Review: Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 8: On the Outside trade paperback (DC Comics)

Bryan Hill's Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 8: On the Outside whets my appetite for Hill's Batman and the Outsiders series, just as the future of that series unfortunately becomes murky. Even so, as my first exposure to Hill's comics work, I was satisfied and would be happy to read this author again; I also thought artist Miguel Mendonca was solid here, with shades of Eddy Barrows' good work earlier on Detective.

In this age of multiple Leagues and ubiquitous Bat-families, the dynamic original Mike W. Barr Outsiders lineup has less to distinguish it now as necessary and relevant except for nostalgia value. However, I thought Hill did a good job here of presenting Black Lightning Jefferson Pierce as a teacher above all, and that's a laudable hook on which to hang a team book, teen heroes with leader as teacher-mentor. Hill also brings a believable "outsider's view of the Bat-family" perspective to the book; we see this both in Pierce's interactions and in some of the missteps in Hill's story, totally forgivable from a new Bat-writer in an overall impressive first outing.

[Review contains spoilers]

Among strong points in On the Outside again is the many facets of Hill's Jefferson Pierce. I am used to an older Black Lighting, both from his last pre-Flashpoint depictions and Cress Williams' television portrayal, so this accomplished but young Pierce is an interesting take, already a principal but without wife and family. Dually then we get a Black Lightning fully prepared to step into Batwoman's role as leader of the Bat-sidekicks, but who's still new enough that he doesn't initially know Batman's identity, is still learning his powers, and is still hesitant about some aspects of superheroics. That makes for a Black Lightning protagonist who's very accessible, and who makes the Batman mythos feel fresh as he discovers it for the first time.

I also thought Hill created a villain here, Karma, who was strong and had lots of staying power. By virtue of a piece of alien technology, Karma can read minds and so knows Batman's identity straightaway; we learn by the end that Karma is crazed and disfigured due to Batman's earlier too-violent actions. There's a well-bandied trope that Batman creates his villains, but here it's specifically the case. Hill demonstrates Karma as shockingly violent even, and I thought again for a new Bat-writer that Karma was well-done for a first outing and portended good things for the threats Hill would deliver in Outsiders.

I would say that, getting into some of my criticisms of the book, Karma's "want to make Batman better" shtick reminded perhaps too much of Flash's Zoom, and "sidekicks make you lesser" was also the centerpiece of Scott Snyder's Death of the Family. Hill's trying to pack a lot into Karma, a telepathic villain who loves Batman and hates him and is trying to show how Batman's lost his edge and wants to kill all his sidekicks and also mentor some of them himself, and that makes in the end for some fuzzy motivations. Clearly, in taking on Detective, Hill had as his directive to use the Bat-family, and that seems swirled with Batman's conflict with Karma in ways that don't always make sense.

Additionally, in Hill's story Batman brings on Black Lightning to train his sidekicks (ostensibly after the collapse of the Gotham Knights at the end of James Tynion's run), but then almost immediately sidelines the group and declares he doesn't need sidekicks. The throughway between between Tynion's and Hill's runs is kept implicit in the story -- too much so, I thought -- and Hill's loner characterization of Batman doesn't jibe with what came before. We're equally meant to believe Batman once punished a criminal by letting bats chew out his eyes, something hard to fathom at any stage of Batman's career. Equally I didn't think Hill had Batgirl Barbara Gordon quite right here, portrayed as younger and angrier than I think is the standard.

On the Outside is overall so good, however, that even the single inventory issue here is good (originally published ahead of Hill's run but shunted to the back in trade). Michael Moreci picks up threads from Batman Eternal, taking the wholly strange reinvention of cult leader Deacon Blackfire as a supernatural entity and making it at least partially sensible. The use of light as a driving theme dovetails nicely, seemingly coincidentally, with Hill's story. Artist Sebastian Fiumara and colorist Dave Stewart set a sketchy, moody tableau that's itself reminiscent of Bernie Wrightson's work in Jim Starlin's original Blackfire tale, Batman: The Cult.

Dark Days: The Forge, referenced in Hill's "On the Outside," showed an earlier "classic lineup" Outsiders team (Black Lightning, Katana, Geo-Force, etc.), though Batman presents the term "Outsiders" as a new concept; it does not particularly seem like any earlier Outsiders adventures are in continuity (nor do Black Lightning and Katana seem to know one another). With Markovia in play, I'm guessing Hill does intend to get the band back together (if his Outsiders series gets off the ground), though it may be a "together again for the first time" kind of thing.

DC would do well to have a Black Lightning-lead team book on the stands right now as the television show's star continues to rise. Enough books struggle that I'm not sure if a Black Lightning solo title would make it, but Black Lightning plus your other favorite heroes seems viable. There doesn't appear to be fandom for the original lineup of the Outsiders in the same way there is for Justice League International reunions, and I'm skeptical if Hill went full-Barr (Looker, Halo, etc.) whether the series would survive, versus a "Black Lightning and young heroes" team. I do worry that Hill's characterization of Batman here -- closed off, dismissive of his team, mistrusted by the League -- will lead to predictable results later on, a "Batman and the Outsiders" team that ultimately gets fed up with Batman in angst-ridden fashion and becomes just the Outsiders; more "new," I think, would be if a writer didn't go down that road.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 8: On the Outside

Irrespective, again, for a first outing, Bryan Hill does fine on Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 8: On the Outside. Next up I know we've got James Robinson in a sequel-ish to his "One Year Later" Batman: Face the Face tale, before Peter Tomasi comes on for Detective Comics #1000 and presumably the long run. I've been a Tomasi fan for a long time but I do regret this title becoming seemingly "just another" Batman book; it seems to me the best Detective has worked in a while was when Batman was the solo book and Detective was the team book, instead of the two competing and Detective coming out the loser. To that end I'd have been as happy to see "Batman and the Outsiders" continue in Detective with Hill, but whatever, I'll be sticking around anyway.

[Includes original covers, variants by Mark Brooks]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 8: On the Outside
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)


Post a Comment

To post a comment, you may need to temporarily allow "cross-site tracking" in your browser of choice.

Newer Post Home Older Post