I love the idea of the Outsiders, but in the 35 years they’ve been around they’ve never actually fulfilled their initial premise.
I have always been bothered by superhero teams. I mean, those are the books that I enjoy the most (as opposed to solo titles), but the entire set up of a superhero team bothers me.
Every single team in the Marvel U should either be a branch of the Avengers or a branch of the X-Men. And every single team in the DCU should be a branch of the Justice League. I don’t understand why that isn’t just the way it is.
You could still have teams with unique identities, but they would have them within a larger organization. The Avengers should have a team that’s focused on what the common person deals with and/or with what those living in New York have to deal with because of all the superheroes that live there — The Defenders. The Avengers should have a secret black ops team: Thunderbolts. They should have an international team: Alpha Flight. You can go on and on. Then you could even slap “Avengers” on every book and they might actually sell.
DC has started moving in that direction. The Titans are now fully integrated into the Justice League, although I don’t know why the book isn’t called Justice League: Titans. And there should be a black ops Justice League book called Justice League: Outsiders.
But all of that is, admittedly, too rigid for comics. Logic doesn’t usually play a part when determining superhero teams.
However, in 1983 Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo did apply logic (to a certain extent) to the Justice League and they came to the conclusion that many did: Batman wouldn’t hamstring himself because of politics. Both the Justice League and the Avengers ultimately have to play nice with the governments of the world or they would have a hard time getting anything done. That’s not really Batman’s bag.
And so Batman and the Outsiders were born.
The team that makes up the Outsiders is, I will admit, a bit problematic. If Batman were to actually form a team to fight the battles that the Justice League won’t, then I would expect him to choose people he’s worked with before. I would expect him to pick people whose abilities have a strategic purpose within the group. For the most part, the Outsiders come together haphazardly, via classic comic book coincidences.
The Outsiders happen because Wayne Enterprises corporate counsel Lucius Fox went to Markovia for business and became a pawn in the country’s civil war (which was less a civil war and more of an invasion, ultimately). The Justice League refuses to intervene, so Batman goes in.
Batman only calls upon one other superhero to help him: Black Lightning.
Now does Batman ask Black Lightning to help him because he needs someone to get into Markovia by claiming to be related to Lucius Fox, who is black? Well, it’s his stated reason for sending Black Lightning in instead of going in himself, but this is Batman — you have to think he’d have had another way in if he’d chosen someone else to help him. At least, I like to think that he didn’t just choose Jefferson Pierce for only that reason. After all, Black Lightning had established himself as a big time superhero by this point. No, I prefer to think that Batman picked his ally and then figured out how to get him in.
Regardless, Batman and Black Lightning are the extent of the team that Batman has in mind for this mission.
Meanwhile, the King of Markovia dies, leaving two sons behind. The eldest becomes King and leads his troops in fighting off the usurper. The youngest goes to Dr. Helga Jace, a Markovian scientist who has come up with a way to give the prince super powers.
So there’s thread #2.
Thread #3 is a woman named Katana hunting down General Karnz, who had aided her brother-in-law in killing Katana’s entire family — including her husband, whose spirit now resided in her sword. General Karnz happens to be working for Baron Bedlam, leader of the Markovia uprising. Katana’s quest for vengeance brings her in contact with Black Lightning.
And we’re just getting started!
Batman comes across an unconscious woman in Markovia who wakes up with fantastic new abilities and no memory of her life before that moment. She decides to help Batman, and given that he’s in a bit of a pickle at the time, Batman has no choice but to let her go along. He calls her Halo based on her light powers – thread #4.
Meanwhile, it appears that Dr. Jace is pretty famous — to the extent that Metamorpho thinks she can help him with his condition. He just happens to be looking for her when this war breaks out.
And there’s thread #5!
Of course they all come together to help the Prince save his country. Batman is so impressed with how they all worked together that he decides they should be his new team and voila! Batman and the Outsiders is born.
Looker (yes, Looker) eventually joins what is considered the classic line-up and the team has a falling out with Batman, although it seems like he intended this to happen as a way of making them self-sufficient.
The book relaunches without Batman and the team eventually grows to include Windfall and the Atomic Knight (yes, Atomic Knight). But by and large Barr keeps the team intact.
The team ultimately falls apart as their second series ends and the characters go their separate ways.
Five and a half years would pass before the Outsiders made their triumphant return, again authored by Mike Barr, this time with Paul Pelletier and Robert Campanella on art.
Barr frames the team’s return around the original origin story: again there is a crisis in Markovia and again characters come together by chance. This time around, however, Barr has ditched Batman, Black Lightning, and Metamorpho — arguably the 3 most popular characters at the time. Instead he adds three new characters: Wylde, who is half man and half bear, Technocrat, guy in a high tech suit, and Faust, the son of Felix Faust.
It’s worth noting that none of the three dropped Outsiders rejoin the team, although Metamorpho makes a brief appearance. Windfall and the Atomic Knight do come back, though. Halo gets a new body (long story) and Looker becomes a vampire.
Oh, and the big deal for the series is that the Exterminator from Reign of the Supermen becomes a member.
As with most team books, though, this version of the Outsiders has no purpose to exist beyond having become “a family.” That seems to be the go to rationale for team books.
Third Time’s the Charm?
That’s an interesting point given that when the book returned eight years later, its guiding light is that the team will definitely NOT become a family of any kind.
That’s the sales pitch, anyway, that Arsenal (formerly Speedy) makes to Nightwing (former Robin Dick Grayson) as he puts together this new team. Nightwing wants to avoid getting emotionally attached to his team because that usually ends in heartbreak for him, as evidenced by the fact that the most recent version of the Titans folded when Donna Troy was killed.
Just like the original team, though, this one was mostly formed in a haphazard manner, at odds with theoretical core concept of the Outsiders.
Arsenal has gathered old fling and bartender Grace Choi, Thunder (the daughter of Black Lightning), Metamorpho (or so we think), and Indigo, the robot that killed Donna Troy but has now been reprogrammed (that goes as well as you think). Why these team members? They make some sense from a story standpoint, but from a tactical one they’re random. Metamorpho is the only one with any kind of experience and it turns out that it’s not actually Metamorpho (long story).
The team is rounded it out with Jade who ends up being pulled into their first battle and decides to stick around. Jade would actually be the most legitimate pick for this team given that she has some experience, but her addition is entirely coincidental.
The members of the team change over the course of the series before Nightwing leaves and hands over the reins to Batman. We get another Batman and the Outsiders series, although not before Batman has his friends test each of the current members of the team.
This is about as close as we’ve come to seeing the team function the way it should.
It still doesn’t work out that way, though, as some of the members that Batman rejects stick around and then Catwoman just up and joins on her own.
This version of Batman and the Outsiders doesn’t last long, though, as Batman bites the big one over in Final Crisis. He leaves behind instructions for Alfred to put together a new team of Outsiders, which Alfred explains is made up of different aspects of Batman.
It’s a weird idea for a team and doesn’t entirely hold up under examination as I’m not sure how Halo is an aspect of Batman, but the team is at least interesting: Halo, Geoforce, Katana, Black Lightning, Metamorpho, Owlman, and the Creeper. The team is heavy on original Outsiders and you can see how Owlman and Creeper could be somewhat considered stand-ins for Batman. If anything, this series made me appreciate Creeper more.
Eventually the team falls apart as DC went careening into Flashpoint and the New 52.
This all leads us to the new series that was originally supposed to be released this December but has since been cancel, although DC says it will be re-solicited at some point.
This could be the first time that the Outsiders actually live up to their supposed reason to exist. The team as it stands now appears to be Batman, Black Lightning, Orphan, Katana, and The Signal, a group of characters who have worked with Batman in the past. He specifically brought them together to work as a team.
Although I’m a little fuzzy on The Signal’s abilities, I like the fact that there’s some variety in the line-up, as if Batman were simply putting together people he has experience working with the team could be redundant skill-wise.
But at least this looks like a team that Batman deliberately put together, a team that actually lives up to the concept of the Outsiders.
And that would be a first.