CONVERGENCE - BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS #1

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[ OUTSIDE SHOPPING ]  
Citizens of my world! Blah-blah-blah. I am Telos. You know the drill. Marc Andreyko is mine. Carlos D'Anda is mine. DC Comics is mine. And this little tale of criminals, killers, and lunatics turned to an army of heroes published in April, 2015, is mine. Hell, 2015 is mine. I am Telos. You are mine.

To QUOTE Batman: “I've had enough of your two-bit Justice League! From now on, these are my new partners!”

THE STORY:
Week three of Convergence brings us Pre-Crisis Earth 1 Gotham as the featured city versus four challengers; Tangent Universe Central City (Stan Lee Tastic!), Red Rain Universe Gotham City (Vampires!), Earth AD New York City (Kamandi!), and Earth-86 Durvale (you know, the one with Atomic Knights after World War 3 happened in October of 1986?). Got all that? Good. Now we can move on. 

For those of you who've gotten this far into our coverage of Convergence without getting the gist yet (or actually having, you know, got into the Convergence series), the short version goes like this: Cities from dying realities are plucked from their world and planted on Telos, stored under a dome for what they perceive to be a year, and then told that their champions need to fight other cities for their chance to be able to continue to exist.

The planet is sentient, and may have been a brainwashed mortal at some point. Nobody's got “powers” under the dome, but what that means varies from issue to issue. The rules of the game vary by the authors' interpretations. There's a gaggle of heroes running amuck on and under the surface of the planet. There's kidnapped time travellers and magic T-spheres at work. And, of course, this is all outside the reality known to the characters in our standard artist-formerly-known-as-the-New-52 continuity.

Ding-Ding! AND IN THIS CORNER: The Outsiders. Batman is, of course, keeping a day by day log of each “Dome Day”, starting with figuring out that the dome is of “unknown origin” on day one and absolutely nothing helpful since. Our story starts on day 364.

The issue visits each of our Outsiders in turn, checking out what they're up to in the Gotham-dome. Black Lightning is prancing around in costume, unable to do much other than help coordinate solar panel installations to, uh, gather power from the artificial sunlight that the dome provides, along with power and water and other utilities. Katana doesn't seem to be doing much more than brushing off citizens asking her why she hasn't done anything while she visits Halo in the hospital, who is in an unexplained coma, presumably because the Aurakle that inhabits her body is considered a power that is blocked by the dome. Geo-Force is assisting work crews in moving large slabs of asphalt around with his bare hands and arm wrestling drunk guys named Paulie who look mysteriously like Earth 2 Ted Grant, because despite everyone losing their powers, he's still somehow inconceivably strong. And Metamorpho is enjoying life with Sapphire Stagg as a normal guy who isn't made of assorted and sundry natural elements.

And that's about it. We get a brief glimpse of how each of them is handling life under the dome, some tea is drunk, the dome comes down, the powers come back, and an army of mutants led by an OMAC storm the city. Close curtain and wait for the second act.

Now you know. I'll spoil things further as we get through the highlights and lowlight.

THE GOOD:
Let's start with the best part of this issue; Carlos D'Anda. His art is beautiful. If you look at a list of his work, he doesn't have a huge pile of issues under his belt like some artists, but his work has touched on all different corners of comics, from Dark Horse Star Wars to JLA to WILDCATS to LEGO to the Crow and other things that don't have to be all caps. Most significant to this engagement, perhaps, he did a half dozen issues of the Outsiders in 2004 to 2005, where, you know, one character overlapped with the original series.

It's great to see modern artists tackle the classic costumes of our heroes. D'Anda's takes on Katana and Black Lightning are particularly striking (with one minor quibble on the latter that I'll touch on shortly). Part of what made Batman and the Outsiders so exciting, however, was the great character development when they were not in costume. (Unless you count stylish fashions of the 80s to be costume. Which wouldn't be wrong.) That's all we really get in this issue, though; character development. Even though four of our five conscious heroes apparently still spend their days in costume, the lack of any epic crime fighting has left us with a great portrait of, errr, in-costume out-of-costume moments.

Nearly every frame in this issue is a crisp and sharp focus on one or more of our characters. Where some artists would let many of the shots fade in to more abstracted features, D'Anda uses every opportunity to create a beautiful portrait of our character in the moment.

The writing in this issue is subtle and low key. Marc Andreyko uses this dome situation to spend time looking at how each character occupies their time. We look at the nature of obsession, hope (or lack thereof), futility, frustration, and rage. There's not much going on here as far as a unique story goes, but the character moments that fill most of our pages are indeed beautiful writing.

But the tea. So many characters drinking tea. Such a great little detail to touch on.

THE BAD:
The whole point of Convergence is to give us one last glimpse of characters -- or versions of characters -- that have ceased to be due to the cancellations, reboots, and retcons of yesteryear. Personally, I feel that the best of these tie-ins are the ones that give us more than just a brief glimpse at the lives of how our characters are coping with the dome, but how the characters would have progressed beyond the end of their continuity. And ideally an interesting challenge that's unique to the characters involved to give us some otherwise unheard of excitement in these short stories.

Marc Andreyko did not provide this. Which is too bad, because I really like him as a writer. His 2004 run on Manhunter is my second favorite pre-Flashpoint title and his brief but magnificent run on New 52 Batwoman is probably the title I'm going to miss the most after Convergence concludes. While the character portraits he built in this issue are great, they are simply a third of what has made some Convergence titles truly great.

Due to my love of Andreyko, I've got to put most of the blame on the combination of the awful format of these two issue Convergence tie-ins (even the best stories are feeling rushed) and the fact that he's trying to cover the current state of a six-person team that has not stayed together in 22 pages. Other authors have kept their teams together under the dome and / or selected a small subset of a larger team to focus on in their tie-in. And there's a reason for that.

One of the other big problems with these Convergence tie-ins is the unavoidable tendency for readers to compare these new tales to the series and characters they are continuing. Does it stack up as a continuation of the tale where it left off? Therein lies the problem with Batman and the Outsiders. It didn't really touch Crisis on Infinite Earths directly. There were a couple of frames in early issues which revealed that the Monitor was the one who granted Maxie-Zeus the power he needed to hijack the 1984 Olympic Games. But once the Crisis itself kicked off, the Outsiders continued along, blissfully unaware, visiting ancient Egypt, learning Halo's origins, and the, uh, “War Stars” battle with Kobra. 

Apparently we need to take this Convergence event and assume that the characters we saw defeat Kobra in Batman and the Outsiders 27 were not only plucked out of space and time with the rest of Gotham, but that their clones were put back right where they were so as to meet up with Looker in Batman and the Outsiders 28. Okay, fair enough. I suppose it's less sloppy than having Hal Jordan, the character who created Zero Hour, sitting in a jail cell in the final moments of pre-Zero-Hour Metropolis.

But back to comparing this issue to the 80s series from which it is plucked, essentially, we are to believe that – despite Katana never having had powers and Black Lightning having relied on his high jump skills just as often as his electricity powers -- Batman is the only one who's still out there fighting crime and trying to figure out the dome? Geo-Force is still apparently still plenty strong, so even though he can't shoot lava at people he should be able to hobble the average thug should he need to. But we don't see any of this. Our team has apparently drifted apart and makes no effort to keep in touch. While I can buy this to a degree -- after all, we know the team was five issues from parting ways with Bossy BatPants -- the lack of any mention of why they are out of touch is a gap in the narrative.

Detail-wise, we've got Bats chatting with Commissioner Gordon, who should be recovering from a stroke during the Outlaws run. If he's recovered in the year since Gotham got domed, we need a mention. Or we could have just used Lieutenant Freeman. We've got Black Lightning prancing around town with an inexplicably black mask. His mask was white throughout the entire Outlaws run. At least we've got the moderate afro thing going. Somewhere early in the Outlaws run he apparently ditched the afro wig and let his own hair grow out a bit. Aparo was a bit dodgy on that.

But the worst transgression is, of course, making a big deal of Metamorpho being toxic and unable to touch anyone up until the day the dome dropped. Yes, from the day he turned in to Metamorpho, Rex Mason has been seeking a way to turn himself back to normal. But during the Batman and the Outlaws run there was never a single mention of him being toxic and unable to touch Sapphire. He touched her plenty. As well as the rest of the team. Hell, every issue he turned in to something to either catch someone, carry someone, fly someone, choke someone, or trap someone. Contact with Rex was never a lethal issue.

THE MUSIC:
Maybe this is a bit of an easy out, but beyond the obvious title reference of The Ramones' “Outsider”, there's the idea that everything you know disturbs me so. The more you know Batman and the Outsiders, the odder this tale is going to feel. If you just roll with it, it's a really interesting investigation in to what makes these characters tick. Yet there's just enough wrong to feel just off enough to not sit quite right.




THE COMPARISON:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I picked on a lot of things about what this issue is lacking. But for the comparison I want to circle back around to the one thing that it has, because it does it very well. Andreyko took this team, knocked out Gaby (rhymes with maybe), and asked himself what each of the five remaining characters would do with the situation of being trapped in Gotham with limited resources and no idea of what's going on in the rest of the world. In the few pages we spend with each character, he actually packs a really good amount of of nuance and detail in to what is essentially a portrait of each character. And then D'Anda makes them in to literal portraits. So we've got a portrait gallery. With an OMAC led army of mutants at the gates. They got a group rate.

THE CONCLUSION:
What world is the OMAC led army of mutants even from? Earth A.D.? Those guys sure don't look like Rats.

*** Just reading and writing and rambling in the back of the Joker's old Ho-Home-On-Wheels... Keath.