Outsiders #49

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Or – “A New Direction Is In The Wings, With Some Loose Ends To Clear Up First…”

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The anatomy of the crossover is always fascinating to observe, and the clash of Checkmate and the Outsiders has been very interesting, serving to put the spotlight on both teams, including the first real understanding of what Sasha Bordeaux’s OMAC implants are really capable of. But it’s been a brutal ride for all involved, and if you’ve been reading Previews, you know that the Outsiders’ future will involve some changes in personnel, leadership and strategy… The questions that this issue must answer, then, are the basic issues that any good reporter would have to answer: how, when, and, most importantly, why?

Previously, on Checkout: The Outsiders faked their own deaths and went underground as Out1.jpga proactive strike force, making a few enemies in the meantime. When Checkmate heard of their activities, The Black Queen sent in her people to capture the Outsiders, and offered them all an ultimatum: Perform a mission for Checkmate, or else. A combined force of The Outsiders, The Black Queen, and all four Checkmate knights infiltrated Oolong Island, home of Chang Tzu’s Council of Evil, only to find that the creature you don’t want to call Egg Fu had pulled a Sam Clemens. Capturing Nightwing, Captain Boomerang and The Black Queen, Chang Tzu begins systematically torturing Boomer and the Queen, locking Nightwing in a cell that forced him to listen to the tortures. When the Chinese government indirectly admitted that Egg Fu had gone beyond anything they were comfortable with, Mr. Terrific called in a specialist who lacked Checkmate’s government ties and culpability, as well as a vested interest in Nightwing and the Queen: Batman. With Boomerang seemingly half-dead, Nightwing desperately tries to formulate an escape plan…

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Having tracked Nightwing and Boomer’s communicators, the remaining Outsiders and Knights discover that the threesome is NOT being held on Oolong Island at all. They suddenly find themselves under fire and race back to their ship. Grace of the Outsiders asks Tommy Jagger what the “hot-$#!+ military-like plan” is, and Jagger replies, “It’s called a retrograde advance!” Translation: RUN AWAY! Making like Brave Sir Robin back to the ship, the team finds that Immortal Man in Darkness (a member of the Chinese superteam The Great Ten) is defending them, and gets their ship in the air.

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“I’ll meet you there,” the voice, and Tommy Jagger suddenly realizes who it is. “That… That was Batman.” Grace remarks that he warms up when you get to know him. “Really?” asks Tommy. “No,” replies Grace. Heh. Back at the castle in the Alps that serves as Checkmate HQ, Amanda Waller is ready to burst a blood vessel, before Mr. Terrific reminds her that her continued broadcasts could give the team’s location away to the North Koreans. “IF that’s where they’re going,” he adds quietly. Amanda suspects that she finaly has the upper hand, but if there’s one thing Mr. T is good it, it’s strategy…

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Mr. Terrific forces Amanda to see things his way, and she agrees that they must rescind Outsiders operation authorization. Somewre in North Korea, the big egg continues to test the limits of Sasha’s nanotech implants. Having already severed her arm, removed her mechanical eye, and continually tortured her, he is now seeing how quickly they can respond to damage… by SETTING SASHA ON FIRE.

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Okay, seriously… The Great Ten needs to wash their hands of this psychopath as QUICKLY as possible. This is beyond any sort of intelligence-gathering or experimental boundaries, this is just pure sadism. I don’t even think that he cares about science anymore, he just likes having a self-replicating plaything. Nightwing agrees, as he and Boomerang prepare to escape. “Great,” snaps Boomer. “You good to drive, or should we call a cab?” Nightwing replies that they’ll be going on foot, and starts to stick his finger down his throat. This issue is throughly icky on many levels, as his plan becomes obvious.

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Boomerang realizes that the entire time HE was being tortured, Nightwing could concievably have escaped, and lashes out at the former Robin. “You BASTARD! What the HELL were you waiting for?” “The right time,” says Nightwing, kicking in the door. “Our ride’s here.” The Outsiders’ ship has arrived, but they’re all sidetracked with yet another giant monster created by the Oolong Island gang, with limited success. The team is confused, as Batman indicated that they wouldn’t be detected. “He meant HE wouldn’t be detected,” says Mademoiselle Marie, “He’s using us for a diversion.” Grace is enraged by this, but Katana quickly orders her to get her close to the creatures neck…

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Between Thunder’s coup de grace and Metamorpho turning himself into lead inside the creature’s brain, the monster goes down hard. Inside the compound, Nightwing and Captain Boomerang get out their respective frustrations on the robot defenders of the laboratory. Using Nightwing’s escrima sticks as bludgeons, Boomer fights with pure rage, and Nightwing tries to calm him down to no avail. “If that fat bastard’s in there, Bluebird, he’s MINE! I owe him a WORLD of pain for what he did to me, and you DON’T want to be between us when I come to collect it.” More robots attack, and Boomer shows his expertise with thrown weapons to be at least the equal of his old man…

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Kicking in the lab door, Boomer finds… an empty room. With the notable excepton of Nightwing’s foster father, of course, and Boomer finds himself in one of the unwisest actions in the DC Universe (other than tugging on Superman’s cape) when he aims a gun at that Batman…

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“No apologies.” It’s good to see the old man treating Dick (Nightwing) like a grown-up, even an equal. Shows how for the ‘Boy Wonder’ has come. Gathering Sasha into his arms, Batman shows a rare glimpse of his gentler side… “Don’t look at me,” whispers the Queen weakly. “It’s all right,” he responds, “you’re going home.” It’s a sweet moment, as he carries her to the Pequod, the Outsiders flying headquarters. “They’re a pretty good bunch, aren’t they?” asks Nightwing, and Batman replies that as long as the job gets done, it doesn’t matter what kind of people they are. ‘Wing confides in his papa that he never intended to get involved like this, that he wanted this team to be about work, not friends or family, but that doesn’t work for him. He blames himself for being a bad leader, for putting the team in Checkmate’s sights.

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He means “Stay Tuned for a series of one-shots in which I choose my new team,” thank you very much. It’s interesting to me how Nightwing seems only able to turn over control to Batman, especially given his demeanor over the last 12 issues. It’s an interesting case of personality interactions, without seeming like saying “We want a popular character to anchor the team to boost sales.”

On that point, I’m looking forward to Batman choosing his team, but was very annoyed by the inclusion of a house ad in the middle of this issue, seemingly revealing the new lineup of the Outsiders. If this is the case, it’s going to take a lot of drama out of the upcoming “5 of a Kind” story, even if I want to see HOW these particular characters got involved. Most annoyingly, it seems like the kind of reveal that might affect sales, by killing the mystery, ostensibly one of the reasons to plop down $2.99 5 times rather than just coming back for issue #50 and letting the story sort itself out. It actually detracts from my rating for the issue, because it drew me out of the enjoyment (or horror, in the case of Egg Fu’s actions) of the ongoing plot. Taking into account the good, the bad, and the ugly, Outsiders #49 earns 2.5out of 5 stars, a lower-than-average showing for this book. While I’m not a huge Batman fanatic, I can certainly appreciate him when written well, and I consider Winick to have the chops to pull off the transition… Hopefully, Batman and the Outsiders won’t have to destroy what I’ve been enjoying about the book to entice more new readers.

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