After three years of telling some amazing stories with amazing arcs for all of them, the Outsiders have finally bid farewell to Batman, the man who brought them all together. With Justice League International coming around the corner and DC wanting to promote Batman: Year One, the cape and cowl were getting stretched a bit too thin. Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo still helm this run with a brand new issue #1 for “The Outsiders”. Most of our cast remains the same, aside from Batman’s departure and the introduction of a member added recently named “Looker”.
The Outsiders #1 (1986)
The cover is pretty generic this time around, with just the six heroes standing inside of an Atom. The atom will relate more to the actual plotline of the issue, and the individual poses are pretty weak. It’s also very hard not to directly compare this to Batman and the Outsiders #1, since it’s directly succeeding that run, and while BatO #1 has a full detailed background, huge cast of characters, and an exciting pull to make you want to read it, Outsiders #1 just feels non-existent. Which is a big problem when you just lost your big flagship character. This cover gives you no reason or incentive to read unless you are already a big fan of the run and the rest of the characters already.
“…Men will awake presently and be men again, and colour and laughter and splendid living will return to a grey civilization. But that will only come true because a few men will believe in it, and fight for it, and fight in its name against everything that sneers and snarls at that ideal.”
Leslie Charteris, the Last Hero
Like with the previous Issue #1, The Outsiders begins with a passage with some symbolic meaning to the direction of the story. While not as poetic and evocative as Keats, the passage pulled here does a good enough job setting the stage. No allusions or metaphors that need to be deciphered to figure any of this out.
The opening few pages of the run are a series of splash pages depicting the cataclysmic destruction of a nuclear bomb. As this issue was printed at the height of the cold war and its terror, such imagery is very topical and going to draw the reader’s attention. Unfortunately, it also sets up what will be the driving conflict of this issue.
This imagery is being accompaniesd with narration by our big bad for this issue, an old nuclear physicist, sick and confined to a chair, wanting to teach the world the dangers of Nuclear Armageddon alongside his “Nuclear Family”, a team of robots designed to harness the power of nuclear radiation.
We then get over to our Outsiders, who have moved to Santa Monica, California. There we see Halo and the rest waxing nostalgically about their early days and introducing the reader to Looker, our newest member. She’s a psychic, able to use Telepathy and Telekinesis.
After a trip down memory lane, we spend a few pages going over everyone’s new status quos. Gabby and Tatsu have moved into a new house together, Rex is with his girlfriend Sapphire, Jefferson is looking to patch things up with his Ex-Wife who lives in the area, Brion has opened up a Markovian embassy here, and Lia, Looker, is trying to get a job as a model.
The Outsiders then scout out a protest rally for a new nuclear power plant being developed, trying to find a bomb threat that was made. They uncover a task force that tries to get past them into the plant, and a big fight erupts. The Outsiders dispatch them quickly enough, but the Nuclear Family slips in and begins to drain the radiation from the plant. The Outsiders jump into action and a much more impressive fight takes place where we see the Nuclear Family’s abilities and how they compare to our heroes.
The Outsiders manage to shut them down though, and in an attempt to learn what their plan involves, they let them go free, with Looker disguised as the wife. They return to the old man, where his assistant learns that the Nuclear Family are based off of the old man’s now dead family, and that he doesn’t just want to scare people, he wants to detonate a nuclear bomb in the city to show everyone just how dangerous atomic radiation can be.
Looker is then outed as an imposter, and we end on a cliffhanger.
There is also a small gag strip at the end of Halo having a wacky comedy all to herself.
The story is very weak, but does a good job setting the overall tone and style for this ongoing run. While the original run was very character driven, with strong arcs for each person, this run is instead very focused on large group fights and action set pieces.
This isn’t to say one direction is better than the other, as many of the evil teams the Outsiders end up fighting in this run are amazing, it’s just that a story primarily about action can struggle hard if there isn’t a good story to contextualize the fights. Nuclear destruction is definitely a tangible danger, but the villain is not very compelling. The Nuclear Family is an interesting idea, and I love their name and design, it’s just that a team of robots designed to be caricatures of a 50s style American family can only do so much, especially if that’s all they are. Their one-joke gag wears thin pretty quickly, and the big villain is equally forgettable.
The parts this comic shines in are the fights. This series has many amazing brawls between evil teams and the Outsiders, and in this case it’s a great start. Each member of the Nuclear family has a unique was of using their nuclear energy, with the youngster turning into a flying ball of energy to wiz around and smash into them.
It is a real shame this is how the series decides to start things out, especially compared to the masterpiece of an opening that was Batman and the Outsiders #1, but it is very hard to consistently put out work of that quality every time.