One poster at the DC Comics message boards described Outsiders: Wanted as the trade where "they go from a team that hunts down bad guys to a soap opera." Well, I don't know about all that, but I would say that the adventures in Outsiders: Wanted are more character-based than perhaps the event-driven stories before.* In specific, there's great emphasis in this volume on Grace -- the Outsider with previously the least amount of backstory -- though to Judd Winick's credit, every Outsider gets a chance to shine in this volume. At the same time, Outsiders: Wanted offers what could be the most subtle Identity Crisis tie-ins so far, and its result is highly effective. This is a different volume of Outsiders, but a good one.
Outsiders: Wanted begins as Jade vies with Nightwing for leadership, and Starfire joins the team. Hard feelings from both Nightwing and Arsenal boil over as Grace discovers a child prostitution ring -- one with a personal connection to her own past. The Outsiders take the unusual step of searching for the ring's head by exposing him on America's Most Wanted -- with guest star John Walsh -- a search that has disasterous results for one of the Outsider's families. In the midst of it all, Indigo discovers that the team is secretly being funded by Bruce Wayne, and Arsenal reveals that his secret source has been Batman. One of these revelations, however, proves false, and Batman's Identity Crisis-fueled paranoia proceeds to infect the entire team, with shattering results.
Judd Winick pulls an interesting trick with the character of Grace in Outsiders. In the first two volumes, Grace has been brash, arrogrant -- and highly sexualized. In fact, it's nearly become a running joke in the series: where there's Grace, there's sex, be it with Green Arrow, Arsenal, or what have you. And yet, as Outsiders: Wanted unfolds, we slowly learn that Grace was the victim of childhood sexual abuse, and it places all of her previous actions in a new and frightening light. Winick wisely plays Grac'es hypersexualized behavior for laughs because often in society hypersexualized is the butt of jokes; when the trauma behind it is revealed, we feel both sorry for Grace and ashamed of ourselves for not recognizing the signs of abuse sooner. It's a smoothly-taught lesson by Winick, and I'm interested to see where he goes with Grace's character from here.
Comic books are the most powerful, I've always thought, when the writer makes full use of the medium's unique qualities -- for one, the ability to say one thing (dialogue or narration) while showing another (panel art) to create a sum greater than its parts. In Outsiders: Wanted, Sue Dibney is never mentioned, nor Dr. Light or any other aspect of Identity Crisis. Instead, Batman only offers Nightwing this simple, haunting advice, "Trust no one," while a vague image of Zatanna up to no good hangs in the background. This creates an Identity Crisis crossover that is truely both relevant for Identity Crisis readers, and surmountable for those not in the know. IT makes me doubly eager to read Winick's Batman: Under the Hood, his Batman/Identity Crisis tie-in, to see if Winick handles the character and the event as superbly there as he has here.
The events of Outsiders: Wanted are referenced in Teen Titans: The Future is Now, but while the timelines and events of the two trades don't entirely mesh, Wanted is skilled, transitional Outsiders fare -- and superhero fare where the bad guys, for a nice change, are more akin to Law & Order than Flash Gordon. Wanted ends on a cliffhanger, with an advertisement for Teen Titans/Outsiders: The Insiders and I'm looking forward to it, as Judd Winick continues to show the growth of his writing skill as Outsiders goes on.
[Contains full covers, character bios]
Taking a little detour now to Fables: Homelands, and then on to some Wonder Woman and Superman. Or maybe The Insiders after all ... we'll see. Take care of yourself!
* Are soap operas considered character- or event-driven? I have no idea. Anyway, for a good NPR report on the move from character- to event-driven television (including quotes from The West Wing's Bradley Whitford, go here.)