Well… This is not what I was hoping for. I guess when life gives you lemons, make lemonade with Lady Shiva?
For nearly its entire run, I’ve praised Bryan Edward Hill’s Batman & the Outsiders. With Dexter Soy and some other artists, these creatives have managed to craft a strong story that continued to build on itself from issue to issue, while also bringing us closer to each of the core characters every step of the way. To say that I’m sad that this title is ending is an understatement. Why? Well, because this book is that good, and its potential was even greater.
I’ve been rather vocal about the need for publishers to stop meddling in books. They need to stop the constant interruptions, stop the stupid gimmicks, and just let the creators create something that readers can invest in. That request may sound easy enough, but it’s rare that we get titles that actually do this, and, unfortunately, it appears that this approach to comics will only become even rarer. That’s why I’m choosing to appreciate Batman & the Outsiders for what it is. But let’s be honest, this isn’t a strong conclusion to the book, and definitely not what fans deserve.
For this chapter – the final chapter – the Outsiders have beaten Ra’s al Ghul (despite his threat to make Black Lightning a target of his), and now it’s time for the team to celebrate. If this doesn’t excite you, then don’t worry. I share your sentiments. I don’t want to be too hard on this issue because I know that it’s coming to a sudden, unceremonious end, and there are aspects of this issue that I like, but overall, nearly every beat of the book feels forced.
Every remaining loose thread is wrapped up, so I appreciate that, but it is presented in throwaway lines, and some character moments we’ve been waiting for are shoehorned in just for the sake of saying it happened. It’s not great. But what’s worse – and, quite frankly, rather odd – is the way this issue sets up other stories for these characters should someone happen to come along at some point and decide to continue them. The entire thing feels weird. In fact, some of the set-up presented here feels so deliberate, that it’s almost as if it were mandated by editorial knowing that a follow-up is on the horizon… But as far as we know, DC is looking to do the opposite.
Sofia is the first character that is fully addressed, and also the last. Apparently, life as a vigilante isn’t for her, so Bruce has bought her a farm with horses. It’s an odd gesture that appears to come out of nowhere, as well as Sofia’s sudden disinterest in being a hero. If anything, this screams “Editorial said to scrap this character,” and thus, here we are.
Sofia isn’t the only character who questions their role in this life though. Jefferson debates how he can go back to a normal life as a teacher after this. I wasn’t quite sure if the intention was to present this as if Jefferson wants to leave heroics behind, or if he’s just questioning how to pretend to live as though everything is normal when he knows that it isn’t. Either way, the execution is rather lackluster. And honestly, had Katana not invited Jefferson along on her quest, then his story would’ve completely fallen flat.
From here, the narrative shifts to put a focus on the two youngest members, Duke and Cassandra. Duke is caught with Lady Shiva making lemonade (hence my intro), and the two discuss Duke’s abilities, the choice of color for his costume, and the lengths he’s willing to allow himself to go in training and understanding his abilities. They tease that Duke is finding the light again, and I hope that doesn’t mean he’s losing his powers to control darkness because his character didn’t really click for me until that happened.
Meanwhile, Bruce has a heartwarming moment with Cassandra where he explains why he hasn’t asked Cass to be his Batgirl or Robin. Now, look… On one hand, I love this. I’ve always loved the respect and independence Bruce shows Cass – especially pre-Flashpoint – and nothing says more about Cass’ abilities than Bruce acknowledging she’s better than him in some ways. Does this conversation feel a little contrived? Sure… But it’s also one of my favorite moments in the book.
If I’m being honest though, all of these character moments feel forced, but there is still a glimmer of greatness in each of them. For example, I love Katana’s response to Jefferson when he tells her he feels lost and she says, “Assuming you’re supposed to know what you want is a very difficult way to live. Desire gains clarity with time. Not worry. Come. You’ll have enough time for solitude soon enough.” It’s an incredible line that can easily be overlooked due to the clunky narrative that’s being forced to wrap up. If you take time to really read some of Hill’s words though, it’s hard to deny how good of a writer he actually is.
Shiva’s moment with Duke is also similar, but not quite as good. On my initial read, I didn’t read into her line, “Why are you yellow?” I took it as a mere question just pertaining to his suit, but on my second read, I began to wonder if Shiva was even referring to the suit at all. Think about it. This entire run, Duke has struggled with fear. Fear of Karma. Fear of his new abilities. And then I thought about Shiva’s question as referring to cowardice as opposed to the actual costume. It’s an idea that’s reiterated when Shiva challenges Duke’s honor asking if he’d be brave enough to call on her. For me, it’s just another example of Hill’s nuance as a writer, and part of what I’ll miss desperately in the Bat-books.
Surprisingly, Shiva really is the crux of this chapter. As much as it’s about the characters saying goodbye and moving on, it’s also about Shiva playing each of the members like pawns to set herself up as well. Specifically, her manipulation of Sofia. While Batman has set Sofia up for a quiet life, Shiva convinces her that she’s destined for more. After the torture and manipulation from Ra’s, followed by the rehabilitation from Bruce, it’s an easy move to make, and a signal that she ultimately sends to Batman proving he is, in fact, rather vulnerable. I want to say this conclusion excites me for Shiva and Sofia’s use in future stories, but I seriously believe this is the last we’ll see of Sofia, and the next time we see Shiva, none of this will be referenced… And that’s a shame.
Marcio Takara delivers the art for this issue, and this is, without a doubt, the worst aspect of this book. There’s something about Takara’s pencils and design for characters that it made this book feel as though it were completed by an amateur. If you take a look at the characters’ faces and bodies, you’ll notice there isn’t much design to them. There’s a lack of depth and dimension to each character, and it looks really poor. There also isn’t much in the way of details for the background, which hinders the tone and escapism of the book. It isn’t my favorite, especially when Soy has delivered such a strong run.
In addition to this, Veronica Gandini’s colors are also quite flat and bland here. There are pages and panels where it just looks as if someone clicked a color in Microsoft Paint, then clicked where they wanted to fill that color. Lighting and shadow are all wrong as well. Too many characters look like they have over-saturated highlights on their face. It’s not great. The highlights to the forehead and nose/ upper cheeks actually reminded me of drag queens – and they exaggerate those features on purpose. As far as the art is concerned, it almost comes across as if there weren’t much effort put into the book at all, and that’s a shame. I’m sure this was a rush job, but it doesn’t make the presentation of the book any better.
You’ve come this far! You might as well finish it!
As much as it pains me to say this, Batman & the Outsiders #17 fails to live up to expectations, and comes short of giving this book the closure it deserves. You might be better off ending the run with the previous issue and calling it a day.