Outsiders #46

by

Or – “Strange Days, Indeed… Most Peculiar, Mama.”

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Of all the mysteries left unsolved in the wake of the time-jump caused by 52, the question of what happened to the Outsiders has been the most maddening, partly because their change in status quo was so dramatic, and partly because Judd Winick has insisted on giving us absolutely nothing to go on, not even an oblique hint. Even now that they’re revealing the events that filled the one-year-gap, certain questions remain maddeningly unanswered (notably the whole “Grace isn’t what she seems” issue), and Winick is probably going to hell for it. Serve him right, crafting an interesting series of mysteries and then giving us no clues to them. *removes tongue from cheek* Are they going to give us ANYTHING this time ’round?

out1.jpgThankfully (finally), yes. As we open up, we find each Outsider voting on something… Shift, Katana, Nightwing and Arsenal all say no, and Thunder argues with them, as Grace watches impassively from above. Thunder apparently wants to break her dad (Black Lightning) out of Iron Heights prison. Thunder, AKA Anissa Pierce,, makes the argument that her father did nothing wrong, but is still unjustly incarcerated! She makes a good argument, but Nightwing responds that the word of a felon and murderer (The Red Hood) who overheard ANOTHER felon and murderer (Deathstroke the Terminator) admitting to the killing just to futz with people’s heads probably won’t hold up in a court of law. His point is just as valid, and probably has a lot more rational thinking behind it. Thunder’s response?

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Not exactly parliamentary procedure, at any rate. I had forgotten how incredibly ugly her pre-OYL costume was, but to be frank, the art doesn’t help, either. Carlo Barbieri, the penciller this issue, seems to be strongly influenced by manga, and not in a good way, either. All of our leads come across as caricatures, none more than poor Grace, who looks like a vaguely hispanic Goku. Speaking of which, Arsenal makes a point of asking Grace her opinion, expecting her to back his play. Her response is unexpected, to say the least: “I think you are all full of about thirty tons of crap.” Black Lightning is a straight shooter, sez Grace, a guy so good that he was willing to compromise his own reputation to get into the Luthor White House and keep an eye on ol’ evil Lexie, regardless of the fallout…

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“Yeah, I think we should bust him out. I think we should have done it already.” The whole team is stunned, Thunder most of all, as Grace stalks away. Later that evening, Anissa (Thunder) pays the esteemed Miss Choi a visit, which seems, at first, very similar to the visit from last ish, with one major exception…

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This time she’s not leaving. That’s kind of sweet, but the art isn’t nearly emotional or representational enough to get across the emotions they seem to be feeling. It’s a bit too cartoony for something as subjectively grown-up as comics first mainstream lesbian superhero relationship. And as for the subject of their argument, Black Lightning, the big man is incarcerated in Iron Heights prison, in Keystone City. We’ve seen this prison before, save for a few recent changes… The new warden has initiated a program for the “less dangerous” offenders, called “E Block,” keeping them away from the major metahumans, and also giving me a huge “Oz” flashback.

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Prisoner #06M23522, Owen Mercer, aka “Captain Boomerang.” Convicted July 7th of armed robbery, extortion, and grand larceny. Sentence, five years. Up for parole in 2. *drum solo* Boomer II isn’t the kind of man to hold his tongue when challenged, so naturally, he’s not going to do well in Iron Heights. Almost immediately, he runs afoul of the other minor metas in the Heights, most of which know that somehow, The Outsiders helped him out, and they figure he’s a double-agent, a hero undercover. Turns out they have the wrong inmate, but the basic gist is still there.

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Say it with me! “BLACK LIGHTNIN’!!! BLACK LIGHTNIN’!!!” The warden hears about the brouhaha, and since he can’t give Owen his own cell and the man killing him was his CURRENT roomie, he’ll just stick Boomer in with “Cooper” and let Buddha sort it out. A pretty elegant (and cold-blooded) solution, there, MacManus. Unfortunately, nobody can keep a secret anymore, and a few days later, Owen is approached in the hall by his former roommate/attempted murderer, with a plan to get back in everyone’s good graces and survive Iron Heights. How, you ask? Just kill off your cellmate! Why, asks Boomer Junior? The thug is surprised that he doesn’t know already…

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That’s not good… Jeff looks like somebody already shivved him there (another annoying thing about this art team, there’s not such thing as a subtle expression… characters go from zero to cartoon in two panels flat), and with good reason, seeing what the red and yellow captions are talking about. We cut in to see his daugher Anissa lying in Grace’s bed, recently post-flagranted delicto, stunned to hear about Grace’s dating habits. “I have SEX with men… I have relationships with women.” Anissa remarks that she hated Grace’s guts at the beginning of the team, which doesn’t really bode well for their pillow talk.

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Aww, that’s kind of sweet. Too bad they don’t look like the same species at all. The problems I had with the art last month seem even more obvious this time, and it’s starting to affect my enjoyment of the story. Grace sweetly and embarrasedly asks when Thunder noticed her, and gets a wonderful response… “It was like snowfall, accumulating bit by bit.” Poetic imagery and nuzzling ensue, but Anissa’s communicator suddenly peeps. Grace doesn’t want to answer, but Thunder has a greater sense of duty, and I’m sure she’s glad of it, once she hears what’s going on…

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I can’t say as how I’d ever call Jason Todd “reliable,” whether his information is on the up and up or not. The Red Hood is ten shades of nuts, and Dick and Roy should be very wary of what he has to say. In any case, several questions are answered this issue, including the important “what the heck is Boomerang doing in there?” query we all had last spring. The Grace/Thunder relationship has FINALLY surpassed sensationalism and given us something very much like what I had hoped was going on, and we see what brings Dick back into the Outsiders’ fold. Let’s see how much more is cleared up next month in the Annual.

The real downfall of this issue was the art, cartoony and inappropriate for either the prison or sex scenes. The silly costumes that Thunder and Grace used to wear look doubly so under Barbeiri & Thibert’s pens, and even Nightwing looks goofy as heck with his big Sascha Bordeaux haircut. Maybe I’m just on a rant about art lately (see my New Avengers recap recently) but when a script writes checks the art can’t cash, it peeves me greatly. This is a hybrid visual medium, after all… I wouldn’t ask Frank Miller to draw Archie, and I don’t think I’d want to see Scott Kurtz on Sin City (check that, I WOULD like to see the latter), and asking Barbieri to convey the kind of dark, emotional battlefield that Outsiders is shooting for hurts the credibility of the book, and undermines the story. With that in mind, I have to backpedal my initial happiness at the good portions of story, and smooth it out into a homogenous 2.5 stars (averaging 1.5 for the art and 3.5 for the words).

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