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

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The latest incarnation of Batman and the Outsiders isn't a bad superhero team-up book, per se. Certainly there's enjoyment in seeing this mix of characters together. But in comparison to a bevy of other espionage team books that DC Comics published post-Infinite Crisis, this second volume The Snare just doesn't hold up, and indeed the plot meanders so much that the reader can't help but wonder at the intended point, if there is one at all.

Following the events of The Chrysalis, the Outsiders believe Metamorpho to be dead, but instead he's stowed away on a renegade Chinese shuttle headed to space. When Metamorpho contacts the team, Batman sends the Outsiders to hijack yet another Chinese shuttle; the Outsiders are captured and must be rescued by Nightwing and a re-purposed OMAC called "Remac." Metamorpho frees himself and the team begins to investigate a mysterious space weapon, but are distracted by rumors of an alien parasite in Gotham.

We're now ten issues in to Outsiders, the team has been on the same mission for nearly all of them, and we have no clear idea who the main villain is nor what their goals are. We know generally that it involves space, and OMACs, but otherwise the danger is so unclear that I have trouble feeling interested and involved in the story. It definitely doesn't help that the story takes a right turn in the final chapters and the Outsiders embark on a new mission completely unrelated to the first, without any sort of conclusion to the leading story.

In addition, the Outsiders are for the most part passive participants in the story. For most of the team, the main thrust of The Snare is that they try to rescue Metamorpho but instead are captured by the Chinese government (seemingly unrelated to story's villain) and have to be rescued. Metamorpho gets a fair amount of screen time, but even his accomplishments in the story are largely accidental. I felt toward the end of writer Chuck Dixon's run on Birds of Prey that his focus became more the superhero fights than the plot, and the same is true here; I'm not sure why we want to read about the Outsiders being captured and escaping from antagonists unrelated to the story if it doesn't have any bearing on the story's arc overall.

What I like about Batman and the Outsiders is the characters themselves. It's an eclectic group, including Francine "wife of Man-Bat" Langstrom, Batgirl and Green Arrow, former "new" Outsiders Grace and Thunder, and former "old" Outsiders Katana, Geo-Force, and Metamorpho. I like this "legacy" combination of old and new Outsiders, and Dixon does well highlighting the differences in the two team's experiences; it's interesting how the older characters defer to Batman while the new characters cling to Nightwing when he arrives. Dixon also returns former Outsider Looker, and there's some nice nostalgia to the final chapters.

I'm less enamored of Remac. The character's name is silly to start with, and the idea that he's remote controlled/possessed by a goofy scientist seems an altogether worn-out concept. Perhaps if we knew more about where Remac came from or what it's purpose is, the reader might care more; most of the "captured Outsiders" storyline seems made to spotlight Remac, but we learn more about the character's powers than the character itself. As is, Judd Winick already had a funny robot character in Outsiders with Indigo, and Remac sadly is no Indigo.

Batman and the Outsiders: The Snare is a competently-written, action-packed story, with nice art by Julian Lopez, Carlos Rodriquez and Bit; unfortunately, it just doesn't go anywhere. We can speculate that a good amount of this comes from editorial interference; Chuck Dixon had a public enough fall out with DC Comics, and the weird alien parasite story and Batman's quick exit suggest an editorial mandate to clear the decks for Batman: RIP.

Still, it remains that Batman and the Outsiders failed to move me, and I'd be dropping the title altogether if it weren't for the ties the next volume should have with that selfsame Batman: RIP. With a new team on board, hopefully that'll mean new life for the stories as well.

[Contains full covers]

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7 comments:

  1. Batman and the Outsiders seemed doomed to fail from the start. With so much writer juggling, how could this book find its way?

    Sad. I know it wasn't everyones cup of tea, but I really enjoyed the previous Outsiders run and had high hopes for this.

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  2. As someone who has been reading this title monthly, let me just say this... the title really struggled all the way up through "Batman R.I.P." I was about ready to give up on it myself, but when Peter J. Tomasi took over after R.I.P. ended, suddenly the title had new life again. For the past few issues, it's been a really terrific title. I'd definitely check out Tomasi's stuff when they get around to collecting it.

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  3. I don't get why DC bothered collecting the rest of Dixon's run when it didn't even have a proper ending. It's a shame they couldn't let him finish his storyline before starting the R.I.P. tie-ins.

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  4. shagamu: The way I understood it, Dixon wasn't fired from the book; he chose to leave.

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  5. I didn't mean Dixon was fired. I'm pretty sure R.I.P. didn't mesh well with his long-term plans for this book, but I wish he had the chance to wrap the alien parasite subplot - which isn't even mentioned in Tieri's short fill-in stint that DC aparently won't collect - before leaving.

    It wasn't even Morrison's idea to turn R.I.P. into a massive crossover that brought every Bat book book to a halt. Actually, the tie-ins ended up being a disservice to Morrison's story, since most of them were set after the last chapter, revealing the post-R.I.P. status quo before the main arc was over.

    In my opinion, DC should have waited for R.I.P. to be over before having ever Bat book deal with its repercussions. That would have given Dixon a few more months to tell the stories he had planned.

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  6. Ah, okay, that makes sense. Never read Dixon's Outsiders run, but as someone who's had his favourite books canceled before, I know how much that sucks.

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  7. Glad to hear Tomasi's run gets better. I liked Outsiders under Judd Winick (am I in the minority?) and I feel this title deserves a shot. It is too bad we won't see Tieri's RIP tie-ins, since that's what started this mess.

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