For the first Batman & the Outsiders Annual, Bryan Hill is teamed up with Max Raynor and Luis Guerrero as the team takes a side-step from the main plot, and pauses to focus on Katana. While the character focus is exactly where I, personally, want it to be, the story itself doesn’t really excite me.

The Story

I’m really torn when it comes to this issue. Everyone knows I’m a huge fan of Katana, and nothing makes me happier than to see her get the spotlight. That being said, the direction Hill takes here has been done before, and I’m not exactly the biggest fan of it. In fact, this approach with Katana reminds me of the problem I have with Bane. Writers can’t seem to write Bane without referencing or recreating Bane breaking Batman’s back. Well, it seems writers can’t give Katana the spotlight without having her enter her Soultaker – usually by some form of self-mutilation.

As has happened many times before, Maseo is in danger, and Katana needs to risk her life to help save his soul. Knowing there will be risks, she tasks Black Lightning with protecting her physical body. Once she enters the Soultaker, Katana must seek out the threat and defeat it. Again… This has been done a few times already, and Katana rarely gets a spotlight as it is, so it feels like a missed opportunity.

I will give Hill some credit for trying to add something a little different to his approach to this story. The opening pages of this issue document the folklore of Miyako, Katana’s ancestor who was the “mistress of the elements,” confronting Tsutomo, a lord of evil and a representation of the darkest magic given human form. In the folklore, Miyako single-handedly stops Tsutomo and his legion of warriors by using the elements to literally rip them apart. As it so happens, the threat that is targeting Maseo in the Soultaker is Tsutomo.

Now, I don’t know how he got here. Everything I can recall pertaining to Katana and her Soultaker trapping souls requires that the Soultaker be used to kill the victim it traps. Since that isn’t the case, Tsutomo’s presence in the Soultaker is a mystery to me. Not only that, but Miyako also appears in the Soultaker. Maybe Tsutomo is there because of his magic, and Katana is only imagining Miyako since she’s the only character who interacts with Miyako? Who knows? Anyway, this is, overall, a welcomed twist pertaining to the antagonist so that the story isn’t just relying on a villain seeking revenge from inside the Soultaker. Here, Tsutomo is actually looking to be freed.

I think my favorite part of this issue though is Hill’s character work. I genuinely love the way he writes Tatsu and Jefferson here. His writing, in general, is good, but when he slows down and really takes his time with his characters, that’s when he excels! There are so many individual lines that he writes for Katana in this issue alone that should just become standard lines for her. He does a good job of refraining from not “Americanizing” her, while also not making her a Japanese caricature.

Whether Hill has the two talking casually in the streets or being heroic, I feel as though he nails their representation here. There’s a line early in the issue where Jefferson comments on the fact that Maseo was killed by his own brother because they were dueling over Tatsu, and Tatsu says, “Would you like me to share my opinion of American Culture.” It’s a brief, light-hearted, yet impactful, moment between the two.

The real character work comes in when we get to see how each character presents themselves as heroes. They both have such a strong sense of honor, but both of them present that in very different ways. The speech Katana gives before stabbing herself is both incredible and heartbreaking. Leaving off with “I do not wish to die tonight” really establishes her mindset, her heartache, and her need to be here and do good. But then there’s Jefferson, with his quiet confidence and loyalty. He doesn’t have to say much, it’s just the way he fights for Katana. The way he protects her.

When all is said and done, this is pretty much a self-contained story. It doesn’t make much of an impact to the overall title aside from solidifying Black Lightning and Katana’s partnership and trust – which is something I’ve been waiting for. This story does, potentially, set-up Katana for an interesting, new direction though. While in the Soultaker, Miyako granted her the powers of the elements, and I have to wonder if that was merely a one-time thing (even though she didn’t really use them), or if that plotline will unfold as the book continues. Only time will tell.

The Art

Max Raynor delivers the line-work for this issue and does a pretty good job. There are moments where I think his art is just good (which is a compliment), and then there are panels where his work is excellent! The action panels were probably my favorite aspect of his work. There’s so much intensity and energy in his sequential action, and that made it a blast to read. One panel, in particular, stands out where Black Lightning is fighting the shadow creatures, and one of them shoves their fist down his throat as if they were looking to enter his body and possess him. It was both shocking and exciting all at the same time.

I also loved the way Raynor drew Katana, especially when she wore her mask. Despite having a mask with covered eyes, Raynor still managed to create emotion with the eyes, and that, matched with Katana’s regal nature, was quite a gift to experience. Guerrero’s colors were also quite spectacular. He took advantage of any opportunity he had to add splashes of color wherever he could – form the neon lights of Japan to the cherry-blossom hues of the world within Katana’s Soultaker. There’s a lot to like concerning the art in this issue.

Recommended If:

  • You’re a fan of Katana.
  • You’ve been waiting for Jefferson and Tatsu to solidify their relationship.
  • You enjoy self-contained stories.

Overall: While satisfying in many ways, Batman & the Outsiders Annual #1 left me wanting more, and not necessarily in a good way. There’s some great action in this issue, as well as some great artwork form Raynor and Guerrero, but the vessel Hill used to tell this story feels a bit tired. If you haven’t much work involving Katana, this could be worthwhile for you, but it’s a mostly self-contained story that doesn’t appear to have much impact on the overall narrative.

SCORE: 7/10