Considering this is the second-to-last issue of Batman & the Outsiders, I expected things to move pretty quickly… But I didn’t expect them to move this fast!
Batman & the Outsiders #16 delivers what we’ve been waiting for since the very beginning: the final battle with Ra’s al Ghul. While the confrontation itself is expected, I didn’t think things would wrap up this quickly and easily. That’s right, the final confrontation starts here and ends here. The real question is, “Is it satisfying?”
Honestly? Yes and no. While the final bout is much shorter than I expected, Hill still manages to deliver quite an impact within a few, brief pages for some characters. Unfortunately, as much as I love Ra’s al Ghul under Hill’s pen, he’s not one of them. Don’t misquote me, his dialogue and presence is as deliciously evil as ever, but I’ve been waiting for him to really unleash an assault on the Outsiders, and that never happens. It looks like it’s going to happen, but it honestly fizzles out before it even begins.
But, I did say a few characters shined, and they do! The stars here are undoubtedly Black Lightning and Cassandra Cain. Throughout the run, both characters have been challenged to step into their potential and we finally get to see it here. Jefferson has never fully embraced the hero and leader that he is because of a lack of belief, meanwhile, Cassandra has always feared her abilities, and the reality that she could cross a line.
As we know, Black Lightning has been tasked with interrupting Ra’s al Ghul’s device that he plans to use to destroy cities. He’s successful in that mission, but it’s one that Ra’s isn’t going to just allow. The greatness of the interaction between these two comes from two aspects – Ra’s’ set-up and Jeff’s answer. Ra’s doesn’t hesitate to remind Jeff of where he came from: a school teacher with powers, lost in the world of heroes, and never respected to the degree that he deserves. Ra’s recognizes the potential in Jeff, and persuades him that they both ultimately want the same thing – to eliminate corruption. Ra’s can be the forceful hand, while Jeff could be the empathy that recovers the world.
This is a perfect example of why I love reading Hill’s interpretation of Ra’s al Ghul. He has so many approaches to attacking someone, and there’s a certain wisdom that he’s gained throughout his lifetime. It’s also the actual language Hill uses to write Ra’s dialogue. Just from a technical aspect, the writing and characterization are so good, and it’s an element that I find is often missing in comics today. Too many writers seem to think that telling a good story, playing into fan-service, or relying on gimmicks is enough. And, you know what, maybe for some people it is… But I want a quality story that’s crafted well and contains fully realized characters. That’s what Hill delivers.
Despite Ra’s persistence, Jefferson declines the offer, and the two come to blows. This is where things start to go south – not because it is bad, but merely because we don’t have the pages we deserve to resolve this issue. Personally, after spending fifteen issues building to this, I was hoping that the final battle would carry over into two issues, but it ends as quickly as it begins, taking away a lot of the edge that Ra’s has carried throughout the run. I don’t blame Hill for the brevity of it – this clearly isn’t how this book was planned to end – but it is what we get.
While Black Lightning is dealing with Ra’s, it’s up to Batman and the remaining outsiders to take care of Ra’s’ assassins. And by Outsiders, I mean Cassandra Cain. Since her debut, Cass hasn’t fully felt like that badass that many of us know her to be. Lady Shiva pushed this idea and pressed for Cassandra to embrace who she is. There’s always been a fear in Cass that completely giving in to her instincts will only make her a killer, something she desperately wants to avoid.
In this issue, Shiva urges Cass not to hold back, and she doesn’t. We finally get to see Cass unleash a can of whoop-ass, and it’s been a long time coming! And yes, I did just use a Stone Cold Steve Austin reference. Bite me. Anyway, as nice as it is to see Cass finally step into her own, I will admit that the exchanges in this issue to get her there are a little forced and heavy-handed.
The biggest let down is how many stories will ultimately go unanswered. Sofia’s plot has all but been abandoned at this point, and subplots concerning Duke, Tatsu, and Batman appear to be left to be wrapped up rather quickly next month. If there’s any sign of hope, it’s that this may be nothing more than a transition from the title. So, while the book is ending, it might actually just undergo a name change to The Outsiders or even Black Lightning & the Outsiders. Either is fine with me.
Also, it feels as though Hill and Soy are setting up more stories. Ra’s threatens Jefferson, claiming that he now knows him and that Jefferson will never be safe. Batman also tells Black Lightning directly that he still has work to do, and that Cass, Duke, and Sofia still need him. I can’t help but think that Hill wouldn’t write this if he knew DC would just move on from the run… But maybe it’s just a last attempt for Hill to try and continue his story.
I hope he does. It’s been an incredible read, and as is often the case with great comics, it’s ending way too soon.
Dexter Soy continues to deliver the art for this issue, and, as always, his work is excellent. My only complaint is that Soy doesn’t have enough space to really deliver the sequential storytelling that this issue deserves. He makes the most of it, sure, but I can’t help but imagine a world where this run is wrapping up earlier than intended, and both Hill and Soy could’ve just focused on executing the best story possible… I don’t think they were given that opportunity, and at the end of the day, it is us, the readers, who are robbed.
- You’ve been waiting for the final confrontation with Ra’s al Ghul.
- You think Black Lightning’s time to shine is overdue.
- Cass finally becomes the badass that she was pre-Flashpoint.
This is easily one of the weaker issues in the run, and the fact that it ends the conflict with Ra’s al Ghul so quickly is definitely disappointing. That being said, Black Lightning and Cassandra Cain both get their moment to shine, and I can’t help but feel we’ve been waiting way too long for DC to deliver for each of these characters.