Outsiders #45

by

Or – “Superheroes Make For Some Interesting Fathers…”

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As a parent, I find it interesting how the superheroes treat their kids. The poster child for this is, of course, Franklin Richards, whose mutant abilities have popped him up and down the power charts like a whore’s drawers. Young Frankie’s parents only refer to him when they want to hurt each other by calling their spouse neglectful, only to return to their experiments/flirtations-with-fishmen the moment their ire cools. The Vision and The Scarlet Witch’s children were wished out of existence, we’ve seen recently the toll that an absentee Batman father had on l’il Damien Wayne-Al -Ghoul, and even staid and trustworthy Cyclops let his kid be fired into the timestream to “save his life,” (superhero code for “give me back my freedom.”) With all that taken into account, it’s good to see couple of decent dads on display in Outsiders… Who am I talking about?

out1.jpgWhy, non other than Roy Harper, former Outsiders leader Arsenal, and Jefferson Pierce, father of Outsider Thunder, known to Sinbad fans everywhere as “Blaack LIIIGHTNIN!” This issue finally shines the spotlight upon the controversial “Black Lightning killed a man for killing his niece” episode of Green Arrow a couple of years ago, a moment which, honestly, didn’t ring true for me. Tony Isabella, BL’s creator, has been extremely upset about this development (and also with the retconned existence of Thunder in the first place), since Black Lightning started his superhero career to remember a murdered innocent, to the point where Tony actually quit the second volume of Black Lightning in the 90′s when the editor insisted that he had to kill his enemies to get by in the Venom/Vengeance/Youngblood market. Judd says that his plan all along was to do something different with Jeff Pierce, and that this story is the reveal of that plan. What story, you ask?

We kick off this month’s festivities at an unassuming brownstone in Brooklyn, secretly the home of Arsenal. We see nearly a page of security checks and voice encoding before our future Red Arrow is allowed into his own home. What merits all this security? Well, only the most important and valuable thing in the entire world, the best thing Roy has ever done in his years on Earth…

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Her name is Lian, and since her mother is a notorious terrorist (and also because four or five babysitters have gone nuts and held her hostage), Roy is making doubly sure than nobody gets close enough to hurt her again. I totally get that sentiment, and can tell you that the jumping into your arms and yelling “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever personally experienced. Omar, the babysitter, is pretty awesome, too, having let her watch “March of the Penguins”, skipping the bad parts, and then Lian excitedly explains that Omar said that maybe Daddy would take her to the aquarium and then let her sleep over at Ashley’s. Security problem, you say? Not with Omar on the case…

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Nice… Finally, a superhero parent who takes it seriously. Of course, a history in espionage and connections with Checkmate and the DEO certainly couldn’t have hurt, either. Later that evening, when Roy is putting his little girl to bed, she says she doesn’t WANNA go to sleep, another experience I know all too well. But Lian says that when she goes to sleep, Daddy gets sad. Lian says she’s seen Roy sitting in his office brooding over the state of life and the Outsiders, and she doesn’t want to go to sleep so Daddy won’t be sad. Awww… We leave Roy obviously thinking how maybe The Outsiders aren’t the place for him any longer, and then we cut to a scene a couple of years ago. This takes place right after Joanna Pierce, Black Lightning’s niece, was murdered while helping Green Arrow investigate a Star City company with ties to crime. The upshot of this storyline leaves Jeff, standing on the top of a skyscraper watching the man responsible get into his limo, essentially untouchable by law, while Jeff wrestles with his conscience… and loses.

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Jefferson is shocked that his blast was fatal (although I’d argue that zapping a man with lightning in any case is probably not an exact science) and argues with Oliver Queen that he has to be punished for his actions, unintentional or not. Oliver temporarily talks him out of giving himself over to the authorities (partially because he was the Secretary of Education under Lex Luthor, and partially because Ollie believes that it was an accident.) A few months later, we rejoin Jeff, near the end of Infinite Crisis, reunited with his daughter and ruminating on the loss of life the conflict has entailed. He thinks back to the sacrifice of The Freedom Fighters, the loss of superboy, even the actions of Kal-L, who gave up eternity with the woman he loved to try and save a world gone wrong. Jefferson has thought about it, and now agrees with the Earth 2 Superman. The darkness has taken over the DCU and the hearts of it’s heroes, and the blood on his own hands is another sign of that.

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Lightning turns himself over to the new Checkmate for punishment, and Mr. Terrific, Green Lantern and Amanda Waller mull over the options. Jefferson Pierce can’t go to jail, as his crime was committed as Black Lightning, and then covered up because he was part of the Presidential cabinet at the time. Black Lightning can’t go to jail, because in a facility newly full of angry post-IC criminals, he’d be easy pickings for a Mammoth or Blackguard or whatever moron had the biggest grudge. Thus, there’s only one option, but Alan Scott wants to make sure Jeff is really ready.

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Jefferson Pierce goes to jail, and then we see the narrator of this tale of fallen heroes: Jason Todd, The Red Hood, a fallen hero himself. Last issue, he came to big “brother” Nightwing with the news that he had proof of Lightning’s innocence. Jason, you see, has been turning in dangerous circles, opposing Justice League and Secret Society of Super-villains equally. Being raised by Batman has taught him the value of paranoia, so he’s been keeping some of the larger threats on BOTH sides of the fence under surveillance, including one Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke The Terminator.

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“I did,” exposits Deathstroke. Slade apparently had been planning for his confrontation with Oliver Queen (seen right before the One Year Later jump) for some time, and was passively surveilling the Green Team, when he saw Lightning go up on the roof. Knowing what was going on, and that Somers (the corporate sellout scumbucket in question) wasn’t worth the price of Laffy Taffy, Slade’s mind put the pieces together quickly. With his inherent mental and tactical abilities, Slade realized that he could take Black Lightning, a potential threat, off the board without Lightning even realizing Slade was involved…

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Nightwing investigates Jason’s claim, and finds nothing that really stands out as wrong. In fact, all his sources seem to confirm that Jason’s telling the truth. With Thunder, he takes the information that he’s found to Black Lightning, incarcerated in Iron Heights prison. Somehow, Jefferson isn’t impressed with the veracity of the claims. “A crime lord in Gotham SAYS he heard an illegally wire-tapped conversation between two other criminals. Yes, Anissa… I’m sure I’ll be out by the weekend.” Heh. He’s got a point, though, and sends his very depressed daughter back home. Depressed, her one thread seemingly cut, she goes to the one person she trusts… teammate Grace Choi.

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I find that panel funny, in that the kissER looks more stunned than the kissEE. Anissa runs away again, but this time Grace doesn’t let her go, catching her and sitting with her until she’s ready to talk. “I’m sorry,” says Anissa, but Grace tells her she doesn’t have a thing to apologize for. Awww… For all the insults hurled at this plotline, I like these two as a couple, and enjoy a little more diversity in my Outsiders. Plus, Grace=purty. Duh-hyuk! “Not to go all girly about this,” says Grace, “but what are you thinking?” Mostly about busting her Dad out of prison, replies Thunder… This might be bad. No, scratch that, this IS bad.

I’m not wild about the art this month, resembling a cross between Todd Nauck and Todd McFarlane with a strong anime influence, and pretty inappropriate for everyone except The Red Hood. The story is finally showing us what happened in the missing months to go from Arsenal-led superhero team to Nightwing-led A-Team-with-powers, and filling in some important blanks as regards Black Lightning, as well. Judd Winick swears this is the story he wanted to tell all along, and I want to believe him, but it feels a little bit like a “Uh oh, how do we clean up our continuity this time?” story, making sure that the hot new Justice League team doesn’t have an unconvicted murderer running about. The plot is easily 3.5 stars, but sub-par art pulls us back to 3 stars, still above average… With any luck, next issue will have our regular penciller back (assume he still IS the regular penciller anymore).

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