Or “What Happens When People Stop Being Polite…”

Outsiders1.jpgYeah, I know that’s been played, but I’ve been holding on to that line since 1993 or so, I thnk I deserve a pass. Call it a “pre-existing condition,” like your insurance. This book arrived late for me, which gave me an interesting perspective on it, reading reviews of the work before the work itself. Usually I avoid other people’s opinions until I actually READ the book (mostly so I don’t accidentally steal someone else’s good lines), but this time I noticed a trend: people aren’t complaining about The Outsiders, people are unhappy with Judd Winick…

Generally speaking, I don’t see a “hidden agenda” in Judd’s comics, nor am I entirely certain that he uses the tools that hallmark his writing on purpose. I may be biased, in that I share his sense of humor, and enjoy his dialogue, but I don’t see that many repeating themes from his previous work here. My coworker Jim says every Winick book has to have “the gay character,” and has huge liberal overtones in all the plotlines… and he’s kind of right. But I don’t see how Judd’s recurring themes are any different than Brian Bendis’ recurring tendency to have his female characters end up naked/in a subservient position, or Howard Chaykin’s repeated use of a dark, curly haired swashbuckler type as his protagonist (and his habit of putting women in business suits over lingerie/fetish gear), or John Byrne’s repeated tendency to revert a character to the appearance/power levels/costume from their first issue. I could go on (Garth Ennis’ tough loner main characters? Grant Morrison’s tantric sex? Robert Kirkman’s “mundane life is the most fantastic of all” stories?) but I think what I’m getting at here is, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

Certainly there are problems with this issue, not the least of which is the structure of One Year Later books in general. The plan was to hook new readers with compelling mysteries, but sadly, that has sometimes translated as “Everything You Know Is Wrong!” The hoariest cliche of them all, and the one I hate the very most, even more than “Fat guys sure are funny!” Not that I do anything to dispel that myth… I hope. But Judd is working within the framework of OYL and giving us an Outsiders like we’ve never seen before. They’re dark, they’re alienated, they’re presumed dead. And now, it seems, we’re going to get the backstory on WHY.

This issue kicks off from last month’s cliff-hanger, with the team finally having stopped Monsieur Mallah and The Brain from their plot to use the genetic material of DC’s finest heroes to create armies of cannon fodder. This plan was only used to raise cash for their real pet project, getting The Brain a body so he and Mallah can… Yeah, I’m not going there. Suffice to say that this is one of the “gay relationships” Jim notices in Winick’s work. (In Judd’s defense, it was Grant Morrison who originated that twist on Mallah and Brain back in his surreal and superb run on “Doom Patrol.”) And they aren’t even the real villains, as the “Big Bad,” to steal a Whedon-ism, is none other than Thaddeus Bodog Sivana. Moreover, he’s not only a step ahead of the Outsiders, he’s got them wired for sound…

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Moreover, Sivana is not merely behind The Brain problems, he’s apparently been dogging the team since the mysterious events that led to them being “dead” in the first place. Seems like Sivana’s got a lot of irons in a lot of fires, including the nuclear plant that powers Brain and Mallah’s secret hideout, and he’s willing to scorch a few fingers if necessary. Translation: Sivana blows them up, a NUCLEAR explosion, just because Nightwing might be a problem down the line. That’s lateral thinking… Luckily for the Outsiders, one of their members has experience with being dead AND being nuked.

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That’s the kind of dialogue I enjoy out of Judd, balancing the superhuman with real personal warmth and emotion. The Outsiders are all very fleshed out as characters, and as is the custom “One Year Later,” they all seem to be harboring secrets of one sort or another. Having figured out who’s behind their recent misfortunes, The Outsiders decide they need to target Sivana immediately. Sadly, Sivana has the same idea, as well as a Rolodex including a phone number that both surprised and pleased me.

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I wish I had an entrance line that good… Within hours, the entire world knows the truth about the Outsiders. Not only are they alive, they’ve been acting in a VERY unsuperhero-like manner, doing things that are not just questionable, but flat-out illegal. In addition, Nightwing has remained public and is now obviously a great big fibber. Batman will NOT approve. The team members take a moment to reflect and figure out what to do next, each echoing the same thought: “It could be worse, it could be tomorrow, when the $#!+ really hits the fan.” Here’s the point where I started get frustrated with the book. One of the underlying points of the previous two issues was team member Grace, and her origins. It was strongly implied that Grace was NOT entirely human, and that whatever she IS will totally fill us with “shock and awe.” This is brushed under the rug with a quick piece of dialogue, and we are hit with another revelation, this one arguably less shocking:

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Thunder and Grace are a couple. This actually works for me, for a number of reasons. One, it’s perfectly natural for people under stress to form relationships that quickly escalate. Two, of the available members, this pairing makes the most sense, as they have the most history (discounting Katana and Metamorpho who were both married, last I knew). And three, it’s a Judd Winick book, and Jim’s right, he tends to do this. Not that there’s anything wrong with it. At least one opinion I ran into found this to be the most offensive part of the book, in that he felt the lesbian relationship to be “a cop-out,” just another trendy girl/girl couple… While I have my reservations about it, I don’t agree with this assessment. Judd’s stories about relationships tend to be very well drawn, in my opinion, and realistically put together. I like both the writer and the characters enough to sit back and let Judd show me where this is going.

Which dovetails nicely into my biggest critique: Where is this going? Ever since the OYL Outsiders (Always makes me think of Olive Oyl… “Ohhh, Pahhpaaayyyeee!”) kicked off, we’ve been at a dead run, with mysteries, questions, and “WTF?” moments piling up in our wake. Finally, Judd seems like he’s going to give us some answers, as we’ve met the mover and shaker behind all of this, and destroyed the new status quo. Whatever “Outsiders” team comes out of this storyarc is going to be an ENTIRELY different animal than what we’re seeing now. “Everything you know is wrong! Again.” I don’t mind change, as it’s done so rarely in comics, but to have a massive change on the heels of an equally massive change seems like a questionable idea. Seems to me that this might be a really good way to convince people who LIKED what came before that they don’t need to see what comes next.

Me? I’m sticking around. For it’s flaws, “Outsiders” is a well written book, with a good series of art teams and compelling characters. I really find Grace to be one of the most entertaining additions to the DCU in years, even with her standard-issue strong-girl powers. Thunder (with all her troublesome backstory) is also great, and I’ve long been a fan of Metamorpho and Katana, going back to their first run as in Batman and The Outsiders. Maybe it’s because I AM the target audience, but I’m sticking around, and I’m giving this mixed-bag of an issue a mixed-bag score: 2.5 stars. Slightly below average, but still more than the sum of it’s parts.

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Plus: Bonus material? The very best line of the issue:

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What do you think of Winik’s run on the Outsiders? Discuss it in the Major Spoilers Forum.

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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