We’ve got another issue of Batman & the Outsiders, and I can’t help but feel that Bryan Hill and Dexter Soy are still spinning their wheels a little bit…
You all know that I’ve been a champion for Batman & the Outsiders, and that’s not changing. However, between last month’s issue, and this issue, not much has happened. In fact, I genuinely feel both issues accomplish the same task, thus making them quite repetitive.
After Ra’s al Ghul wiped out Lady Shiva’s home village, I expected to see some quite a bit of action and plot progression, but that has yet to occur. Instead, it’s just been a lot of talking about how they’re going to bring the attack to Ra’s. And while the previous chapter contained a lot of theoretical conversations – can Black Lightning increase his power to hone it better, should Duke and Cassandra be allowed to choose their own path, etc – this chapter basically revisits those same plots, but with more of a proactive execution.
As I mentioned earlier, Batman and the Outsiders are looking for a way to stop Ra’s al Ghul since he has acquired alien technology that allows him to topple cities with ease. Batman believes Black Lightning will be the key to not only find Ra’s, but to stop him as well… But to do that, Jefferson is going to need to step up his game.
When we left off with Batman and Black Lightning, they were preparing to enhance Jefferson’s abilities. At the start of this issue, they’ve completed that task, and Black Lightning is in a bit of a trial run… A trial run that proves their attempts were quite fruitful!
Concerning the rest of the team, Lady Shiva is going after Ra’s al Ghul, with or without the Outsiders. She previously dueled Katana to determine whether or not Cassandra and Duke should be given the choice to decide how they would like to proceed, and she won that option. Upon making the offer to the kids, they decide to go with her.
Katana is still hesitant about their decision, but she has a sense of honor that respects the freedom of choice and believes these two are capable of making their own decisions. The moment also allows for another incredible exchange between Shiva and Katana. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I wish we could get a mini or maxiseries with these two as the headliners.
There are so many similarities between the Shiva and Katana, but they’re still vastly different from one another. I’m always enthralled when I read their pages together because Hill does such a great job in defining them, and presenting them as two people who were clearly shaped by a non-westernized culture. This might sound obvious, but I’ve encountered many writers who approach these two women, and end up making them come off as American are stereotypical. Hill digs into their roots, and pulls their characterization from there. It’s a minor, subtle attribute, but it’s highly effective. Plus, I kind of like Shiva’s constant jabs questioning whether Katana is just Batman’s lap dog.
With the Outsiders fractured, Batman, Jefferson, and Katana appear to be taking the more pragmatic approach, while Shiva, Orphan, and Signal take the more blunt approach… And, if I’m being honest, the blunt approach is easily the best part of this book!
To locate Ra’s, Shiva tracks down an associate that moves money for Ra’s, and proceeds to press him for information. When the associate refuses, Shiva tells the kids to leave because what will follow isn’t for young eyes. They decline. So, instead, Shiva finds a way to use them. It’s at this moment, that I feel that both Cassandra and Duke are, finally, fully realized in this continuity. Cass finally carries herself in a way that presents her as one of the most dangerous people in the room, and yet, still manages to create the separation in the lengths she’s willing to take compared to her mother.
But it’s Duke that really impresses me. After making a threat, Shiva warns Ra’s associate that they are darkness, and tells Duke to prove it. He questions her for a second, but she demands again and he falls in place… And then, finally, all of his potential comes to light.
Originally Duke was set-up to be the “light” of Gotham, and he had these special powers that let him create light. While I get the symbolism, it never worked for me and didn’t seem to fit the Bat family. Hill had Ishmael alter Duke’s abilities so that he became the darkness, and now… Well, now he’s able to create the very thing that Batman has to wait for. Duke is the darkness, and I love it. In fact, the combo of Duke and Cass here has such a strong Cloak and Dagger vibe (he’s the darkness, she’s the weapon), and I’m all for it!
Elsewhere, Batman, Black Lightning, Katana, and Sofia – who has yet to decide on a codename – decide to prove to Ra’s that he’s not invulnerable and has something to lose as well. They accomplish this by attacking one of his Lazarus pits, and leave a disciple to share the story with Ra’s. It’s honestly an interesting move that appears to be an attempt to provoke Ra’s to make the first move, and that could be interesting.
The real twist of this issue – if we even want to consider it a twist – is the ending. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t see this coming.
As it turns out, Batman wants Shiva to operate as a blunt instrument, and is actually backing her movements. Hmm… This better lead to some solid plot developments in the next issue, because I’m concerned for the slow pacing of this book at the moment.
Soy is back on art duties, and I’m so happy to see him return! It’s easy to forget how much of an impact the art makes to a story until a different artist steps in and fails to live up to the standard you’ve become used to. I don’t mean that as a dig, just an observation. Soy has a certain approach to his art that takes basic scenes that are just people talking, and he makes them look interesting. Hill always delivers solid scripts and dialogue, but Soy brings a certain energy to the book that helps elevate it to the standard that it is. I am hungry for some more action though, so I hope we get more of that next month!
I also need to praise the inks and colors here. Soy does so much incredible work with shadows and utilizing darkness that it really adds a special element to the story. Veronka Gandini also does a lot to accent this with her use of lighting, and by allowing certain colors to pop in the right spaces. It’s masterful work all around!
- You’re engaged with the Outsider’s mission to stop Ra’s.
- You want to see Duke and Cassandra under Shiva’s tutelage.
- The Outsiders make their first move against Ra’s.
This is far from a perfect issue and overall falls short as far as plot progression is concerned. There are some strong moments though – even if they are low-key. If there’s one thing I’ve learned though, it’s to trust Bryan Hill and Dexter Soy. They clearly have a vision, and I haven’t been disappointed yet. So, while I do wish for the pace to pick up a little, I know there’s a purpose to everything we’re getting now.