In this issue, Batman does as Chef John says and goes “around the outside, around the outside, around the outside.”
Written by Bryan Edward Hill
Illustrated by Dexter Soy
Colored by Veronica Gandini
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
When the quest for justice drives Batman into some morally ambiguous areas, he calls in the most moral man he knows: Jefferson Pierce, a.k.a. Black Lightning, and his team of operatives known as the Outsiders!
Several years ago Batman personally put the Barrera family into hiding after they suffered through terrible experiments at the hands of an organization called the Ark. Now all but one of them has turned up dead…and Batman needs to locate Sofia Barrera before the wrong people get their hands on her-and her surprising power! But it wouldn’t be Batman without a hidden agenda, would it? And when Black Lightning, Katana, the Signal and Orphan find out what Batman is really up to, their every loyalty will be called into question!
After several delays the relaunch of “Batman and the Outsiders” is finally released this week. The messaging around the delays was that it allowed the book to more directly tie into larger DC universe events, a line publisher Dan Didio has been pushing with renewed interest recently. Normally the promise of more direct ties to whatever meta story of the moment sounds more like a threat to my ears. It frames the book as resolving extra-textual plot business, not telling an emotional narrative. Thankfully writer Bryan Edward Hill and the Rebirth era “Red Hood and the Outlaw” team of Dexter Soy and Veronica Gandini aren’t going there just yet with an opener more concerned with what happened in his “Outsiders” test run from “Detective Comics” #982-986 ‘On the Outside’ than any “Year of the Villain” businesses. The opening issue of “Outsiders” is more interested in exploring each team member and giving the uninitiated a window into their character and wonders if they are a team at all.
After receiving their mission briefing from Batman, to find Sofia Ramos, Black Lighting lets his team know how he feels “I don’t think we’re Outsiders. I think we’re Outcasts.” The turn of phrase is extremely close to “What, we some kinda… Suicide Squad?,” but there is an earnest bluntness in both cases that makes them effective. In an issue that has to both setup the arcs overall plot, find Sofia Ramos, and get readers up to speed on the emotional states of Outsiders in 20 pages, being a little blunt works. The phrase has an edge of sarcasm and frustration as Black Lighting tries to figure out what it is he wants this team to be and whatever larger game Batman is playing with them.
Lighting venting his frustration is a moment Hill has been building to since the Outsiders are introduced in this issue. He’s conflicted in both his capability to lead this disparate group of individuals and if he even wants to. While he identifies as such, there’s something a bit odd reading Black Lighting refer to himself as “Jeff” after watching Black Lighting where he is consistently referred to as Jefferson. “Jeff” sounds so plain, but he wants plain asking Katana to stop referring to him as “Raijin,” a Japanese god of lighting and storms. Hill shows skill for writing these characters with their expressive edges, but surprising amount of understandable humanity in such tight sequences.
Hill makes use of Lighting’s internal monologue to first give light to these feelings, forming it into a running commentary to the latest bit of field practice Bruce has sent them on. But the feeling really begins to come through when Dexter Soy and Veronica Gandini have to more directly frame and capture it bubbling beneath the surface. As Bruce gets a field report from him, Soy and Gandini use just about every trick they can muster to hide Jeff from full review often by casting him in heavy partial shadow. The art team don’t give you a good look at his eyes, even when there is a close up his full features are still partially obfuscated.
As conflicted as Black Lighting is, the way the scene is represented you can’t help but feel the sense of isolation and distrust he himself feels from his patron, Bruce Wayne. While his name is on the marquee, Batman is a supporting figure so far. Describing his function as Prof. X or Dr. Niles Culder like might be too nice and emotionally available a description. Bruce is acting like Bataman does with all his Family, an emotionally distant patriarch with high expectations and little guidance on what he really wants.Continued below
That kind of visual storytelling is central to the issues main point: the titular team isn’t much of a team yet. Soy and Gandini do a good job of if not isolating, highlighting the physical distance between everyone. As Jeff chastises Duke for not following directions and getting him and Cassandra Cain in a bad spot, Duke argues petulantly with his leader. This page long sequence begins with a wide shot of the four Outsiders, all clearly feet apart – though Cass and Duke are closer to each other than the rest of the team a fact that is visually replicated later. Even as things get in tight on Duke and Jefferson, the latter stands arms folded towering over the young hero in a manner the implies he doesn’t seem to be fully paying attention to him. Soy an Gandini make good use of Lighting’s opaque sunglasses/visor.
With this visual storytelling and the membership (2 adults and 2 teenagers), it’s clear what kind of book Hill, Soy, and Gandini are aiming towards: a family melodrama. Without Batman, the Outsiders are a by the numbers multi-cultural nuclear family. They certainly argue like one already. While they may not all be on the same page yet, there is a nice moment that helps cement them as heroes. Batman offers them the Sofia Ramos situation in a sort of Mission: Impossible way, they could take it or leave it. Katana is for the mission, not because of Batman or his plans, but because finding Sofia Ramos is something they can do, they can help her. Helping people is what they’re supposed to do.
She’s going to need a lot of help, after her father is brutally murdered in the opening pages. Hill is setting up more metahuman trafficking and augmentation, and maybe even an alternative timeline. With Soy and Gandini’s art the whole thing has a very 90s feel, without that eras dominant style of excess, though Katana is exoticized in one scene. The plot setup for this opening arc is reminding me of the “Cyber Force” series Hill is co-writing in a good way, that’s another series that is very interested exploring in the inner lives of its cast against their outsized lives.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – “Batman and the Outsiders” #1 is a good opening issue that rightly catches readers up and continues to explore the cast making it an excellent entry point for new and old readers alike.