Review: Batman and the Outsiders: The Chrysalis trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, December 01, 2008

As is the case with Batman and the Outsiders: The Chrysalis, sometimes if a trade paperback is drawn really well, and features a whole bunch of your favorite heroes in one adventure together, it doesn't matter whether or not the story makes a whole lot of sense. Indeed, The Chrysalis contains so many new bad guys and vague evil schemes as to make it inscrutable, but the characters are rich enough that plot becomes almost a secondary concern.

Chuck Dixon's Outsiders reads in a sense more like Batman and the Justice League Task Force--that is, more random, varied heroes go in and out of this title than the Hall of Justice bathrooms, and the makeup of the team changes at least two or three times. Part of this, I know, was because Chuck Dixon took over the reins of this title from Tony Bedard before it even began; but it's something that, at the same time, works for the title.

We start the book with Katana and Catwoman on a mission together; this later morphs into a fight between Batman and Hawkgirl with original Outsider Geo-Force looking on; and it ends with a grand smackdown between Batgirl and Green Arrow (all this, and Francine Langstom, too). It makes Batman and the Outsiders something between a Brave and the Bold team-up book and Birds of Prey, with Batman in the all-seeing Oracle role, and the wide variety of characters is just plain fun, even if the plot hangs off the story a little bit.

It's hard to say exactly what The Chrysalis is about. Dixon creates a new "very bad" company headed by a brand new evil genius; the villain's plan involves an OMAC with vague ties to Batman's Brother Eye, but it's never quite clear what that plan is. Dixon perhaps lets Batman keep too much of his own council here; none of what's going on seems a surprise to Batman, but the reader struggles to keep up. Dixon might have been better off using an established villain; it was hard for me to know what was at stake in the heroes stopping the villain's plot, whereas the Green Arrow/Batgirl fight had far more resonance.

In as well as Dixon wrote some of the characters--Martian Manhunter, Catwoman, and Metamorpho, to name just a few--I was surprised by how I didn't like his take on others. Dixon's Batman here seemed far more like his pre-Infinite Crisis self--jerky, mysterious, demanding--than the post-Infinite Crisis team player we've come to know. But even more off-putting is Dixon's take on Thunder, who's been previously established as a pre-med Tulane graduate; Dixon presents her as a petulant brat, speaking in slang in a way that seemed disrespectful to her portrayal by other writers before.

I also couldn't help but groan when I saw Dixon villains Hawk, Bunny, and Militia in this story. One of the things that soured me on Dixon's Nightwing and Birds of Prey, much as I liked other aspects, were his continual use of these one-note, silly villains who continually appeared in his stories, including Mouse, Giz and the trio above. Seeing some of these bad guys in this trade only confirmed my fears that Outsiders would go down the same road (if not for Dixon leaving the title after the next collection). Hopefully we won't see them again next issue, but will get a better sense of the main villain's ultimate goal.

The stories here are pencilled by Julian Lopez and Carlos Rodriguez, with inks by Bit, and I thought all three did a fantastic job. The scenes is spacious and bold, perfect for an action-packed story, and perhaps by virtue of the common inker, it's even hard to tell the two artists' styles apart. There's a bunch of new-to-my-eyes artists I've been enjoying lately-Cliff Chiang and Jesus Saiz among them--and these artists strike me in much the same vein.

[Contains full covers]

We're going to Countdown to Adventure now for all you Countdown fans out there, and we'll see where that takes us next.
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