself short of saying “The people who read comics these days weren’t even born when Batman and the Outsiders first debuted”, because that is observably incorrect. Most of the people who read comics these days were college graduates when Batman and the Outsiders first debuted, or at least to judge by how they’re marketed.

Still, it’s been three decades since Batman first threw a glass of pinot in Superman’s face and told the Justice League to east his dust, he was going back to beautician school! While the team he subsequently founded – The Outsiders – went through a few fluctuations and revivals, the fact remains that it’s one of those popular touchstones of the contemporary DC Universe while simultaneously never having been particularly exceptional, relevant or pivotal. Such is the power of Batman.

Attempts to revive the Outsiders over the last few years were met by general ambivalence, and if you want to argue that point I’m going to ask you to defend the issues which DC grand vizier Dan Didio once wrote in an apparent bid to prove why Paul Levitz burdened the postal service with rejection letters stamped with Didio’s return address on ‘em in the first place. Here, wriggle your way out of this’un: Didio debuted the superhero Freight Train because he’d missed the opportunity to create him for Bloodlines. HE CREATED A BLOODLINES SUPERHERO SEVENTEEN YEARS AFTER THE FACT. Surely that’s the kind of behavior that gets you committed against your will.

But who were the original Outsiders? They were these people:

HALO: NOT ACTUALLY PEOPLE. Daffy blonde naïf Halo was actually some sort of energy balloon from space, where most of your high-end energy balloons come from. Fused with a runaway suburban WASP who’d turned to a life of crime well before Orange is the New Black made it cool, she actually represented kind of a troubling trend in superhero comics – the “bad girl” whose entire life and personality are wiped out so a supernatural “good girl” personality can take over her body and redeem her misbehavior. Don’t worry though, comics are for girls, or so I’m informed.

Halo used different color auras to create different special effects, like an indigo tractor beam, a green stasis beam, red balloons, yellow stars and blue diamonds.

KATANA: RHYMES WITH BANANA (in my mind) Was a lady samurai on a mission to avenge her murdered husband, whose soul lived in her samurai sword. When my parents split up, my dad just lived at the Y, but different strokes I guess. Her primary superpower was that she had a sword and never managed to kill anybody with it, which if you think isn’t a superpower I’d like to see you try it (please don’t try it).

Also, here’s this story – I used to be really chummy with the ladies who worked the butcher block at my local supermarket, and just before one of them left for her maternity leave, I asked if they’d picked a name for the baby. She sighed really heavy and tells me her husband wants to name the kid “Katana”. I ask “After the sword or the Mortal Kombat character” and she replies “Ugh, after some superhero I guess?” and when I replied “From Batman and the Outsiders??” she goes like “IT’S A REAL THING??” and just throws her hands in the air in disgust. Anyway, in conclusion, I hope for everyone’s sake they just named the baby “Carol” or something.

BLACK LIGHTNING: JIVE TOFURKEY. I like Black Lightning, I think he’s one of the DC superheroes they could pretty successfully spin off into film and television franchise. The thing they hafta deal with, with this guy, it’s not the disco-era costume or the giant afro or the spot-on-the-nose name, it’s all the time he goes around speaking “jive” and then spends a thought balloon complaining about speaking “jive”. Like, he’s from the streets, he works the streets, but ugh how he hates pretending to be street. That seems like … that seems like maybe a white guy wrote that? I know, I’m out on a limb there. I like Tony Isabella, too, motherfucker created The Champions, what am I gonna do about that? Still seems dumb.

Anyway, Black Lightning is pretty terrific, but he’s no …

METAMORPHO: THE FREAK OF 1,000 ELEMENTS Goddamn Metamorpho is great but you know this already.

GEO-FORCE: LAST AND THE LEAST The final member of Batman’s original Outsiders lineup is exactly what a team of low-profile, expendable, black ops superheroes needs – a titanic white idiot who is also the prince regent of an embattled nation. Surely no one will recognize Prince Brion of Markovia, who appears on TV and like announces for the Olympics and has most of his face exposed in his superhero costume?

Geo-Force is a tremendous triple play in that he’s a dull personality married with one of the dumbest names in comics and once “upgraded” to a costume with the color palette of sports pickles on a Chicago dog. That he ended up having a pivotal storyline in Brad Meltzer’s largely unreadable Justice League run ought to tell you volumes. He did once sort of dress like Wolverine, I guess. Points.


Unknown said...

How could you mention Black Lightning's thought balloons and not include an example? That sounds hilarious.

John said...

This is pure genius, man. Hilarious.

BillyWitchDoctor said...

In part thanks to Jim Aparo, I was rather fond of the first freshly-created Outsiders (before DC overclocked their backstories). Poor innocent Halo was no more offensive than Kitty Pryde, and never quite as dim as she's remembered; she actually became the new characters' anchor as Katana's surrogate daughter and Geo-Force's surrogate little sister (his real sister turning out to be Teen Titan's infamous Terra).

Black Lightning and Metamorpho? These guys have a strong cult following but they've never achieved A-Lister status despite DC's persistent efforts to convince us otherwise. I had more interest in Shift, Metamorpho's fragment "son," but of course DC killed him off as quickly and stupidity as possible.

But while I love Aparo's art, his designs weren't so hot. Halo looked nice and GF was inoffensively generic before his pickle-suit, but Katana was supposed to be a hyperathletic almost-ninja yet wore fifty pounds of armored costume.

And yet she still wasn't as clunky as Mike W. Barr's stories, which regularly pit B&TO against Alpha Flight-style "theme teams" of villains and schemes that wouldn't pass the laugh test for Captain Planet--the most painful example being the Force of July (a poor man's Freedom Fighters, featuring a woman cosplaying as the Statue of Liberty) working on behalf of a Sen. McCarthy clone who wanted to spy on Americans in their living rooms through two-way television sets.

And then came Looker and finally the stupid was just too much for both my eyeballs and my mind.

Calamity Jon said...

Brave and the Bold had been the only Batman book I read as a kid (I guess JLA may or may not count), but I happily jumped on Outsiders because of Aparo, Metamorpho and Black Lightning - I was obsessed with the book, pleased with its invention of new villains, and then just bored straight out of reading it thanks to the introduction of Looker.

Dunno what it is about that character, just ... snoozefest.

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