Home > Weekend Asides > Weekend Aside: Batman and the Outsiders

Weekend Aside: Batman and the Outsiders

November 14, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

BATO 01 Cover

Although the hero debuting in the next Justice League, Metamorpho, made his first significant impact at DC by being one of the few heroes to turn down Justice League membership, I first enountered him during a personal favourite series of my formative years: Batman and the Outsiders.

Buy the Showcase collection – all five hundred and twenty two pages of it – from Amazon here.

As we’ve already talked about during the review of its namesake episode, one of DC”s longest-running books of the silver age was the Batman team-up title The Brave and the Bold. However, as the 70s turned into the 80s, merely having Batman guest-star with a new hero every month wasn’t enough anymore. Between the X-Men at Marvel and the New Teen Titans in DC’s own stable (and, shockingly, the Legion of Super-Heroes), team books were selling like mad. As a result, the decision was made to replace the rotating guest-stars of BatB with a regular group of heroes as Batman’s co-stars.

BATO 02 cover

Veteran Batman artist Jim Aparo teamed with writer Mike Barr to come up with the concept for the new team, with Batman tendering his resignation to the JLA and winding up in the midst of a violent uprising in the Eastern European country of Markovia while attempting to rescue Luicius Fox. There, he encountered two veteran heroes, Metamorpho and Black Lightning, as well as a group of new creations – the Japanese swordswoman Katana, the energy wielding (and token hot girl) Halo, and the crown prince of Markovia, Brionn, who in the course of the first storyline is transformed into the geomorph Geo-Force.

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Batman, apparently figuring out that it’s much easier to just drag this group of… Outsiders… back to Gotham than go out on a recruiting mission, introduces them to his “financier” Bruce Wayne and sets them up with a headquarters conveniently located in the penthouse of a Wayne-owned apartment building. After getting this done in about six pages (Aparo and Barr were always extremely efficient in their storytelling), Batman quickly sets to work binding the team together and facing off against, quite frankly, the weirdest collection of Supervillain threats ever assembled.

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The Justice League had Despero and Starro and the hordes of various evil teams. The Teen Titans had Trigon and Deathstroke. The Legion had… well, um, Mordu and the Fatal Five, and they were still a couple of years away from slapping their heads and realising “hey, shouldn’t Darkseid still be alive in the 30th century. But the Outsiders had to go through a string of villains that didn’t show up anywhere else in an attempt to give them their own rogues gallery, which led to the weirdest, most puntastic group of bad guys possible as antagonists. Unfortunately, the best / worst of these I don’t have actual art from, but let’s just say that they’re called the Force of July and feature bad guys like Silent Majority. Personally, I’m thinking that DC is going to resurrect them one of these days and turn them into teaba tea party supporters, but their debut story is in the first Outsiders Annual, which was the test story for the eventual dropping of Batman from the book.

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If you want an example of just how upside-down things were in the early 80s, take a look at the above, a typically superb George Perez montage from the Outsiders’ crossover with New Teen Titans. Nowdays, it’s standard for a new book that wants to attract readers to feature a guest appearance from one of DC’s big three – usually Batman – in order to get readers of those titles to try the new one.  In the 80s, however, the New Teen Titans by Wolfman and Perez were so successful – like, bigger-than-the-X-Men successful – that even a team book with Batman in its name was deemed necessary to get the rub from the more successful book. Yes, a book starring Robin was waaaaaaay more popular than the equivalent book starring Batman. I’m a huge Nightwing fan, but… c’mon.

Another thing – notice how the most popular non-Robin New Teen Titans characters, Donna Troy and Starfire, wound up on the Outsiders cover. I assume there’s no need for me to explain why they were popular.

The crossover actually allowed a neat bit of crossover, with the Outsiders’ Geo-Force established as the sister of the Titans’ Terra, which I don’t think was intentional when both were created but worked out nicely. Of course, shortly after this crossover that association wasn’t a good thing, but that’s another story for if I ever get around to talking about the Titans animated series.

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Remember what I said about wacky bad guys… when the Russians boycotted the LA Olympics, Barr and Aparo provided their own villains. That cover on the left with the actual image of the Olympic rings would get them sued into oblivion by the IOC in modern times.

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Metamorpho would eventually get a character focus in the book, adding some Egyptian trappings to his origin in a story that would eventually get to be more famous for the two inventive covers shown on the left above. A more traditional Metamorpho story appeared in the second annual, featuring his girlfriend Sapphire Stagg – no jokes about that being the most obvious stripper name in comic history – her father, his henchman Java, and a wedding. It’s the only cover here whose issue is not included in the Showcase collection, but it’s actually a logical follow-up to the eventual Justice League storyline.

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The Outsiders hadn’t appeared as a team until recently in the excellent Batman – the Brave and the Bold animated series, and even then they were missing mainstays of the original team like Halo and Geo-Force.

Next Weekend – a look at another classic early-80s DC series, either All-Star Squadron to tie in with The Savage Time, or The Great Darkness Saga for some non-Kirby Darkseid content.

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Categories: Weekend Asides
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