Bryan Hill proves two things here. First, when he’s on his game, he’s incredible. Second, the quality of his writing is better when he’s exploring character rather than pushing the plot. Regardless, there are some really nice moments here, and some that just felt a little… odd.
We’re only three issues into this title, but the Outsiders aren’t coming together as a team should. The pieces are there and in place, but they’re not connecting. Black Lightning realizes this, as does Batman, and both know that something needs to be done. Batman’s response is to challenge the team to help them understand they can trust one another… The only thing is, the threat they’ll have to endure is him.
Initially, I enjoyed the idea of this. Batman testing his protégés to help them overcome obstacles that are holding them back? I’m all about that. There are plenty of things standing in the way of our heroes as well. Black Lightning doesn’t feel he’s the right person to lead the team. Katana justifies murder as a necessary act at times. Orphan fears her own abilities. And then there’s Duke who is experiencing a form of PTSD from his encounter with Karma. There’s plenty to explore with these characters, and considering they just got their butts handed to them by Ishmael, overcoming their personal demons feels necessary. A little fast and early as far as pacing is concerned, but necessary none-the-less.
However, as this plot starts to unfold, I find myself less and less intrigued. When the team meets up to face Batman, Black Lightning gives orders to the team to split up and track Batman down. Personally, if I were being strategic, I would approach Batman with numbers. Plus, this is supposed to be a team effort, and right away, they split up… I mean, what’s the point? It isn’t until after everyone splits up that I start to realize what’s actually going on.
After taking his orders, Duke is quickly met with a threat that is perceived to be Batman. As it turns out, it’s actually Karma. I would love to say that the reveal surprised me, but I didn’t buy it for a second. , “That’s clearly Bruce.” To make matters worse, the scene just kind of lingers in an altercation between these two. There’s some action, but that’s about it. And then it became clear what was actually going on… What starts out as a mission from Batman to better the team, quickly becomes less about the team, and more about Duke. See, the training exercise isn’t as much of an exercise as it is an intervention. It’s weird.
Nothing about the encounter feels authentic. It’s very contrived. I mean, why acknowledge that the team, as a unit, has problems, but then just confront Duke’s problem? In addition to this, Duke doesn’t shut down or freeze as he did in the first issue. He actually tries to fight back here, he’s just not as skilled. So, when Bruce reveals that it actually is him under the Karma mask, Duke’s “I need help” feels unwarranted. To add to this, the exercise was supposed to be about trust, and yet everyone played Duke… That’s not going to build trust.
And one more thing. Where in the hell did Kaliber come from at the end? He wasn’t with the Outsiders on the rooftop, nor was he with the team where they were supposed to meet Batman… But nobody acted surprised to see him. No, no. Somebody better ask some questions. Anyway, this portion of the book isn’t bad, but it’s not nearly as effective as it should be. The approach and execution are simply too narrow.
What does work in this issue is Ra’s al Ghul. Talk about some solid, effective writing! Watching him slowly and instinctually manipulate Sofia is spectacular. The way he expertly dances around her fear and anger, prodding her in different ways, antagonizing her to a degree… It’s genuinely scary. And the fact that he does it with ease, yet also has a following so committed that they’d trust him inherently. But this is the key here. Belief. Seeing Ishmael’s belief in Ra’s and the mission. Watching Sofia succumb to that belief so easily. It’s one of the best representations of Ra’s al Ghul I’ve seen in a long time, and it’s damn near perfect!
And yet again, this makes me wonder if we would have had more moments like this had Hill’s plans not been interfered with. Would we have gotten to experience more of a psychological approach to these characters and their shortcomings if “Year of the Villain” weren’t forced upon every title? Because as much as I didn’t care for the plot featuring the Outsiders, the closing scene with Ra’s and Lex is honestly my least favorite part. And just think, we’re going to get an entire month of Lex Luthor about to make an offer with almost every book. (Insert eye roll here.)
Dexter Soy continues to deliver outstanding art. He’s an incredible storyteller and clearly knows how to play up the tension of certain scenes. He’s also good with action as well. I’ve described his aesthetic as being reminiscent of anime. It’s not necessarily a bad thing in my book, but I can understand if/why some people don’t respond to it as strongly. My only complaint would have to be that because of the pacing of the book, it never feels like he (or Hill for that matter) really get to dig in. Yes, we get glimpses of it from both talents, but there’s an opportunity for more. All in all, the work here is solid though.
- Ra’s al Ghul. Trust me. Come for Ra’s!
- Psychological manipulation intrigues you.
- You enjoy intriguing supporting characters (Sofia and Ishmael)
Batman & the Outsiders #3 isn’t great, but it’s solid. Hill continues to struggle to find a balance between team dynamic/ character exploration and plotting. Ra’s al Ghul’s arc in this chapter is sheer perfection as he psychologically manipulates Sofia to bend to his will and mission. Unfortunately, the titular team’s plot turns out to be a little lackluster. I still have hope that the book will only improve over time, and I feel confident that Hill and Soy will deliver.