In the dawn of the 80s, back when Crisis on Infinite Earths was only a twinkle in Wolfman’s eye, a new team was being developed: Batman and the Outsiders. At the time, the Justice League was in the middle of its Satellite Era, and Batman was headlining four different titles himself. The man was quite a busy bat. Around that time, DC was canceling their “Brave and the Bold” title and a new Batman book was going to be needed. Mike W. Barr stepped in and suggested a new team of superheros being led by batman. The team would be comprised of no names and outcasts. Outsiders, if you will. DC liked the idea, and put Jim Aparo, the previous artist who was working on Brave and the Bold before, on the job as lead artist.
Barr originally had plans just for Batman to take a small leave of absence from the Justice League, so that his role on this new team would feel committed to. His editor at the time, and for most of the Outsiders run, Len Wein, said it would make for a better story if Batman straight up quits the Justice League. This of course led to the infamous and very iconic first issue cover of the run, where we see Batman telling the Justice League, and the readers, that he was done with the Justice League.
Batman and the Outsiders #1 (1983)
Upon first seeing this issue, a new reader would be floored. Batman quitting the Justice League? Unheard of. And who were these nobodies? They couldn’t possibly be better than the amazing Justice League. The surprised expressions on the Justice League would match the reader seeing this on a comic stand for the first time. And this wasn’t some clickbait title page either. This wasn’t some random issue of the Justice League where Batman quits for a single issue. This was a brand new run. You would just have to pick it up to see what happened to cause this.
This new team he would be joining would be comprised of outcasts and nobodies. People who could never find a place among the other costume clad heroes because of how differently they operated. Outsiders, if you will. Barr included both original heroes made just for this run, as well as silver-age nobodies that didn’t really get a good time to shine before.
Black Lightning. Born from the Blaxploitation craze of the 70s and 80s, Jefferson Piece has martial arts and electricity based superpowers. Katana. Japanese renegade with a magic sword, she is as ruthless as she is skilled with a blade. Metamorpho. Shapeshifting master of all the chemical elements that make up our world. Halo. The mysterious young girl with an array of light-based powers and an unknown origin. Geo-Force. With all the powers of the very earth itself, he fights to defend his homeland of Markovia.
And other spirits there are standing apart
Upon the forehead of the age to come;
These, these will give the world another hearts,
And other pulses. Hear ye not the hum
Of mighty workings?
Listen awhile, ye nations, and be dumb.
-John Keats, Addressed to [Haydon]
Opening the first page, we are introduced to this passage from one of John Keat’s many Odes. It’s a bit archaic in its old English and poetic structure, but to summarize it all, the poem discusses the works and majesties of those above us, and our own ignorance to their accomplishments. It is a two-layer meaning, as our story opens narratively with Batman learning that his good friend Lucius Fox has been taken prisoner during a civil war in the land of Markovia. Batman’s eyes are opened to not only just how unstable the world has become, but also how institutionalized the Justice League has become, as they obey the whims of governments and refuse to intervene in the Civil War. The Justice League has become unaware of the true goings on in the real world, aloft in their satellite.
Another reading for this poem could be that the Outsiders themselves are the ignored wonders and majesties of the world. Their heroic deeds left unnoticed by a world used to more charismatic heroes like the Justice League themselves.
After Batman leaves the league and ventures off into Markovia, we break apart the story to explore who these other heroes are. What makes them worthy of Batman choosing the work with them over the Justice League?
We first meet Prince Brion of the aforementioned Markovian royal family. Markovia has been mentioned before with the Teen Titan’s infamous member, Tara Markov, who is sister to Brion and his brother Gregor. The same procedure that gave Tara her powers will now be done to give Brion his own earth-based abilities. Provided to him by a scientist named Dr. Jace.
We are then introduced to Rex Morpho, who has arrived in Markovia to find Dr. Jace.
Then we meet Black Lightning, who is working with Batman already, operating undercover to negotiate with the army that has kidnapped Lucius Fox. But before he can complete the deal, the general he was speaking with is assassinated, with Black Lightning accused of conspiring with Katana, who now flees the soldiers seeking retribution.
Batman goes off to save Black Lightning from the soldiers, and runs into a teen girl with bizarre powers and total amnesia. He promises to help her find her truth if she helps him safe his friends. Unfortunately, the forces at work would not allow such a story to end so smoothly. Brion and Rex are captured by the enemy army when they raid Dr Jace’s lab, and Batman is captured with Halo’s inexperience leads to him being discovered and captured. Ending the story on a cliffhanger about their safety.
The story is a solid opening scene. The story continues to throw question after question at our reader from the moment they even glimpse at the cover. “Why would batman leave the Justice League?” “Who are these strangers?” “Why are they all in Markovia?” “What is the secret behind Halo and our mysterious assassin?” “When is the next issue?” It immediately makes you itching for the next issue.
The way each of the Outsiders is set up in the story is phenomenal. We spend a lot of time in the beginning explaining why Batman is quitting the League because that is the question that is first on the reader’s mind. Then we go to Markovia, so logically the next person we should learn about is Geo-Force. Then Dr. Jace acts as a good point to bring in Metamorpho. By this point, audiences will want to see more Batman, so Barr uses that to introduce us to Black Lightning as well, which then immediately ties over to introducing Katana and Halo, if only briefly. Finally it introduces our big bad for this plot line as our heroes are captured to give us a solid cliffhanger at the end.
Everything is expertly laid out and the art is just as good. Fresh off of working on Brave and the Bold, Aparo brings his A-game with this run, showing just what was so fresh and amazing about the 80s. There’s nothing that will really wow someone to this day, we’ve seen art of this caliber all the time now when visiting old comics, but it’s solid work.
Each character in this story will be given plenty more time to properly explain who they are, what their motivations are, and what unites them all together. But for now, this issue gives us the first glimpse at one of my all-time favorite comic runs ever made.