After three issues of saying they’re going to save Sofia, Batman and the Outsiders finally act on their promise! Better late than never, I guess. But, will their attempt be successful, or will this mission just be another instance of the team falling short of their goal? Find out below! (Psst… This is, by far, the best issue of Batman & the Outsiders to date!)
Now, this is more like it! If you haven’t been tuning in to Batman & the Outsiders, the premise of this story is rather simple. Ra’s al Ghul has kidnapped a metahuman, Sofia, whom he plans on converting into one of his assassins. Batman has sworn to protect Sofia, so in response, he sends his newly formed Outsiders to rescue her. The story is simple enough, right? Well, not really. The reality is that this simple plot was the set-up in the first issue. The team hasn’t actually made an effort to rescue Sofia from Ra’s until now, roughly three to four issues later. Instead, we’ve had some “Year of the Villain” nonsense, an intervention with Duke (sorry, I refuse to call him Signal because it’s a stupid name), and a whole lot of Black Lightning telling people he doesn’t trust other people… It hasn’t been great.
I wouldn’t say that Batman & the Outsiders has been bad, it’s just been highly inconsistent and mostly mediocre. Some of the book’s worst moments have unfortunately come from Batman, Black Lightning, and Duke. Most of the scenes featuring these characters have just been melodrama, and none of them have laid the groundwork that’s needed to provide an outcome that feels earned. Thankfully, we barely get any of that in this issue.
Most of this issue focuses on the mission, providing a much-needed boost of momentum to the narrative. In fact, even the opening pages – which can be a little confusing on the initial read – play into a strategic attack that’s being made. Jefferson and Katana travel to Khadym posing as weapons dealers to get close to Ra’s. Jeff continues to question a number of things, and while I wish he would come off a little less whiny, his questions do lead to interesting conversations… but mainly because he’s talking to Katana.
I’ve made it clear that Katana is one of my favorite characters, and her exchange with Jefferson provides a clear example of why. She’s incredibly complicated, but driven by her idea of honor. She doesn’t consider herself a hero, but a weapon, and isn’t afraid to take a life for the sake of protection or justice. Killing doesn’t come either though. After confirming that she has killed, she confirms with Jefferson that he has not had to face that choice, and follows that with, “You will. And guilt will find you either way.”
This may seem like a throwaway line, but there’s so much you can unpack here. Directly, she’s telling Black Lightning that he’ll be forced to choose whether to kill someone or not at some point. If he does, then he’ll have to deal with the guilt of killing that person. If he doesn’t kill, then he’ll have to live with the guilt of allowing that person more opportunities to hurt and potentially kill others. The statement also says a lot about Katana in regards to Batman. They both have different stances as far as killing is concerned, yet they still respect and trust one another… And I have no doubt that that trust will be tested in the future.
As the plot moves to set up the action, we learn that Kaliber has found Sofia, but that it appears to be a trap. The team knows this is their only chance, so their forced to take it regardless. And as the Outsiders move in, Ra’s sets his trap… His first one anyway. As Black Lightning and Katana approach Sofia, assassins rise up from beneath the sand to challenge not only them, but Kaliber on his perch as well. The great thing about this entire reveal is that it is given away on the first page when the homeless man says, “The Demon’s eyes over the sand… Over the sand…. The Demon’s eyes.” The entire bit was a nice, yet subtle, reveal.
The remainder of the issue is an action-packed race to the finish. It’s nice to see Black Lightning, Katana, and Kaliber acting as a unit, and it’s executed well enough that I want more. The team deals with both the assassins and Sofia rather quickly, and I can’t but feel it’s too easy. At first, I thought Hill let me down with a weak script, but then he writes Jefferson questioning where Ismael is… Which is when we learn of Ra’s second trap.
As it turns out, Ismael is sent to Gotham to confront Duke and Cassandra… and make them an offer. It’s an interesting twist, but I’m amused by Duke telling Cassandra to get behind him as if he’s going to protect here… I mean… Come on… Cassandra would mop the floor with Duke. Maybe he’s just trying to be honorable and heroic, but Cass does not need his protection. If Hill ends up writing them that way, I’m going to be pissed. Cass has been “neutered” for long enough.
I also have to question whether there’s yet another trap from Ra’s in Sofia. Considering how Ra’s brainwashed Sofia and gained her loyalty, Katana seemed to reach her, emotionally, way too easily. I suspect that Sofia isn’t aligned with the Outsiders, and that it will lead to some trouble next month.
Overall, the issue is one of the better chapters of Batman & the Outsiders. Hill cleverly set up a solid plot that unfortunately unfolds at break-neck speed. Despite the pacing, good is good, and this issue is exactly that. He weighted the issue with depth early on, and delivered a nice action romp towards the back half, He even threw in a few surprises along the way. If this issue is a sign of what we have to look forward to, then I’m definitely on board!
Dexter Soy delivers the art, and he does an outstanding job! While the first few pages mainly consist of Jefferson and Tatsu talking, he finds ways to make it interesting. It’s clear that he’s strategic in the way he frames his panels to add as much intrigue as possible, visually, to help elevate the script. Then, during the back-half of the script, he gets to let loose with the action.
In previous issues, some of Soy’s action didn’t flow very well because he was constricted to a limited number of pages to convey the action. Here, he has more room to let his art breathe, and it works much better. There aren’t any awkward transitions, and his layouts help the action flow and maintain a certain energy that matches the intensity of the script.
Soy’s inks also provide a nice tone to the story, with most of the book unfolding under the shadow of night. Veronica Gandini’s colors also add a richness to the art, but also a sharpness that could’ve been lost within all of the shadows. It’s solid work all around!
- You’ve been waiting for the Outsiders to actually do something.
- Sofia’s journey intrigues you.
- You favor Ra’s because of his cleverness.
The biggest complaint I have about Batman & the Outsiders #5 is the fact that it’s an incredibly fast read. Other than that, this issue is a clever, fun, and action-packed read. Each month, I talk about the potential that both this book and Bryan Edward Hill have, and we really get to see glimpses of it here. If Hill is able to continue providing narratives like this one with Ra’s al Ghul, and grow the characters along the way with top-talent artists like Dexter Soy, then we’ll have a treat on our hands for years to come.