I have always been a massive fan of Batman and the Outsiders. Well, let me clarify that statement. I have always been a huge fan of Mike Barr and Jim Aparo Batman and the Outsiders. This franchise has seen tough times since its original run from 1983-1988. The next version of the Outsiders was from 1993-1995. It actually was not that bad. We did not get another Outsiders title until 2003. That run lasted until 2007. This roster was a mix of members of the Outsiders and the Titans. It was an odd duck of a title. We then get another version of Batman and the Outsiders that ran from 2007-2011. It was not the best.
So, here we have DC once again trying to recapture the magic of the 1980’s when Batman and the Outsiders was at its high point. I am not sure that DC is going to find much success with this newest attempt with this franchise. DC has placed a relative unknown writer in Bryan Hill on this title. In addition to that, DC has given Hill a roster that is not terribly impressive. Having said that, DC did place Dexter Soy on this title so we should expect to get some quality artwork. Let’s hope Hill and Soy can generate some of that 1980’s magic and make Batman and the Outsiders #1 a fun read. Let’s hit this review!
Words: Bryan Hill
Art: Dexter Soy
Colors: Veronica Gandini
Story Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 6.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin in Los Angeles. We see a father and a daughter riding in a car together. The daughter is named Sofia. The father complains that the daughter is wearing headphones and listening to music rather than talking to him. Suddenly, a super powered man appears on the scene and smashes the front of the car brining it to a stop. The man then grabs the father and drains him of some green energy and kills the father. The man then grabs Sofia and is amazed that she is immune to his powers. The man says that Sofia is scared and has no idea what she is. The man says that he will show her.
The man then tosses Sofia off the interstate. Sofia lands on a truck with a tank of flammable gas. (Well…isn’t that incredibly convenient. What are the odds of that perfect timing taking place?) Sofia’s impact ruptures the tank of flammable gas causing a massive explosion. Sofia screams in pain as she walks out of the flames seemingly okay.
We hop over to Gotham City. Signal (Dumbest. Codename. Ever.) and Orphan (You may know her as Cassandra Cain) are fighting a villain called Saint John. Orphan says that they are pinned down and have no exit. Orphan says that they should have waited for Black Lighting before engaging Saint John in a fight. Signal replies that they do not need Black Lightning.
Suddenly, Black Lightning and Katana appear on the scene. Black Lightning blasts Saint John and then Katana slices Saint John’s gun. Black Lighting then blasts a massive lighting blast that takes out Saint John.
Black Lightning then chastises Signal for not waiting for him. Signal says that he is not apologizing. Black Lightning asks if Signal has a problem with him. Signal then admits that Black Lightning is right. Signal walks away. Orphan then tells Katana and Black Lightning that Signal has been different after dealing with Karma and after being injured.
We hop over to Lucius Fox and Bruce Wayne in Kubrick Towers in Gotham. (Is that a nice Stanley Kubrick reference? Best director ever!) Lucius is worried. Lucius says that Signal is not right. Cassandra is not taking anything seriously. And Katana is going to kill someone before it is over.
Bruce says that the Outsiders are Fox’s team. Fox wants Bruce to tell him the truth. Fox says that Bruce does not need Fox to lead the team. Fox says that Bruce needs nothing.
Bruce says that the Outsiders will be better off without him. Fox says that Bruce means that he will be better off without the Outsiders. Bruce says that Fox can look at it however he wants to. Bruce says he needs to solve some things for himself. And that the Outsiders need more from Bruce than he can give.
Fox says that he would tell the Outsiders that Batman does not believe in them. Bruce says that what he believes is irrelevant. Bruce says that Fox is the leader and that this penthouse is now Fox’s penthouse. Bruce then leaves.
We cut to Batman in the Batcave. The Batcomputer alerts him to the attack on Sofia Ramos.
We hop over to Black Lightning arriving at Katana’s fancy home. Katana had been praying to her dead husband Maseo. Black Lighting says that he needs Katana’s wisdom. Katana tells him to pick up a sword and challenge her. (Ummm…okay.)
Black Lightning says that he does not know how to use a sword. Katana says that even a child knows what to do with a sword. Suddenly, Black Lightning is sparring away with Katana. (Yeah…this makes no sense. This should have been one panel of Katana immediately disarming Pierce.)
During the sparring, Black Lightning says that he needs Katana’s help. Katana says that Pierce is their leader. Pierce says that Katana does not need a leader and that he needs a partner. Someone to challenge me. (Jeez. I get it.)
Katana says that Signal is using anger to hide his fear and that Cassandra is afraid of her future and hides from herself. Katana says that Pierce needs to show all of them that he is committed. That if they fail then he will fail with them.
Black Lighting then leaves. Katana resumes praying. Suddenly, her sword glows and a voice says her name. Katana looks at her sword and asks for Maseo to speak to her.
We cut to Cassandra and Signal zipping along on Cassandra’s motorcycle. Signal thinks about how Karma was right when he said that Signal was weak. Signal sees Karma in his mind. Karma tells Signal to come find him in the darkness.
Signal screams for Cassandra to stop the motorcycle. Signal tells Cassandra what is going on. Cassandra says that it will be okay and that Signal does not need to be afraid. Signal yells that he is not afraid. Suddenly, Signal and Cassandra get an alert from Batman.
We cut to Batman meeting with the Outsiders on the roof of a building. Batman tells them about the Ark Program which was designed to create meta humans for the billionaires who funded the program. Batman burned down the facility years ago. The people behind the Ark Program tried to kill all of their test subjects. Batman could only save one family: the Ramos family. Ms. Ramos eventually died from the experiments.
Batman says that Mr. Ramos was just killed and that Sofia is in hiding and being hunted. Batman says that he will follow up on the Markovian black Market and Karma. Batman tells the Outsiders to find Sofia and bring her to Gotham. Batman then leaves the scene.
Black Lightning says that Batman is keeping secrets and may get them all killed. Black Lightning says that they are more outcasts than outsiders. Pierce says that none of them hav veto do this. Katana says that she wants to find Sofia. Pierce asks why. Katana responds because they can and that she is challenging him. Pierce says that he does not trust Batman. But, what matters is that the Outsiders trust each other.
We shift to Sofia at a train station buying a ticket to St. Louis. Suddenly, someone from the shadows grabs and her and pulls her into an out of order bathroom. The person off-panel points a shotgun at Sofia’s face. The person says that her father was killed by Ishmael. That Ishmael is muscle ordering for Ra’s Al Ghul. That Ra’s wants to capture Sofia and make her work for him.
The person off-panel says that Sofia’s only chance to live is to come with him. The person says that his name is Kaliber and that he came here to keep her alive.
We then see Kaliber. (What a name. It’s 1990’s Image!!!) He is a 1990’s styled super-hero with a big beard and glowing green eyes. (Damn. Rob Liefeld wants his character design back!) Kaliber says that he is from the future. (It is DC’s Cable!) Kalber says that the world ends with Sofia. And through Sofia the New Age is born. End of issue.
The Good: Batman and the Outsides #1 was a pedestrian read. However, there were several nice aspects to this issue. Bryan Hill wastes zero time kicking off the story for this debut issue of a new title. Many writers commit the cardinal sin of not introducing the complete roster of the team to readers until the end of the third or fourth issue of a new team title. That is not the case with Batman and the Outsiders #1.
Hill quickly introduces the reader to each and every member of the Outsiders. Hill then assembles the entire team and sends them off on their first mission by the end of Batman and the Outsiders #1. Hill deserves tons for this. I love that we get the entire team assembled and are clearly given the first mission for the team. That is more than what many debut issues of a new team title give readers.
Hill also delivers tons of quality plot progression in Batman and the Outsiders #1. This issue is definitely not decompressed storytelling. This is Hill’s clear strength when it comes to his writing in this issue. Batman and the Outsiders #1 is packed full of content. There is a ton of substance and lots for the reader to digest with this issue.
Hill quickly installs multiple plot-lines in this debut issue. Hill delivers the main plot-line involving Sofia. We also get a couple of long range plot lines involving Signal and Karma as well as the plot-line involving Katana and her hearing her husband’s voice coming from her sword. We also have the plot-line involving the Markovian black market.
In addition to all of these plot-lines, Hill also introduces an initial villain in the form of Ishmael and then teases that Ishmael has a boss who is the true big bad of this opening story arc. But, still not content to be done there, Hill also introduces a new character in the form of Kaliber who, like the Outsiders, wants to help Sofia.
Batman and the Outsiders #1 is also a well paced issue. This is definitely not a slow issue. Hill has a laser focus and moves the story ahead with a clear purpose in mind. The story never meanders or gets bogged down. Hill keeps the story moving forward in a methodical and logical fashion. Batman and the Outsiders #1 is certainly a dialogue heavy issue, however, Hill gives the reader just enough action to keep this from being a dull issue.
The only character that I thought Hill delivered some quality character work with was Black Lightning. Jefferson Pierce is a fantastic character that I have liked ever since he first arrived in the DCU back in 1977. While I would prefer to see Black Lightning on one of the Justice League teams, I am perfectly fine with him being on The Outsiders. Black Lighting is one of the original members of the Barr/Aparo Batman and the Outsiders. I always like it when characters from the classic version of a super team appear in any new version of said super team.
Personally, I would rather see Hill writing Pierce’s character with a bit more confidence. This is a character who has tons of experience and seen a lot in the DCU. Pierce should be more comfortable in the role as leader than Hill gives us in this issue. Having said that, Hill does nail Pierce’s core character traits. Pierce is an intelligent man who leads by example and possess a strong moral compass. Hill also effectively gets over the fact that Black Lightning is the heavy hitter of this current roster for the Outsiders.
I must admit that despite the 1990’s cheesiness, I really liked Kaliber. We do not know much about Kaliber’s character, but what we got was enough to pique my interest. Yes, Kaliber’s codename is spelled and sounds like a 1990’s Image Comics character. And yes, Kaliber’s character design definitely has that 1990’s Image Comics look. However, Kaliber’s 1990’s look is updated a bit for 2019 with his haircut and his giant hipster beard. Kaliber looks properly badass and cool looking. This is exactly the type of character that I like to see in action/adventure super hero comics. This is a tough line to walk, but I think that Hill and Dexter Soy pull off the 1990’s look and vibe of Kaliber’s character while still making him a compelling character for 2019.
Kaliber is obviously based on Cable. Kaliber is a time traveling cybernetic soldier with large guns. I guess that would make Sofia DC’s version of Hope Summers. I am not usually thrilled when a writer delivers copycat versions of characters from another comic book company. However, it is very early in this story and Hill may have something unique and original in store for both Kaliber and Sofia. At any rate, at least Kaliber will serve as a bit of a wildcard as we are not sure how he is going to react to the Outsiders attempting to help Sofia.
The Bad: Batman and the Outsiders #1 has quite a few defects. The biggest one is that Hill fails to deliver a couple of ingredients that are necessary in a debut issue of a new title. First, Batman and the Outsiders #1 is not terribly new reader friendly. It is important that the writer give the reader a clear sense of the personalities and power sets of each member of the team as well as the roles the characters will be playing on the team. It is also important that the plot-lines the writer introduces be new reader friendly as well.
Hill also fails to properly present Cassandra Cain, and Katana to readers unfamiliar with these characters. The introduction of Cassie is the worst of the three. Hill does absolutely nothing to give Cassie anything at all resembling a personality. Hill does not tell readers unfamiliar with Cassie what style of character she is and what role she will serve on the team. Hill also does not convey to the reader her power set or skill set.
The same problem exists with Katana, to a lesser extent. Hill does not let the reader know what defined roles Katana will be playing on this team. Is Katana the loyal opposition to Black Lightning? Is Katana the true leader? Is Katana a co-leader? Is Katana the “wise” character on the team? Is Katana the deadly killer on the team? Who knows? A new reader surely does not.
Hill also does not tell new readers much about Katana’s power set. Hill never tells new readers that Katana’s sword is named Soultaker and can take the souls of those it kills and store those souls inside of it. Hill never tells the reader that Katana can hear the voices of those souls.
Then we get to the plot-lines introduced in Batman and the Outsiders #1. Hill does not deliver a new reader friendly plot-line with the Signal/Karma story. Readers who have not been reading Detective Comics will know know anything at all about Signal and Karma. New readers feel like they have been plopped in the middle of the Signal/Karma plot-line. The result is that those readers are left wondering what is going on and why they should care at all.
Hill’s failure to lay a foundation for the Signal/Karma plot-line. As a result, the reader has zero connection to either Signal or Karma. New readers have never met Karma before and are just meeting Signal for the first time. The reader also has no knowledge of what has gone on between Signal and Karma and why Signal would be so damaged. Therefore, the reader has no reason at all to care about this plot-line. The reader also has no reason to feel sympathetic to Signal and his mental trauma that he is experiencing in this issue.
Hill also fails to clearly state the purpose and mission objective of this new title. This is critical for any debut issue of a new title. Hill’s message to the reader about what we can expect with Batman and the Outsiders is a bit muddled. Is this a classic mainstream super hero team? Is this a black ops styled super hero team? Is this a vigilante no rules apply super hero team? Is this a family styled team? Is this a group of rejects styled team? Hill never gives the reader a clear message of what kind of story they can expect on this title or what makes this title different from all of the other mainstream super hero titles currently on the market. Batman and the Outsiders #1 lacks a clearly defined identity.
Hill’s dialogue is unimpressive. The dialogue is rather generic. None of the characters other than Batman have a unique external voice. Cassie, Signal, Black Lightning, and Sofia all have bland nondescript dialogue. Katana’s dialogue is generic “wise” asian warrior style voice. None of the dialogue ever feels genuine or real.
Hill’s character work is rather suspect. The level of character work in Batman and the Outsiders #1 is what you would typically find in a 1990’s Image comic. None of the characters display much depth to their personalities. None of the characters are particularly compelling or intriguing. Hill also fails to generate any real chemistry between the teammates of the Outsiders.
Black Lightning is a fantastic character and has been written so well in the past. Unfortunately, Hill does not do Jefferson Pierce justice in Batman and the Outsiders #1. Pierce is a strong and confident male who never shrinks from the spotlight or crumbles under the weight of heavy responsibility. However, Hill writes Pierce as an unconfident man who is comes across as an unwilling leader. Black Lightning should be written as an alpha male who inspires those around him.
Katana has no personality other than the stereotypical “wise” asian warrior. Ot is unfortunate to see Katana written as a caricature rather than a character. Katana is such a cool character, but Hill does not portray her in a particularly exciting manner.
Signal is about as exciting as a piece of dry toast. I struggle to think of a more boring and pointless character in comics. Seriously. I have no idea why Signal was even created. This is a character that could be killed off and the world would probably be better off for it.
Cassandra is painfully one-dimensional. Watching Cassie mechanically go through the panels of Batman and the Outsiders #1 is boring. I am confident that a piece of balsa wood would make for a more complex and engaging character than Cassie. Cassie’s character is as dull and stiff as possible.
Sofia is an underdeveloped and bland character. We have seen this type of character a million times before in comics. Sofia is given an incredibly generic origin. Having said that, it is just one issue and Sofia is a brand new character. I do think that her power set is intriguing. The concept of the more pain she is in the stronger she gets is quite novel. Hopefully, Hill will be able to do something interesting with her character in future issues.
The entire future plot-line involving Sofia and Kaliber feels wrote at best and hackneyed at worst. We have all seen this plot-line done numerous times before. Most notably, we have seen this story as recently over in Marvel Comics with Hope and Cable. I was unimpressed with this story when Marvel did it with Hope and Cable. I am not sure I am going to enjoy it anymore with Hill recycling it with Sofia and Kaliber.
Hill’s Batman is just too much. Hill goes way overboard with making Batman be an unrepentant asshole who does not give a crap about his fellow Outsiders. Batman treats everyone poorly from Lucious Fox to the Outsiders. Hill’s approach to Batman is jarring and takes the reader out of the story at certain moments.
Yeah, Batman is a dick. And Batman should be terse and laconic. However, Batman is not completely uncaring of his teammates. Nor does Batman not care about his teammates safety. The way that Batman treats the Outsiders is completely inconsistent with how Batman originally formed the Outsiders and how he has always interacted with this team. Batman has always found the Outsiders to be more relatable than his fellow Justice Leaguers.
Yes, Batman has a history of being secretive. However, look at Batman’s time with the Justice League. The Justice Leaguers know that Batman might keep secrets but they know they can always trust and count on the Batman to be there for them. That when the chips are down and the situation looks bleak and hopeless that Batman will come through for them and save the day. Batman may be a bad friend, but he has always been a great teammate.
There are two big problems with the roster of this new Outsiders team. The first is that this roster has way too many vanilla character that are “broken” in some manner. Cassie, Signal, and Katana are all resented as either broken or unstable in some manner or another. Hill even makes Black Lightning seem a bit broken as he is unable to feel like he can properly lead the team. Then there is Sofia who is another broken character struggling to find her place in a world where she has lost everything.
A team roster needs diversity of personality in order to be successful. A team roster also needs diversity of character types. Unfortunately, Hill loads up this new version of the Outsiders with a roster of characters who are far too similar in terms of personality and character type. This hurts team chemistry and makes the team a bit boring.
The second problem is the lack of diversity among power sets. Black Lightning and Sofia are the only real meta humans on this roster. Black Lighting is certainly the most powerful member of the team. After those two characters, you then have Batman, Katana, Signal, and Cassandra which are all the same character from a power set standpoint. Throw on top of that the fact that Sofia has the same offensive power set as Katana, Signal, and Cassandra.
This lack of diversity in terms of power sets is another reason why adding long-time Outsiders in Geo-Force and Metamorpho to the team would have made sense. It would have given the team a more diverse and interesting power set. It would have also given the roster two characters with much different personalities and character types as well.
This roster also suffers from a lack of star power. The fact is that without Batman the only A-list character on this team. As much as I love Black Lightning, he is a C-list character. Maybe you could claim that Black Lightning has risen up to the level of a B-list character with him having a TV show now? Katana is another great character, but she is also a C-lister. Cassie, Signal, and Sofia are all D-list characters. This title could have used some juice with the addition of a B-list character. For certain, with this unimpressive roster, Batman absolutely has to play an active role on this title.
Overall: Batman and the Outsiders #1 was a pedestrian read. I love this franchise and wish that Hill had delivered a better quality read than what we got with this debut issue. Batman and the Outsiders #1 does nothing to separate itself from all of the other super hero team titles currently on the market. This title has no real unique qualities or hook to convince readers to come back for more.
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