Or – “I’m Still At A Loss As To How This Is Any Sort Of Competition…”


I mean, honestly, Katana is a former Outsider, she’s worked with Batman before, she’s got the smarts and battle skills, and, oh yeah… SHAZAM CAN’T LEAVE THE ROCK OF ETERNITY! After the first head-to-head came out with no winner at all, I’m sort of wondering if I’ve misunderstood the concept of this miniseries within a series. The way I read the Previews, it seemed like each issue was going to be a competition to see who works better within Batman’s proposed team structure, but two issues in, it comes across as more complicated than that. After all, the worlds of magic are in disarray, and even Batman needs a mystical resource now and again.

Out1.jpgPreviously, on The Outsiders: A series of missions that turned ugly left the Outsiders as fugitives from justice. The manipulations of Doctor Sivana and Egg-Fu made a bad situation worse, and Nightwing was forced to accept that he couldn’t operate under the Outsiders’ “business only” mentality… but he knew the one man that could. Batman had apparently already planned to take over the Outsiders when Nightwing was captured on the disastrous Chinese mission, and now that his time-table has been pushed forward, he’s bound and determined to give them all a trial by fire. The first mission cost him the services of both Captain Boomerang, Jr (Ugh.) and Nightwing, perhaps proving that the old “Prove You Belong” trick may not have as much life left in it as he thought it did. This issue begins with Katana travelling through what I think is Central Park, followed by a group of martial-arts wannabees in standard issue leather vests. Warrrriorrrrrrs! Come out and PLAAAAYaaaayyyy! It’s sad that the cops got Ajax, because the other thugs are quickly dispatched by Katana’s namesake blade. In fact, it’s a little TOO quickly…


Katana rallies, breaking the woman’s battleaxe, causing her to disappear into mist as well. Her interest piqued, Katana returns home, thinking of the land of Fukumaden, the “Abode of Demons,” in truth a magical land that can only be accessed through her sword. Katana thinks of her lost husband and children, murdered by her evil brother-in-law, who no resides within the sword. She meditates through her tears, forcing the sword to commune with her. “I am Katana… She who has mastered the Soultaker, and ALL who dwell within it! I command you. Appear here before me and answer for your–” A sudden burst of mystic energy interrupts her sentence and knocks her back, but luckily she has someone watching out for her.


Wow. That’s kind of… a… rash decision? Having committed seppuku, Katana opens her eyes, awakening in the land of Fukumaden. Since there’s only a few pages to get this thing rolling, she is immediately accosted by a group of tough guys who demand to know what side of the rebellion she is on. Katana is known for many things, including unparalleled mastery of the martial arts, expertise in many forms of weaponry and a fierce tenacity in a fight. Nowhere on that list would you find “patience for fools.” She immediately goes on the offensive, grabbing the whip from one of their hands and throttling him for it. A thrown knife kills the man in her hands, but gives her a weapon. She takes a moment to try and figure out what they meant when they asked her what side of ‘the rebellion’ she was on.


That probably wasn’t part of the plan… Katana awakes in chains, and is forced to row a giant slave boat, bringing the “inexplicable plot point” count to three, while her presence hasn’t gone unnoticed. When evil bro-in-law Takeo took over the world, he gave his lieutenants her description, expecting Katana’s incursion.


Okay, that’s bad. Katana keeps asking questions, causing herself and her fellow slaves to get the lash repeatedly. She asks a helpful fellow if he’s ever heard of anyone escaping Fukumaden, and he miraculously knows all about Takeo’s plan to escape and also the fact that he sent someone to kill Katana. All of 30 seconds ago. It’s like an episode of ‘Knight Rider,’ where Michael blows into town, suddenly makes life-long friendships, beats up a couple of bad guys, and leaves never to return. Suddenly, the rebels attack, sinking the slave ship. Which makes little sense, unless they were out to kill the innocents slaves as well, but whichever… Once again, Shazam watches from the Rock of Eternity, discovering that Takeo’s power comes from a mysterious sorceror whom we’re going to call ‘Shang Tsung.’


Saved from drowning, Katana just happens to meet the head of the rebellion, a man named Haruta who looks like Fabio in a baby-blue jerkin. He relates to her the story (recognizing her as the mistress of the Soultaker) and tells her that SHE is responsible for everything that has happened. She agrees with him, and vows to take out her former in-law. “I will FIND “Emperor Takeo” and I will SLAY him again, here as I did on Earth.” Unfortunately, Battleaxe has arrived at her house with a similar plan involved Katana’s neck and the severing thereof.


Since he immediately knows her, Haruta takes her along on a mission to take out Takeo, climbing the walls of his castle as Shang Tsung orders his agent on Earth to attack her body. Katana fights her way into the citadel, immediately finding and confronting the emperor. This feels like a four issue arc stuffed into one book, and the pace is giving me a bit of whiplash… She draws upon mystic energies to create an energy sword (Connie Ronin calls her lawyer) and attacks Takeo, but Shang Tsung leaps into action, draining her soul. With both body and soul under attack, Katana has no hope at all, save for the keen eyes of Billy Batson (who, it might be noted, follows strange men in long coats into subways at night, and thus may not be the smartest wizard in the world.)


An image of Marvel appears, explaining that he used the power of Mercury to heal her wounds at super-speed. Katana thanks him, but tells her that their work is not done. “Eventually,” she says, “I must go back… And finish the job I have begun.” Oh, man… It’s a PROLOGUE?? You gotta be kidding me! She swears that one day, she will return to Fukumaden and overthrow Takeo. “And on that day, a soul WILL perish. Mine… or HIS.” Oy. Mike Barr’s main story ends here, but there’s an afterword, with Katana turning on the lights in her home to find Batman. She asks if he’s here to save her from Battleaxe, and he tells her that he knew she had it well in hand. She asks about her try-out, and Batman tells her that was it… How would he KNOW? I suppose Captain Marvel could have warned him about the imbalance in magic, but it just comes across as “Magic Batman” again, one step from miraculously having Bat-Shark-Repellent for just such an emergency. Katana asks the same question, and Batman explains…


I’m… Honestly? I’m thoroughly unimpressed by this issue. Katana is interesting enough, but spends most of the book thrown from one improbable situation to another, ramming a sword through her stomach because she was mugged, then getting cold-cocked, kidnapped, becoming a rebel leader, and confronting Shang Tsung. Honestly, it read more like a primer for people who didn’t remember the back-story of Katana’s blade and family (and, to be frank, that’s probably EXACTLY what it is.)

Still, the art isn’t bad at all, and Kevin Sharpe’s work here is a bit stronger than it was on Legion of Super-Heroes (probably because he wasn’t trying to overcome the imprint of Barry Kitson on the comic.) Mike Barr is an old-school writer of tales, and that often works to his advantage, but the forced-to-get-it-all-in compression of the pacing doesn’t do his plot justice. Somewhere down the line, when we see this tale play out (I’m figuring it’s the second or third arc of the new Batman and The Outsiders monthly) perhaps I’ll feel differently, but right now I’m just feeling a bit unsatisfied by it all. Add to that a lack of Captain Marvel (or Shazam, whichever) in a book where he’s co-featured on the cover, and I’m just sort of “meh.” It’s not a bad piece of comic book work, but the whole doesn’t quite synthesize the sum of it’s parts, ranking a somewhat disappointing 2 out of 5 stars.


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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  1. Baal
    August 15, 2007 at 10:25 pm — Reply

    Two things: First, I just posted elsewhere about Billy Batson’s lack of brains so it was weird reading your comment. I think it’s totally unfair Freddie Freeman has to fight for his powers when the person who decided this is the same guy who got the power originally after following a person who had all the classic trappings of a pedophile into an abandoned subway tunnel. Or maybe Billy did know what he was doing. Maybe that wasn’t the first time he followed men down there? Most kids his age on the streets don’t live off the proceeds of selling papers, after all. Secondly, am I the only one who couldn’t stop pronouncing thename of the land in Katana’s sword as ‘fuck you, maiden’?

  2. Roy
    August 16, 2007 at 6:18 am — Reply

    No, Baal, you definitely weren’t the only one. I’ll be walking around saying that all day.

  3. Brent F.
    August 16, 2007 at 7:09 am — Reply

    I have to agree, this issue was weird since Katana never really had any competition.

    However, I disagree with Baal. I don’t think it’s unfair that Freddy has to earn the powers of Captain Marvel. Billy was given the powers because he had the innocence of youth, which Shazam believed would make Captain Marvel incorruptible and pure. Freddy and Mary received their powers from Billy himself and perhaps now with the full wisdom of Shazam swimming around his head he feels that to do so without knowing the strength of their character was a mistake.

  4. Baal
    August 17, 2007 at 3:57 am — Reply

    Oh, and I repeat Baal’s Comic Book Rule #812: The longer the title, the crappier the story.

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