If anything is clear after reading Batman & the Outsiders #8, it’s that DC editorial definitely got in Bryan Hill’s way when the series launched. This book is becoming quite a phenomenal read! If you’re not checking it out monthly – or planning to read the trade when it’s released – then you’re missing out.
The foundation has been laid, the characters are all in place, and Batman & the Outsiders is firing on all cylinders! This book has made quite the turnaround from a mediocre, generic read, to one of the few titles worth purchasing at DC, and it all has to do with the work that Bryan Hill and Dexter Soy are doing!
After successfully rescuing Sofia from Ra’s al Ghul, Black Lightning, Katana, and Kaliber are on their way back to Gotham so Batman can work to help restore Sofia’s mental state. There are a few problems here though. Sofia may be beyond help, Ra’s wanted the Outsiders to come after her so he could make a play at Cassandra and Duke, and someone on the team is actually a double agent.
Last month’s issue ended with a reveal that Kaliber works for Ra’s, and that Ishmael had infused some sort of darkness into Duke. Both of these are welcome developments in a book that continues to grow and improve from issue to issue. It feels as though the stakes increase every single month, and the creative team manages to do so without ever needing to put the entire city/country/world/multiverse at risk. These are simply personal stakes for everyone involved, and other writers/ editorial could stand to learn a thing or two here because it’s making Batman & the Outsiders one of DC’s best books in publication at the moment.
This chapter kicks off with Black Lightning and Katana squaring off with Kaliber, as Sofia waits in the wings. Still uncertain of how much damage Ra’s actually inflicted on Sofia with his manipulation and brainwashing, it’s unclear where she stands. Will she choose to side with our heroes, or will she continue to fall victim to Ra’s al Ghul? I’m not going to reveal the answer to this – it’s best you read it for yourself, but I will say that how things unfold here aren’t necessarily what I expected. As a reader, I appreciate that. Hill has a way of keeping me on my toes by taking this book in slightly different directions than I expect him to.
The action in this scene is also quite entertaining thanks to Dexter Soy, and I can’t help but feel that it will contain a nice rhythm once the issues are collected. As enjoyable as the action is here though, the pacing of this issue is quite a bit slower than previous chapters. Hill slows the momentum of the book to allow for some needed character development and set-up that should continue to allow this book to grow.
There are multiple exchanges throughout the issue that are worth commenting on: Batman and Black Lightning. Katana and Sofia. Ra’s and Shiva. Cass and Duke. All of them are brief and could, potentially, be written off rather easily. But if you take the time to slow down and really consider what’s being said – as well as what isn’t being said in some cases – then you’ll discover that there’s a lot to unpack here.
Bruce’s exchange with Jefferson surprised me the most. Hill made the bold move to address Alfred’s death, and it resulted in a stronger emotional reaction from me than anything King has written or attempted in the main Batman title. Watching Bruce admit that he needs to be “certain” to be a successful mentor to the likes of Duke and Cassandra, then confess that he isn’t certain – meaning he’s questioning his role as Batman – was absolutely heartbreaking.
I’ve ridiculed King for stating or implying that certain events in Bruce’s life have been the worst thing he’s experienced (*cough* Selina leaving him *cough*), but I can imagine Alfred’s death actually doing that. Father figures, in general, often serve as our compass – especially for men. Bruce has essentially lost his father, and because of that, he’s questioning many things. The fact that he would reveal that he’s feeling this way to Jefferson – especially when you take Jeff’s nature into consideration – it creates an opportunity of growth between these two characters that could easily result in a partnership that is quite special. After all, Jefferson is a teacher, and no matter what we think or say, good teachers tend to put us on the right path in life.
Other exchanges are also noteworthy. We get some nice moments between Katana and Sofia early in the book, as well as Black Lightning and Katana. One of the most promising conversations found in this issue is between Cass and Duke though. This chapter reveals what Ishmael did to Duke last month, as Duke showcases his new abilities to Cassandra. The two to three pages between these two are both revealing and inspiring. I would’ve never paired these two up to be close friends, but they’re learning to trust and rely on each other, much in the way that Black Lightning and Katana are as well. The question here is whether Duke’s newfound powers are temporary, a trojan horse, or something else entirely.
Which leads me back to Ra’s al Ghul. For months, he’s been the most interesting aspect of this book, and that continues to be the case here. I have no idea what his endgame is, but it’s clear he has a plan, and with each issue we learn more and more as he unravels certain plans. We do learn why Ra’s is going after Batman, and it’s a believable reason that harkens back to Grant Morrison’s run on Batman.
It appears as though everything Ra’s has done up to this point has just been the tip of the iceberg, with this chapter ending with Ra’s taking action against Batman and the Outsiders by attacking their loved ones. Hill writes Ra’s incredibly well, and makes him feel like a threat with him simply giving orders. That’s not an easy feat to accomplish. What I find interesting about all of this is that Tom King has essentially spent 85 issues trying to execute this well in Batman, and Bryan Hill manages to execute the same concept more effectively within two to three pages. At this point, there are so many variables in Batman & the Outsiders worth following, and I can’t wait to see what else Hill and Soy have planned for our team of Outsiders!
Dexter Soy continues to deliver incredible artwork. Early in the run, there were some weird transitions between panels and pages where it felt as though the books were kind of spliced together due to editorial interference, but now that Hill and Soy appear to be running seamlessly without much involvement, the books look and flow much better. Soy’s aesthetic is pleasing to the eye, and he draws each of the characters well. There are times where I question the proportions of the characters (for example, is Black Lightning really bigger than Batman? And do we actually believe Duke is as short as Cassandra?), but the characters themselves look good.
Soy also goes above and beyond with his storytelling. Whether it’s through the expressions and reactions of characters, or the story being told through the action and fighting, there’s so much to take in and enjoy. On top of all of this, Soy continues to find creative and cinematic ways to layout his panels that add a certain “artistic value” that elevates this book from your standard action, team-up book. Great work all around.
- You want an engaging team story.
- You enjoy characters with ranging morality.
- You want to read something that will subvert expectations in a good way.
Batman & the Outsiders continues to grow and improve with each issue as Bryan Hill and Dexter Soy fully take the reigns of this title. The team has endured some speed bumps to ensure they can establish a proper foundation for both the narrative and characters, and are now paving the way with a well-balanced, gripping, and engaging story. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite titles from DC, and I only hope it continues to improve from here!