Batman and his Outsiders return for another chapter, but this is, unfortunately, starting to feel less and less like a team, action book, and more like a teenage melodrama… Heavy on the melodrama.
Ra’s al Ghul has kidnapped a metahuman named Sofia Ramos and is brainwashing and grooming her to be one of his key assassins. For Batman, Sofia’s kidnapping is personal because he liberated her and her family from experiments that made them metahumans, and promised to protect them going forward. To help ensure Sofia’s return, Batman recruits his newly formed Outsiders to rescue her from Ra’s al Ghul. The real challenge for the Outsiders may not be confronting Ra’s, or even Sofia, but merely functioning as a cohesive team.
Overall, this issue is a mixed bag. Similar to last month’s chapter, I love what Hill is doing with Ra’s and Sofia. Watching Ra’s slowly and methodically manipulate and mold Sofia into what he wants her to be is both unsettling and fascinating. His approach is masterful, and creates a rather gripping read despite being such a small portion of the book… Unfortunately, my praise for the narrative itself stops there.
There’s practically no plot progression in this book because rather than letting the plot drive the book, Hill keeps side-stepping to focus in on individual character arcs. Now, character development, or even drama for that matter, isn’t bad, but this book has already encountered so many delays and interruptions that it doesn’t need anymore. Right now, Hill needs to focus on driving the plot, gain some momentum, and then incorporate these layers.
We’ve also spent two issues now with the team saying they need to go rescue Sofia, then doing everything but that. Last month the team rallied together to go rescue Sofia, but instead, set up and executed an elaborate plot to help teach Duke a lesson. This month, they also claim they need to save Sofia, but Bruce opts to take a cruise for appearances while Jefferson decides to play Dr. Phil. Seriously? The threads themselves are fine, but save all of this for later in the run.
If there’s any drama that I’d say should be focused on, it’s Duke’s struggles. It’s the most natural progression from the story that started all of this, Detective Comics: On the Outside. That being said, I think we should see Duke struggling and coping with this while trying to save Sofia. I feel that it’s less effective to keep having asides to deal with Duke, rather than letting it unfold naturally. This approach also isn’t letting Duke’s subplot get the attention it deserves. Hill is exploring Duke’s trauma through conversations that feel forced and ham-fisted. Yes, Hill keeps revisiting the subject, but he doesn’t really go anywhere with it, nor does he showcase Duke progressing or regressing from it. I want to care about what’s happening to him, but I don’t, and it’s simply because of how it’s handled.
As I’ve stated, a majority of the issue is just people talking. This, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I believe a number of conversations aren’t handled well. In some instances, the conversations feel forced, while in other examples, conversations occur and resolve so quickly that it doesn’t feel natural. For examples of this, you only need to look at the conversations between Bruce and Jeff, Jeff and Kaliber, and Jeff and Katana. Do you notice a common denominator? Jeff.
In my opinion, Black Lightning isn’t written well here. He’s supposed to be the leader of the team, and I feel like he’s anything but. He’s creating conflicts with Batman and appears to oppose the idea of operating under him, despite choosing to lead a team for him. In this issue, he makes a comment to Bruce about how he’s not his “errand boy.” Well, Jeff, I hate to tell you, but if you choose to work for someone leading a team for them, then you have to answer to them. You also have to take direction from them. If you don’t like that, then you shouldn’t have accepted Batman’s offer.
As for the conversations Jeff has with Katana and Kaliber, they both feel unwarranted. Considering all of the drama that’s already taking place and the lack of focus on the plot itself, we don’t need more. But hey, let’s go ahead and create some conflict between Black Lightning and Kaliber because Jeff doesn’t like guns. While we’re at it, let’s go ahead and throw in some internal struggles with Katana so Jeff can give a pep talk. It’s too much and feels like drama for the sake of adding drama.
I do like that Kaliber essentially tells Jeff to shove it, but that doesn’t mean that the exchange is written well. In fact, the only dialogue I liked from either of these exchanges is Katana’s direct, “Batman is a general who only sees soldiers. You are a teacher who only sees students.” Two sentences. That’s it. Aside from Ra’s al Ghul, those are the only words that really connected with me, and perhaps that’s because I tend to be as blunt as Katana. And don’t even get me started on Bruce’s “I’m struggling comment.” Tom King’s Batman is tainting too many things at the moment.
I want to like this book. I do. But right now, it just isn’t doing it for me. There’s a ton of potential here, but it’s not being met. And I know Hill has it in him. His work on Angel is fantastic! I’m not giving up on Batman & the Outsiders by any means, but I think this title needs a fresh start above anything else.
Dexter Soy delivers the line art of this issue. While I’m a big fan of his, there were moments where his pencils didn’t appear to be as tight and crisp as we’re used to seeing. There were also some issues with proportions. Take the title page. Ra’s right arm is so long, that if he extended it, it would hang down to his knee. Then there’s the panel with Bruce and Jeff on the yacht. Jeff’s shoes are quite a bit smaller than Bruce’s feet… It was just weird. I think it honestly comes down to the fact that some panels and pages just looked rushed.
That being said, with such little action found in the issue itself, Soy does incredible work to help make the visuals as engaging as possible. The way he frames his panels, and the emotions and reactions he creates with the characters, is top-notch. I also like Sofia’s costume, and Veronica Gandini’s colors add a nice richness and mood to the story. Despite some minor, picky mishaps, the art is quite good!
- You’re invested in Sofia.
- You like melodrama.
- You know good things are coming.
Batman & the Outsiders #4 isn’t bad, but it’s also far from great. There’s a lot of potential here between the roster and the plot, but Hill is trying to do too much at once. There doesn’t appear to be a consistent or cohesive focus, and that’s only gutting the momentum of the story.