Or – “Two Teams With Much In Common…”
In the early 80s, DC Comics was pretty much on the skids. It was the Teen Titans that put a stop to their sales fall, and as always with comics, a successful move causes editorial to go back to the well again. Luckily, the well brought up the Outsiders, a team fronted by Batman instead of Robin, who consisted of two existing characters and three new kids, just like the Titans themselves. It was inevitable that Barr & Aparo’s Outsiders would meet Wolfman & Perez’s Titans, especially given the presence of Geo-Force and Terra on the respective teams. But their first meeting was tumultuous, with the former Dynamic Duo clashing, and both teams left for dead. I’d say it ought to be a short review, but since it’s a nearly 30 year old book, they probably got better…
BATMAN & THE OUTSIDERS #5
Scripters: Mike W. Barr; Marv Wolfman (co-plot)
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Len Wein
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 75 Cents (Current Near-Mint Price: $4.50)
Previously, on Batman And The Outsiders: When Bruce Wayne’s relationship with Superman and the rest of the Justice League became strained, he teamed up with Metamorpho and Black Lightning and a couple of new kids to form a team called The Outsiders, who weren’t constrained by the bureaucracy and folderal that had come to define the League in the satellite era. Their earliest adventures put them up against the likes of Baron Bedlam, but they soon came up against the Fearsome Five, a powerful coalition of villains known for fighting the Teen Titans. Alongside the Titans, the Outsiders met Psimon, Shimmer, Mammoth, Gizmo and Doctor Light head-on…
…and got a royal beatdown, thanks mostly to Psimon, and the Fearsome Five sent both Outsiders and Titans to a watery doom. As the mostly insensate heroes sink to their deaths, only Terra is able to act, assembling a small island of rocks and earth before passing out from lack of oxygen. Enter, Geo-Force…
Terra’s big brother uses his own powers to lift all the heroes out of danger on the makeshift platform. What’s interesting about all of this is that, until the previous issue, the question of why Terra and Geo-Force had the same costume and similar powers was never addressed, and the issue of Terra’s spying for Terminator was still an active plot point (though her true betrayal was still a few months in the future.) For all the nastiness she reveals herself capable of, Terra seems clearly influenced by the presence of her beloved half-sibling. It’s an interesting take on the character. After their close shave, the Dynamic Duo once again clashes over who is really in charge, as Batman immediately begins barking orders to a frustrated Robin, leaving Mr. Grayson with a familiar taste of ashes in his mouth.
The depth and subtlety shown by Aparo in those last two panels is amazing, taking Robin from disappointment to flat-out resentment with a very subtle line, and while the character is wearing a mask! That’s genius in action, folks, and you should go find more Aparo art wherever it turns up. The heroes head back to Outsiders HQ (which was housed in the penthouse of Bruce Wayne’s Gotham City offices, the same place that the Batcave was briefly housed in the 70’s) where each individual hero gets a moment of character-building in odd combinations. Black Lighting and Kid Flash, Halo and Wonder Girl, Katana and Cyborg, Terra and Metamorpho, and each brief interaction deepens both characters while letting you know clearly what their deal is. The teams quickly head out to the sight of a disturbance in Manhattan, which turns out to be the Fearsome Five booting their leader, Doctor Light. (This is during his buffoon phase, which came AFTER his super-genius phase, but before his killer rapist phase.) The heroes manage to capture Light and grill him for info on the overall plan…
It should be noted that “first villains ever to take over the city of New York” is only effective in the DCU, as the criminal Zodiac pulled it off over at Marvel back in 1970 or so. The heroes quickly cobble together a counter-frequency to block Psimon’s mind-control, and set out into action. The heroes track the Fearsome Five, but find themselves unable to fight crowds of innocents. All the while, the Dark Knight’s lack of personal skills chafes against his adoptive son, and eventually young Master Grayson’s daddy issues finally come to a boil.
Here’s how long ago this book took place: Robin called Batman on his manipulative loner bull$#!+, and he is portrayed as in the right! Better still, Robin’s plan is sound enough that even the much-vaunted Caped Crusader stands back and allows his boy to take overall command of both teams. Best of all, when the teams break down, Batman and Robin effortlessly fall into their old-school teamwork, taking down Gizmo like a well-oiled machine. It’s actually quite nice to see them working together so smoothly. Terra and Geo-Force square off against the sibling team of Shimmer and Mammoth, but the heroes have only won HALF the battle, thanks to the mental wizardry of Psimon.
You gotta love the “common man” dialogue from Metamorpho, there. I always thought they should have a super-team consisting of Metamorpho, The Thing, Deadman, Robotman and Cyborg and let them just hipster-talk the villains into submission. But I digress… The heroes combine their mighty powers to bust through Psimon’s force field, and Halo puts him down with her stasis aura. When they return to Outsiders HQ, though, the distaff member of the Fearsomes has slipped through their fingers…
And the Wayne boys make up, leaving everything on a high note, and putting a smile on my face. I remember buying this issue very early in my comics-buying career, making it my first interactions with virtually everyone here (save Batman, Robin, and oddly enough, Black Lightning) but I came out of this crossover impressed enough to start buying BOTH team books regularly. This was a good choice, leading me to the Judas Contract, the wonderful issue where Batman finally shares his secret identity with the Outsiders, and eventually leading to the superlative moments in Crisis On Infinite Earths. Mike Barr is somewhat underrated as a writer, but his plotting is always intricate and his dialogue managed to successfully straddle the line between humanistic and comic expositional. Most of all, though, this issue shines thanks to Aparo at his best. His Starfire is innocently bombshelly, his Wonder Girl has hair you just want to caress, his fight sequences are perfectly staged, and only a very few can match his facial expressions. His teenage characters even look like TEENAGERS, which is something that even the wonderful George Perez had his issues with.
This issue isn’t remembered as anything special, no first appearances, deaths or debuts, but it will always remind me of how much fun comics are at their best, how even a random single issue can deliver solid entertainment that is clearly memorable decades later. Batman & The Outsiders #5 earns a dead-solid 4.5 out of 5 stars overall, and I’m sad that they haven’t started trade paperbacking these things already.
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Wouldn’t it be nice if characters could always get in a moment of individuality, even in the proverbial giant crossover clusterschmozz?