Review: Batman and the Outsiders Vol. 3: The Demon's Fire trade paperback (DC Comics)

Bryan Hill’s Batman and the Outsiders ends with what feels like a whimper. Over three volumes (and a Detective Comics intro), I came to like this series better than I did when it started, but still there’s not much to recommend it in the end. Whatever ideas DC had about an Outsiders series in the post-Dark Nights: Metal/“New Justice” era never quite manifested, and hopefully (since it seems they’re giving it another go after Dark Nights: Death Metal) the next time around will be better.

I appreciate that Batman and the Outsiders Vol. 3: The Demon’s Fire teases some Bat-drama that never quite manifests. Batman’s apprentices skirt the line of good sense a little bit, and rather than come down hard on them, Batman seems willing to grant his judgment is not always absolute. At the same time, a lot of this is implicit, not that Batman admits the error of his ways so much as what seemed might be something that would anger him ultimately doesn’t. Whether that reflects writer Bryan Hill well in control of his narrative or not I’m not sure, though I think that uncertainty answers its own question.

Combined with what seems like a swift and anticlimactic ending, Demon’s Fire struggles; it’s not that the story is particularly off-putting by any sense, just that neither is it too terribly exciting. What might yet help this series is whatever comes next; if, as it seems, the end of this book springboards the characters to other, relevant activities that reference this title, then at least that might raise the profile of this book by default.

[Review contains spoilers]

The aforementioned moral quandary is that sidekicks Signal Duke Thomas and Orphan Cassandra Cain decide to go with Cassandra’s mother, the assasin Lady Shiva, to hunt Ra’s al Ghul instead of making a plan with Batman first. This is meant to seem rift-ish, in that Batman’s trainees break with his leadership (a trope already tired, and is Batman so bad a judge of character that he always chooses kids who don’t listen to him?), but ultimately Batman simply seems pleased at the progress they made locating Ra’s.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

There’s even some question, parsing Shiva’s words, whether they were ever actually disobeying Batman or if Shiva just wanted them to believe they were. Again, the whole sequence is handled better than some, but at the same time, that it doesn’t come to much begs the question of its real necessity at all — either Hill creating drama (or drama/not-drama) for drama’s sake, or the rapid end of the book perhaps changing where some storylines might go.

Though of course all the characters have had their moments over 17 issues, it’s a similar problem in that the end of this book (and the finale of the series) really just comes down to Black Lightning versus Ra’s and Orphan versus Ra’s acolytes. With disclaimers again about where the series might have been intended to go versus its cancellation, there was never much that came out of Signal’s mutating powers, nor a strong purpose for the super-powerful Sofia aside from kicking off the whole thing, nor much for Katana to do except worry into her sword. On paper, an old/new Outsiders book that paired teacher Lightning Jefferson Pierce with Batman’s less prominent sidekicks Duke and Cassandra, with Outsiders elements like Markovia in the mix, seemed like a great idea, but it never quite coalesced to meet that potential.

I’ll quibble too, as I have before, with Hill’s use of Ra’s al Ghul as the continuous “big bad” over 17 issues of a single series. In this final book, what we learn is Ra’s has found an alien weapon which he intends to use to cleanse the Earth and vanquish unspecified corruption; it also lets him fly and shoot lasers out of his hands. I generally believe 17 straight issues of Ra’s is over-use of the character to the point where he loses his effectiveness (same would go for 17 issues of Darkseid), furthermore it hardly even seems Hill is using Ra’s so much as a vaguely Ra’s-like villain that Hill can reshape however he likes.

Again, however, there’s nothing particularly wrong with Hill’s conception of Batman and the other characters, and in fact Hill’s Batman is at times more charitable and nurturing than most. The entire final issue is no villains, no fights, just the Outsiders characters on a ranch talking over their feelings, a deceptively hard task that Hill pulls off well. (Though, can Batman really not tell when Shiva has drugged his tea? Or that someone Shiva tells Batman is gone is actually standing right outside?)

And Shiva’s final accounting of the Outsiders holds plenty possibilities — that Lightning and Katana are adventuring together and that Cassandra “needs to speak to someone named … Stephanie [Spoiler] Brown.” I’m not sure if these are direct references to the Outsiders feature in Batman: Urban Legends and the Orphan/Spoiler team up in Batman: Joker War Zone respectively, but I’d like to think they are, and that both will end up as more than just one-offs. That would be this book’s best outcome; even if Bryan Hill’s Batman and the Outsiders didn’t make a splash, that it would be a springboard for popular characters in new successful endeavors would at least give it something of a legacy.



Artist Dexter Soy draws most of Batman and the Outsiders Vol. 3: The Demon’s Fire; he’s been with this book since the beginning and I appreciate, in this day and age, his sticking with it till about the end. Special mention of Gleb Melnikov, whose rounded, slightly cartoony style renders a nice cameo by Martian Manhunter. I see that Melnikov is on the new Robin (Damian Wayne) title post-“Future State,” which seems just the right place for his style; I’ll be interested to see how that goes.

[Includes original and variant covers, page pencils]


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