If I could have things my way, Batman & the Outsiders would not be ending because it’s too damn good. I mean, if this is Hill’s decision to move on or take a break (I’m praying it’s just a break), then I respect that… But seriously, when I talk about quality and execution in comics, this is what I’m talking about!
Batman & the Outsiders has consistently been one of DC’s best books since its debut. Yes, there was a bit of a rocky start due to the delays and the interference of “Year of the Villain,” but the title quickly gained its footing and was off to the races. The creative success of this book is all because of Bryan Hill and Dexter Soy! The work that these men have accomplished deserves so many more accolades and sales than it’s currently receiving.
From day one, Hill has created a balancing act of juggling multiple supporting characters as Batman brings together a team to confront Ra’s al Ghul. What I expected to be a typical, six-issue arc before moving on to another six-issue arc turned out to be the opposite. Hill had a long-game in mind, and he’s been executing it with expert precision. We’re now 15 issues in, and we’re just now starting to wrap up the story that began in issue #1.
Now, this may seem like a lot of issues for a single story, but I’d argue that it isn’t. Considering this is an ensemble cast, there have been plenty of explorations into individual character arcs as well. Whether it be Black Lightning, Duke, Cass, Katana – each character has been on a bit of an individual journey throughout this run. It’s a writing style that is very reminiscent of how Chris Claremont approached comics, but, perhaps, a little more focused and not quite as grand in scope. This is a compliment to Hill, and, in my opinion, one of the best compliments I can give.
Anyway, this issue is a culmination of all of the previous issues and arcs coming together. Batman has a team that is finally cohesive and working as a unit. Black Lightning is the leader we’ve been wanting him to be, and he’s unlocked so much potential concerning his abilities that he would have probably never reached on his own. Cassandra finally feels relevant and respected since her debut in this continuity and is embracing her skillset as an asset. Duke is more interesting than he’s ever been and is also embracing a new skillset. Katana and Lady Shiva both bring a certain honor to the book that is respectable, but also interesting because they challenge Batman’s leadership to a degree. Then we have the new-comer, Sofia, who has probably had the best arc of any of the characters in this title, moving from victim, to villain, to hero.
Each of these characters has either developed in ways or brought something unique to the narrative, that has helped the story grow and shape into what it is now. Yes, the base plot is that Batman and the Outsiders want to stop Ra’s al Ghul from destroying the world as we know it. Nothing new, especially in comics. But its these individual character arcs and nuances that help set Batman & the Outsiders apart from previous attempts.
If I’m being completely honest, there isn’t a whole lot that happens in this issue. In general, this chapter kind of follows the same formula as the previous issue, but the tension is getting thicker. While that may turn some readers off, I feel invested in the characters and plot, and I find myself having emotional and engaging responses to the slow burn of Hill’s script. But what really makes this issue so great is Ra’s al Ghul.
Since the beginning, I’ve praised Hill and Soy for their depiction of Ra’s. I’ve even cited that their take is one of the best takes I’ve ever read of him in comics. I don’t necessarily mean the actions he’s taking, I mean his presence. How he speaks. His motivations. The execution of Ra’s has been so good that if I were running DC or making DC films, anyone that planned on writing the character would be required to read this run to help understand his “voice.”
Up to this point, we’ve only gotten small, short moments with Ra’s. He’s mostly been pulling the strings in the background while characters like Ishmael, Kaliber, and Karma did his bidding. Despite these small moments, I would still cite them as some of the best moments of previous chapters. But in this chapter, we get a whole lot of Ra’s al Ghul!
After an entire run of Ra’s setting up and executing his plan, Batman and team have finally gained enough foresight to take some actions against him. They’ve taken out one of his Lazarus pits. They’ve tracked him to Japan. And they’ve discovered a way to interfere with the technology he plans to us to flatten civilizations… While this issue is ultimately just more set-up for the confrontation that’s coming, it’s the way it is handled that makes this book a worthy read.
Specifically, Ra’s reaction and action to what’s been done to him is probably the most compelling aspect of this book. I had expectations of what would occur, but the reality is so much better – and, quite frankly, on point – that I’m eager to get to what will undoubtedly be an action-packed final two issues!
Dexter Soy continues to deliver outstanding art for the title. I’ve praised him before for the acting he portrays, as well as his ability to create interesting framing of his panels when characters are just standing around talking. I’ve also praised his ability to utilize shadows to enhance various tones and themes within the story. Both of these elements remain strong here, and are accompanied by Soy’s expert storytelling.
Soy is one of those artists that you really want to take a moment to take in the art. If you don’t do it on the first read-through, that’s understandable – pacing and all – but make sure you go back for a second read and just soak in the art. Where Hill adds so much texture to his script through nuance, Soy manages the same thing through the art. They make a wonderful pairing and I hope to see these two men work together again in the near future.
- Come for the Outsiders, stick around for Ra’s al Ghul.
- You like stories that breathe and take their time.
- You prefer a balance of character and plot.
- I described Hill’s technique to Claremont’s approach to comics… Is there really anything else I need to say?
In a time when comics just don’t seem to be getting it right, Bryan Hill and Dexter Soy are showing us what the standard should be! These men clearly have a story to tell, and their executing that story quite well. Ra’s al Ghul is deliciously entertaining here, and the tension and suspense that has been created provides for a glorious read. Two more issues will never be enough, because I selfishly want so much more.