I know I’m a broken record at this point, but Batman & the Outsiders just keeps getting better and better!
Last month, Batman & the Outsiders closed with Ra’s al Ghul calling a hit on Jefferson’s friend and employee, Tina. Because of that, I knew this issue would either come in guns-a-blazing as the Outsiders go after Ra’s, or Hill would slow things down to allow for a retrospective, deep-dive into the characters and what they’ve been through. I was hoping for the latter, and, thankfully, that’s what we get!
Naturally, Jefferson is at the center of this issue because of Tina’s death. There’s not really a reason for us to care for Tina directly because we don’t know anything about her, but it does create an opportunity to delve into Jefferson, and Hill takes advantage of that. We get to see Jefferson reflect on his history with Tina, how she accepted him, encouraged him, and supported him – both in his career and as his friend. In many ways, Tina served as a reset for Jefferson’s moral compass. Whenever he started to get caught up in the “business” of running a school, she would remind him of what’s important. Know this, and only this, makes it quite clear why he’d be as affected as he is, and that makes it emotional for us, the reader.
That’s the key to this issue’s success, Jefferson’s emotions. Too often, we try to simplify our emotions down into a common denominator. Maybe it’s the easiest way to express how we feel, or maybe it just makes for an easier connection. In reality though, when we experience tragedies, especially the loss of a friend or confidant, we experience a range of complex emotions. We feel things that can’t properly be summed up with words like, “sad” or “angry.” There’s so much more to it, and we get to experience that breadth of emotions through Jefferson, depending on who he’s with.
Hill gives us a glimpse into who Jefferson is when he’s alone with Tina’s body. We get to see his humanity. His pain. It’s the most vulnerable we’ve seen him thus far because his heroic life has now bled into his “normal” life. It’s as if he’s always tried to keep a divide – much like Batman – but for different reasons. While Batman separates himself from Bruce Wayne for appearances and the protection of his loved ones, Jefferson, it appears, kept that separation for his sanity. He’s easily the most morally grounded character in this book – which is probably why Batman assigned him as the leader – and this separation allows him to experience hope so he can remain hopeful. Tina’s death is almost a metaphorical death to the idea of hope for Jefferson, and Ra’s knew this would be the outcome.
Which leads us to anger. Again, the concept of anger is an emotion that tends to be discussed or viewed as a simple emotion that is actually more complex than we like to give credit. Perhaps it’s because we’ve all felt the varying ranges of anger, or our capacity for hate, and acknowledging that makes us feel shame or embarrassment. Well, here, Hill goes for it.
I don’t want to go into the specifics because you deserve to experience the magic of this book first-hand, but this book lays so much out on the table. The conversation that Jefferson has with Batman, and especially the conversations he has with Tatsu, allows for an impactful, moving read. Death, anger, race, murder, social injustice… It’s all here. None of it is heavy-handed. And none of it feels like an agenda or preaching because it’s set up and executed brilliantly, in a believable way, within the confines of the story. My words simply can’t recreate the depth that Bryan Hill delivers here, so if you want a taste, you can check out the two pages featured in the spoiler tag, but I really recommend just reading this run.
The real takeaway here, though, is simply that Bryan Hill is a damn good writer. Between Batman & the Outsiders, Angel, and Fallen Angels (one of the few X-Men books that have actually remained bearable), he just keeps proving that he deserves to have a high-profile title. And the publishers need to get hip to this, because if they don’t, I’m worried the industry might lose a talent that has endless potential. But seriously, this book works because Hill clearly has a plan and a strong understanding of the characters he was given to work with.
Each issue builds on the foundation that was created early on, and continues to grow from there. There are arcs to this title, but they serve more like chapters of a book rather than an arc to tell one story with a villain, then a separate arc with a separate villain. No, this is one continued arc with smaller arcs interspersed to create a sense of a full story within each arc. That’s why this book just gets better and better. Hill has taken the time to set-up a story, and he’s earning his pay-offs!
This issue has, maybe, two panels of action, but it’s the most engaging and gripping comic that I’ve read in a long time. And Hill doesn’t stop with Jefferson. We explore Duke and Cassandra as well, and even Batman thanks to a surprise appearance by Superman. There’s so much good writing and good dialogue that I genuinely don’t want to take away from it. Go read this book. Let Hill’s words speak for themself. You won’t regret it, and, as always, Hill will leave you wanting more.
I know that I’ve singularly praised the hell out of Bryan Hill in this review, but I don’t want that to discredit Dexter Soy in any way. Dexter Soy creates such striking art, and I couldn’t completely figure out why some issues weren’t connecting with me early in the run, until now. Early on, there was so much action and set-up that we never really got to explore the emotional waves of these characters. As Hill has progressed the narrative, he’s allowed more “moments” to creep into the book, and with each “moment,” Soy has been there to deliver.
This issue is no different. Under a different artist, the tone, emotional weight, and complexity could’ve fallen flat, but Soy understands the depth and nuances of these emotions and finds ways to convey them perfectly. The performance he creates through facial expressions and body language is captivating. Even his ability to create engaging, sequential storytelling while nearly everyone is just standing around and talking… It’s masterful. His technique and how he frames his panels is the unspoken hero of this book, and we’re lucky that we have talents such as this to create something this special.
- Just go read this book!
- If you haven’t been reading, then catch up!
- Seriously… You won’t regret it!
Bryan Hill and Dexter Soy deliver a treasure of a book, and if you give Batman & the Outsiders a chance, I sincerely believe you’ll find that this is the type of comic you hope every comic you pick up will be. There’s action, emotion, depth, adventure, humor, and heart. The ability of these two men to craft such an incredible and engaging story that continues to develop and grow is inspiring. Batman & the Outsiders is what modern comics should look like. If you’re not reading it, then go catch up and add future issues to your pull-list!