Too much Gotham. That was my reaction when I saw the line-up for the latest version of Batman and the Outsiders. As well as the Caped Crusader, along with original Outsiders Katana and Black Lightning, we have his proteges Orphan and Signal.
And after reading this first issue, I’ve not changed my mind. It assumes buyers have read the set-up story in Detective Comics a few months back. We’re told the bad guy from those issues is still screwing up Duke Thomas, the Signal, but there’s no recap for those who came in late, or those of us who didn’t find him memorable.
Duke actually brings me to another problem I have. Writer Brian Hill doesn’t take time to properly introduce the players. The Signal’s light-based power is absent, Katana’s soul sword isn’t explained, Black Lightning’s reasons for being in Gotham rather than Metropolis aren’t mentioned and poor old Orphan is barely there. Batman, whom we can safely assume everyone knows, is at his annoying worst, obviously withholding information from his latest team.
The book opens with a young girl being orphaned by a brutal supervillain. It turns out both she and her father – for all the good it does him – have super-powers. The teenager, Sofia, goes on the run.
Meanwhile, the new Outsiders are failing to gel as a team.
By the end of the book Batman has tasked the Outsiders with finding Sofia, while he looks into Karma, the villain haunting Duke. He’s also going to ‘follow up on the Markovian black market’ – could someone give me a hand, here, I’ve read this book twice and seen no mention of Markovia? The nod to the DC-only country ruled by another original Outsider, Geo-Force, did get my interest – his joining the team would inject a bit of colour and more muscle into a gang with only one powerhouse, Black Lightning. I imagine Sofia will be signing up too, that’s an origin story at the beginning of this issue and no mistake – no DC Universe orphan gets to escape Batman’s clutches!
While I’m not grabbed by the mix of characters – I’ve never been a fan of Cassandra Cain, blame the creepy Batgirl costume she used to wear and the fact she never had much to say, while Duke was more interesting as a regular supporting character than yet another Bat-Teen – there is one great scene. Tellingly, it’s between longtime Outsiders Katana and Black Lightning.
That’s some deft characterisation, and Dexter Soy produces eye-catching art in terms of action and characterisation. Tatsu and Jeff seem like people worth spending time with. The rest of the issue looks equally good, with that opening scene another standout. And there’s a cracking full-page shot of Batman leaving a rooftop, with fine lighting effects from colourist Veronica Gandini.
The cover art by Tyler Kirkham and Arif Prianto is rather nice, too, making the new team members look terribly heroic. While Bruce Wayne insists Jeff is in charge, Black Lightning might want to note that logo – Batman and the Outsiders.
Hill, Soy and the rest of the creative team are talented so I’ll probably give this series another look next month – if only to see if the final page character reveal is for real or so blatantly X-Men cheesy that it’s a feint. I’m betting the latter.