Or – “How We Got Where We Were A Year Ago But Now Aren’t Anymore…”

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Perhaps the most unpleasant realization of the “One Year Later” stories is the gnawing feeling that the writers DIDN’T KNOW how their characters got to this new status quo, and that when the time came to reveal the truth, it felt like a lot of vamping and ad libbing. Granted, 52 became less of a “story of the DC universe” and more an untraditional superhero narrative about Ralph, Booster, Montoya, and (to a somewhat lesser degree) John-Henry Irons, but even the last three weeks of that book have found what felt like a lot of hurried explanations shoved into any panel that would fit. The Nightwing Annual had the space to show a “Behind The Music” story of Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon’s journey into and out of couplehood and did it smashingly, but now that it’s time to figure out how the Outsiders went from Arsenal-led “Mission: Impossible” riff to Nightwing-led “A-Team” riff, things are… less satisfying.

Here’s what you need to know: Created out of the ashes of the adult incarnation of the Titans, The Outsiders have skirted the law since Out1.jpgthe inception of the team, accidentally breaking hundreds of super-villains out of prison and then trying to capture them, and in the process, codifying their raison d’etre as “proactive superheroing.” (This trick never works.) In the One Year Later stories, we found the Outsiders were presumed dead, Arsenal was gone, but amazingly, Nightwing was covertly leading their team, and the membership included Metamorpho (rather than his “echo personality” Shift, who probably only existed because John Byrne and Judd Winick were both using the character and somebody in editorial didn’t quite catch it in time), Katana, and the new Captain Boomerang from ‘Identity Crisis.’ The butted heads with the Brotherhood of Evil, and found to their horror that they had been being played by Doctor Sivana since the beginning (apparently) and team members Thunder and Grace were revealed to be involved in a same-sex relationship. We’ve also learned in flashback that the last thing the team did before their “deaths” was engage in a covert plan to break Black Lightning (Thunder’s father) out of prison, as it was revealed that Deathstroke, not he, murdered Martin Somers. We pick up this issue’s thread AFTER the prison break, with Arsenal and Nightwing discussing the team’s options…

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Oh, c’mon, Arsenal, this is Batman’s adoptive son… He’s been lying to the entire world (and quite adeptly) since he was seven years old. We flashback during our flashback (it’s like that backwards Seinfeld episode!) to 13 hours earlier, where the assembled Outsiders discuss the situation in Iron Heights. The prisoners clearly have information that lets him know that Black Lightning is present, and while, normally, this would be a Checkmate operation, it’s clear that Lightning won’t survive until they mount an operation. What’s the best way to get into prison? Well, we can ask minor-league villains Girder and unknown-pink-guy-with-horns… they don’t seem to have any problems getting IN.

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There’s clearly already a problem at Iron Heights, if we’re on lockdown, but that won’t stop our intrepid heroes… In fact, the transmission they’re receiving isn’t what it seems, and the prisoner transport turns back (the last checkpoint is 45 miles the other direction), while another, identical transport appears out of nowhere. This one, however, is a little more than it seems…

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It really bugs me that I don’t know the name of the “cow guy” that Thunder is impersonating. The Outsiders quickly infiltrate, and are almost busted when the other guards recognize that Metamorpho is smaller than the man he’s impersonating. He plays it off as being on a diet (he thought it would be nice to improvise) but Katana still scolds him for endangering the mission. Meanwhile, in the metahuman portion of the prison (called ‘The Pipeline’), young Captain Boomerang settles in to his new digs with the disguised Black Lightning, asking for the top bunk…

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As Lightning and Boomer have a sudden heart to heart, there’s trouble brewing, as the power dampeners in the cells aren’t ready for “Girder” and “Longhorn.” They’re being transferred to G-Block, totally f’ing up the plan, keeping the Outsiders on the inside out of position. Arsenal advises them to stand by, but “you may have to get creative.” That can’t be good. Meanwhile, Black Lightning levels with Cap’n Boomerang: The warden isn’t going to listen to him, and he could easily get killed in solitary OR protective custody. He lets Owen/Boomerang know, they may be escaping tonight. Heh. As for Grace and Thunder, Arsenal tells them to stall for time, and Grace as Girder throws a fit, and the guards set off her protective collar…

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But it’s all too little, too late. The feedback blast destroys Grace’s disguise, but even worse, creates a magnetic pulse that deactivates the main generator that powers the super-power dampeners. In other words, ‘OH, $#!+.’ Grace is revealed, and all the myriad criminals of the prison feel it at the same time, suddenly busting out of their cells en masse, led by Skeet and Wald, the idiots who want to off Black Lightning.

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As much as I’m enjoying McDaniel’s art, this scene bugs me. Is it too much to ask that we see even ONE criminal we recognize, rather than a group of lumpy monsters? Sure, nobody draws a group of battle-ready lumpy monsters better (except maybe Berni Wrightson), but I thought that at least ONE of the villains we remember from Flash might still be in custody. The warden immediately orders a “Code: Black,” giving all the C.O.’s permission to shoot to kill. Thunder, Grace, Katana, and Shift immediately go on the defensive, trying to keep the REST of the prison in, and worrying about getting their guy OUT later. But, it should be noted, that Black Lightning has been doing this for a lot of years…

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He might have a trick or two up his sleeve, young Boomerang… While the two of them hold off the tide of murderers, Grace decides that there’s no sense in playing nice, wading into the prisoners like a one-woman-army-corps (OWAC?). Their two paths meet, as Skeet and Wald double-team Black Lightning and go for the kill. The Cap’n yells for help, and Grace scatters them like tenpins. Thunder quickly assesses her dad’s injuries…

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As much as I initially questioned the decision to have Jefferson Pierce have a (heretofore unmentioned, and thus, assumed-to-have-been-abandoned) daughter, I have to say I enjoy Judd’s Lighting/Thunder dialogue. Suddenly, the warden appears on the floor, with a very Clint Eastwood “Time for all of you to see what happens when you %*@* up in Iron Heights.” He raises his hands, and suddenly brings his OWN metahuman power to bear, and the assembled criminals fall writhing to the ground, leaving only Shift standing. The man who would be Rex Mason fights back, but the guards blast him several times. Shift is quickly back on his feet, but this only enrages the warden more, causing him to turn up the juice, torturing Outsider, prisoner AND his own employees alike.

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I’m actually unclear on what happens here, but it looks as though Shift saved his friends by killing the warden (and, coincidentally, everyone else in the room). The Outsiders are horrified, as hundreds lie dead around them, but Nightwing reminds them over the comm that it’s time to get out. They quickly evacuate, using their original escape plan, and reaching their flying ship, The Pequod. Unfortunately, the guards at the outer posts, unable to raise the warden, and operating under the Code: Black, treat the vessel as an escape, and fire their missiles…

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And, thus, my friends, are the Outsiders dead, or at least the four who were inside and recorded (Katana, Shift, Thunder and Grace) on the prison’s sensors. Nightwing and Arsenal, the ones who masterminded the escape, don’t miss the irony. The two of them (presumably with help from Oliver Queen, revealed to have been bankrolling the entire operation in Green Arrow) discuss what to do next, and Nightwing asks if Black Lightning is satisfied with his escape, and whether he feels he’s served HIS penance…

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Nightwing agrees, this is about penance for the deaths they caused. Arsenal replies, “Fine. But I’m out.” Nightwing is stunned, having expected his old friend to back him on this play, but Roy is done. “I’m NOT made for this. Grace told me so, and while back and… I just couldn’t face it then.” Roy needs to stop blurring the line, to get back to heroics, to wear his dad’s old clothes, and get a really awful codename and hit on Hawkman’s reincarnated wife and make his android teammates homicidal. But he goes give a press conference, providing the team’s cover, indicating that they went in trying to SAVE a prisoner rather than break ALL of the prisoners out and then kill them. Luckily for me, I DID misunderstand Shift earlier. He turns to his metaphorical (and metamorphical) parent, Metamorpho, for guidance. The warden killed all the people, but Shift blames himself for pushing the warden so far. Rex tries to comfort him, but Shift is completely hysterical… The deaths of Indigo, and Jade, and all the others have put him over the edge, and (probably since he’s not a whole being) simply can’t take it anymore.

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Metamorpho meets with the team later, explaining that he now has all of Shift’s memories, and feels everything that happened himself. The fact that he’s pulled himself together lends credence to me “not a whole being” theory, actually, but Metamorpho wants to join them in their quest for redemption. “It’s just what you do… for family.” The new/old Outsiders, led by Nightwing, set off on the course to save us all from ourselves, and the story turns full circle…

All in all, it’s a well-done issue. McDaniel’s art is good, but isn’t entirely clear on what’s happening in places (notably the moment after everybody in the prison dies.) Judd’s script is full of nice little moments, but never really seemed to gel for me, feeling strangely cramped, even in a giant-size annual. The character moments between Jefferson Pierce and his daughter, and Rex Mason and his brother/son/whatever the hell Shift is were nice, but I would have liked more of those and less of the shooty mcbangbang smashy parts. The prison story would have been nice to see more of, too, with a kind of “Oz” vibe between Lightning and Boomerang (an Adebise/Said in season 5 kind of vibe, not a Keller/Beecher one.) Maybe I’m just disappointed by this book because of how excellent the Nightwing Annual was, or maybe I’m just starting to sour on Outsiders current status quo (probably a little of both), but this issue feels like 3 out of 5 stars to me… Hopefully, the Checkmate/Outsiders crossover will invigorate me AND the book.

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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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10 Comments

  1. Brent F.
    May 2, 2007 at 4:13 pm — Reply

    So THAT is why Metamorpho is swirly and wears real pants now.

  2. May 3, 2007 at 9:56 am — Reply

    I figured something like that, especially given Shift’s recent series of traumas. And I kind of dig the whole “black leather pants” motif, it gives him an interesting silhouette, and makes for a kind of unique look.

    That said, it draws attention to the fact that he’s been running around in black underpants since 1957 or so…

  3. Brent F.
    May 3, 2007 at 10:19 am — Reply

    Metamorpho and Black Widow must shop at the same place for their undies.

  4. May 3, 2007 at 10:21 am — Reply

    HA!

    Now, that’s comedy, right there…

  5. Brent F.
    May 3, 2007 at 10:25 am — Reply

    This reminds me, I’d like to see how Roy’s membership into the JLA and becoming one of Batman’s partners has affected Nightwing.

  6. May 3, 2007 at 12:31 pm — Reply

    A play in one act…

    Nightwing: “Hey, I hear you joined the League?”
    Arsenal: “Yeah, they ASKED me…”
    Nightwing: “So, what’s with ‘Red Arrow?’ ”
    Arsenal: “I was hypnotized by Hawkgirl’s @$$…”
    Nightwing: “That would explain it. You know, I LED The League once.”
    Arsenal: “Wasn’t that the time that EVERY OTHER MEMBER WAS DEAD?”
    Nightwing: “…”
    Arsenal: “I’m just sayin…”
    Nightwing: “Yeah, well… I bagged Starfire!”
    Arsenal: “So did Raven!”

    Fistfight ensues…

  7. Brent F.
    May 3, 2007 at 2:10 pm — Reply

    For some reason I imagined Nightwing spewing out something more emo.

  8. May 3, 2007 at 2:49 pm — Reply

    Nightwing: “You’re trying to steal my father’s love!!!”
    Arsenal: “At least your old man didn’t abandon you when you got hooked on smack!”
    Nightwing: “HE MADE ME WEAR LIME GREEN CHAINMAIL PANTIES!!! Do you KNOW how embarrassing that was???”
    Arsenal: “Hey, I had a hat that looked like a clitoris! Don’t talk to ME about bad accessories!”
    Nightwing: “Morrissey was so cool…”

  9. Brent F.
    May 3, 2007 at 5:03 pm — Reply

    That’s more like it.

  10. May 3, 2007 at 7:14 pm — Reply

    Happy to be of service…

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