The cynical side of me says: oh look, a comic book with Black Lightning to help promote the TV show of the same name. Or even more cynical: oh look, DC comics is looking to catch the attention of fans of the TV show and encourage them to buy comics.
But neither of those potential marketing maneuvers matter. The only question I have for a book like this is: does it hook me with its story?
And for the moment I can unequivocally say yes! Bryan Hill’s “On the Outside” (part 1) kicks off what’s looking to be like a compelling tale about legacy and accountability.
I’ll be honest and say the opening of this book give me the worst kind of déjà vu. We begin with the reporter interviewing a young kid and the technique by artist Miguel Mendonça is to show the interview unfold as if we are viewing it on an analog TV screen. Cue Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns or Todd McFarlane’s endless use of television throughout the Spawn series (both give me the shuddering horrors). It might have even worked back in the 80s and early 90s, but today the news cast cliché is a limp and tired trope.
Fortunately however, this one pays off in a meaningful way. The young man who is being interviewed wants to be like Batman and we see the nexus of media/social media and vigilantism play out in an expected, but still tragic fashion.
More importantly, it’s The Signal who comes on the scene to try to save the day, only to be caught up in the blast that takes this kid out.
Now I’ve made no bones about the fact that I don’t really like Duke Thomas is a character, but this is one heck of a of an opening!
True, we’ve been here before. One of Batman’s prodigies takes a hit, the Batfamily goes into crisis mode, and Batman begins to question everything he’s done. And he should, because he’s made a career of endangering young people who have been his sidekicks since time immemorial–which has resulted in the death of several, even if some of those deaths were later retconned.
The point is this is nothing new for Batman. And yet Hill manages to treat the circumstances with a special kind of urgency. And we also get to see Batman both internalizing his conflict, and, as usual, also thinking three steps ahead–already looking to rectify the situation.
This is a job for…J’onn?
I especially love that Batman’s first response is to try to contact the superest of his super-buddies, Clark Kent. Even though this is Detective Comics and not Justice League, it’s nice to be reminded that the world is connected even if all these heroes are sometimes too busy with their own issues to provide immediate support for one another. I also love that it’s J’onn who responds to Batman’s call in Superman’s place. This helps make the leap to Jefferson Pierce make more sense.
And what a great initial interaction between Pierce and Batman! It has all the shadows and secrecy we’ve come to enjoy from a late night call from the Dark Knight, coupled with high emotional stakes. The last impromptu collaboration between Batman and Black Lightning was not quite a successful one, and Pierce even questions Batman’s choice in asking him to help teach his “children”.
It’s an interesting “solution”: Batman considers himself a mentor, but not a teacher. You may be wondering what the difference is, but I get where Bats is going with this. He wants to remain in an advisory capacity, but he needs someone who can be on the ground with them (sort of like in the old days when Batman and Robin actually, you know, worked together). Pierce’s history with the Outsiders makes him kind of ideal for this, actually. He’s worked with a diverse group of people with varying skills and personalities. Now we haven’t seen the Outsiders since last year’s Dark Days: The Forge, so the big question we’re all wondering about might be: will they return? Or will the “new” Outsiders be all these somewhat lost and/or detached Batchildren with Jefferson Pierce as their teacher?
Could this scene look any more beautiful?
Mendonça (with Diana Egea on inks) supplies solid visual storytelling throughout, with particular emphasis on the characters (you can tell from every panel that the artist loves to draw Batman). His crisp lines lend exceptional clarity to the action, even in purely chatty moments (of which there are quite a few). This keeps the story dynamic and prevents it from lapsing into talking heads syndrome. There are a few moments when the perspective/proportions seem to go a bit wonky. That splash page of Batman, Alfred, and Duke at the beginning looks like Bats is visiting from the Land of the Giants, and later Cassandra Cain shows a fist big enough to more than palm her own skull. But overall, I think this is a happy match for this tale and Black Lightning also especially looks great and his static-on-speed powers light up the page without being overproduced in the “glow” effects.
But speaking of Cassandra Cain. It’s Cassandra Cain! No spoilers, but I did have a moment when I literally had to sit up to turn the next page with her–and that’s always a good sign!
Who else do you want to see pop up in these pages? Stephanie? Tim? Luke? Harper?
- You’re ready for a no-holds-barred incitement to team-up!
- You’re a big fan of Batfamily dynamics and have been hankering for more sidekick drama, and for the sides to be more front and center.
- You need a Batman fix that isn’t itself fixed on wedding plans.
Bryan Hill has some low-roar motoring moments throughout this Black Lightning guest star kick-off, but once he opens the throttle, this book is off like a shot. It will leave you with more questions than answers, but I am all-in to see what the story is behind this nemesis with a target on Bat supporters both unofficial and official. If you have been wanting to see more of Batman’s extended family, this book may be just what you need. The addition of Black Lightning in what looks to be shaping up as a pivotal role in the family’s forward trajectory, just makes it all the better.