Batman and the Outsiders #1 is a prime example of a well-crafted set-up for a new series being marred by its own unremarkable execution. And while writer Bryan Hill and artist Dexter Soy are certainly dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s in terms of getting things off the ground, it never feels terribly exciting or engaging. It feels as if Hill and Soy are just giving readers the bare bones of what they intend on doing with the series in the long run. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you look at a debut issue as basically a pilot episode to something much larger, but the whole ordeal feels... sterile.
The meat of the issue revolves around the Barrera family, who were experimented on by a shadowy organization known as Ark. Years after being hidden away from the malevolent entity, members of the Barrera family have been turning up dead, eventually leaving only the superpowered Sofia as the sole survivor. Batman has made Sofia a top priority, enlisting a new team to help find her before she suffers the same fate as the rest of her kin. As far as inciting incidents to kick of a series, you could do a lot worse, but as mentioned before, the story itself isn’t the problem. It’s a solid premise, one that makes a lot of sense in the world of Batman. It’s a case that needs to be solved, and the reasons for solving it are just as sketchy as the case itself.
Let’s get into what doesn’t quite work.
Hill’s dialogue is serviceable, but mostly unremarkable. The exchanges between characters divulge all the pertinent information as you’d expect, but it doesn’t do much to help forging deeper connections between our heroes. And yes, if you’re picking this comic up, you might have a working knowledge of how Signal relates to Batman and Black Lightning, but there's an air of pretense that might put new readers off. Thankfully, the dialogue is written so broadly the minutia is apparent in context. Ultimately, though, it’s a case of telling and not really showing, which is a cardinal sin when it comes to serialized fiction.
Dexter Soy’s artwork is a mixed bag. There are panels that look fantastic, and the majority of how Soy renders these characters looks great, but there is something lacking in several pages, as if the finer details of Soy’s work have been lost in the coloring process. This sort of look can be enticing when colorists use watercolors to give the page a more ethereal look, but here, it just looks like things were glossed over. It’s not bad, by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn’t going to be turning many heads. It’s unable to decide if it wants to be minimalist or not.
Even with these gripes, it’s hard to call this is a bad comic. The things that work work do so exceptionally well. It’s clear Hill and Soy have an affinity for Signal, who gets a lot of screen time, and rightfully so. He the conscience of the team, for good and ill, which will put some strain on his long-standing connection to Bruce Wayne. And despite how counterintuitive a canary yellow costume would be for fighting crime at night, Soy nails Signal’s design and makes it work.
The “two dads” dynamic of having Black Lightning and Batman overseeing the team in some capacity is also great. There’s a good cop – bad cop vibe going on, and it plays out on the page like gangbusters. All the scenes with Katana are really good, and may very well be the best bit of character building the issue has to offer. The relationship between her and Black Lighting is solid and might make the reader feel like the two of them alone would be enough to get things done.
Batman and the Outsiders #1 is a frustrating comic in how close it gets to being a great debut issue. All the parts needed were there, but once the product was assembled, it became obvious the leftover bolts were probably important after all. Here’s hoping it doesn’t fall apart because of it.