Review: Batman and the Outsiders Vol. 1: Lesser Gods trade paperback (DC Comics)

 ·  1 comment

I thought Bryan Hill's Detective Comics lead-in was strong, which makes the failure of his Batman and the Outsiders Vol. 1: Lesser Gods all the more biting. There is just not much here, a lot more telling than showing, big panels that use a lot of space for nothing, and little new or interesting revealed about these characters (put another way, there's a lot of old ground tread). All in all a disappointing debut.

[Review contains spoilers]

A lot of what's in Lesser Gods feels very surface-level. There are at least three different scenes of Black Lightning Jefferson Pierce standing around talking with Bruce Wayne, worrying over the Outsiders team; that this repeats so many times is indicative of the story not really moving forward. Though we saw this somewhat in Detective Comics Vol. 8: On the Outside, there's nothing here to clue us in on Jefferson's personal life, whether he's still also a teacher, and so on. Similarly, whenever scenes cut to Signal and Orphan conversing, they always just so happen to be riding a motorcycle together or playing basketball together; there's no real sense these characters have wants or needs aside from emoting the next element of the plot.

Neither do we even fully understand why this team is together. Hill, a couple of times, has Batman allude to some sort of personal difficulties that prevent him from training Signal and Orphan himself, or even from going after Ra's al Ghul, but we never find out what these are. One might guess that this has to do with Batman's conflict with Bane, but it seems silly we wouldn't be told that outright. Given that Outsiders was delayed for a while, one wonders if this wasn't another book hamstrung by the Batman/Catwoman wedding reveal; possibly even Hill wasn't given to know what Batman's problem is.

It combines, again, to create something pretty predictable. Batman formed this team but can't handle it because of boilerplate "personal issues." Black Lightning is perpetually unsure about leading the team because of the teammates' various problems — though, despite that Jefferson describes both Orphan and Katana as loose cannons, they seem to do nothing but listen to him most of the time. Katana is the only one who Hill gives their own independent plotline, but it's more trouble with her Soultaker sword, the same as about every use of Katana throughout the modern era. Orphan Cassandra Cain's own challenge, when it finally comes, is facing off yet again against her mother, Lady Shiva.

Signal Duke Thomas is Jefferson's real problem child, unfortunately. Under Scott Snyder and company, Duke had been a more mature, focused not-Robin, but here Hill gives him attitude issues related to a fight with the villain Karma in Detective. Again, however, in this book Hill never addresses what, specifically, is bothering Signal so much. The result is that Duke comes off like a stereotypical angst-ridden teen, a far too simple take on the character.

At the end of the first chapter, new character Kaliber shows up, reminiscent of Marvel's Cable and spouting about arriving from the future. It's an unfortunate joke, as it turns out, since some time-travel would be just the left turn this book needs, but instead Kaliber's kidding (which makes the use of a Cable-esque figure in this book sadly self-lampooning). And then it turns out, even though Batman swears by Kaliber's legitimacy at length, Kaliber is the book's secret bad guy — so not only is Batman uncharacteristically foolish, but also the new character with whom the audience has the least connection is the one who breaks bad, offering really no emotional impact.

Art-wise, Outsiders seems to go off the rails almost from the start. I have enjoyed Dexter Soy's work on the Red Hood and the Outlaws books, but in the first 10 pages, at least half have three panels or less, and that kind of thing continues throughout the book. We might explain this away as typical of an action-focused book, but it seems wasteful how often full pages are used for very little content. Also in the beginning, Katana and Black Lightning are each strangely posed pin-up style in ways that don't really befit their characters.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Batman and the Outsiders Vol. 1: Lesser Gods

I adore the slow creep to the Outsiders on TV's Black Lightning (and I'm a fan of Judd Winick's Outsiders from way back); it's a prime opportunity for DC to have Black Lightning and Outsiders titles on the stands. Batman and the Outsiders Vol. 1: Lesser Gods just isn't there yet, the kind of basic superhero comics that I don't think can survive very long in the market. It wouldn't surprise me if this title didn't last, and I wouldn't argue that this title might need to end so a better one can begin.

[Includes original and variant covers, character designs]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Batman and the Outsiders Vol. 1: Lesser Gods
Author Rating
2 (scale of 1 to 5)

Comments ( 1 )

  1. This series has so lost me (and I was so counting on it). It's depressing as hell. Too much angst and not enough fun. Yeah, "FUN"! It's not a dirty word. The writing gives me no reason to care for these people. Hope is practically non-existent. Seriously, lighten up.


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