Armagideon Time

Baby, it’s dumb outside

July 21st, 2009

There are some of you who came away from yesterday’s post with the impression that I think Batman and the Outsiders and its associated spin-offs were lousy comics.

This isn’t true. I think that they are amazingly and painfully terrible comics. That’s not me parroting the Snark Party line; I hated those comics long before it was considered cool to do so.

Some nice Jim Aparo and Alan Davis art aside, site writer Mike Barr’s attempt to repudiate the gonzo silliness of Bob Haney’s Brave and The Bold stories by adding an “edgier” tone and topical references only succeeded in creating something goofier than Haney’s work yet devoid of its joyous abandon.

That the series was pretty popular at the time isn’t surprising, as its premise was essentially “Batman leads (a lame ripoff of) the X-Men.” It would have a bigger shock if it didn’t do as well as it did.

The problem was that Barr’s Outsiders stories suffered from a more egregious version of what was happening in DC’s other X-Men inspired team book, The New Teen Titans — a superficial layer of Claremontean tropes draped over a traditionally DC substructure. (For those of you unfamiliar with the Big Two corporate identities, imagine a middle-aged banker speaking in gangsta slang, and you’ll grasp the essential concept.)

Given how foolish the superhero genre is if one stops to think about it for a moment, it takes a very skilled hand to integrate serious issues into stories where facekicking is a valid means of solving most problems. Barr tried to work in references to Cold War geopolitics, the arms race, and global terrorism into The Outsiders, but in the most ham-fisted and self-defeating way possible…usually involving a lame villain whose name and powers were based on a pun or other foul play on words.

The Force of July, with Silent Majority. The Bad Samaritan. Masters of Disaster, with New Wave. The Nuclear Family.

And, of course, the unholy offspring of the Terminator and J.R. Ewing who went by the unforgivable moniker, The Duke of Oil (introduced in a story titled, naturally, “No One Can Stop…The Duke of Oil”.)

It would be one thing if these high concept banalities were sold with a mischievous wink or touch of self awareness, but if that was Barr’s intention, it didn’t show in the final products, which were offered sans irony, comedic or otherwise.

Perhaps that’s just as well, considering what Barr did attempt to pass off as comedy, like this one-pager that appeared in the November 1985 debut of the direct market Outsiders series…

Wait, where's the plug for Hostess fruit pies?
(Think you can take it in full-size? Go ahead on and click.)

It certainly puts the “gag” in “gag strip,” and is more than enough to justify my overall low opinion of The Outsiders.  It’s a shame that the follow up to “Statue of Limitations” never saw the light of day.  I guess we’ll just have content ourselves with this teaser panel from the aborted four-issue story arc…

7 Responses to “Baby, it’s dumb outside”

  1. Nimbus

    Well, each to their own I guess. I generally read Barr’s work on Outsiders as being somewhat tongue-in-cheek and, perhaps, ironic (?). I certainly didn’t think he was being serious – in fact less serious than most comic books. I mean, The Force of July!? *groan*.

    For me, it was fun book with decent art.

  2. philip

    Picked up a great run of Outsiders from a quarter bin at a con. Gave it a shot, but ended up just flipping through enjoying the Jim Aparo art.

    The Force of July, Silent Majority, The Nuclear Family … these would have all been great villains in the hands of Ben Edlund or Evan Dorkin. Alas.

  3. David Thiel

    I did follow the Outsiders for a brief time: very brief, it seems, as I’m looking at the cover gallery at comics.org and recognize very few of them.

    What struck me about the Outsiders is that the team seemed so thoroughly artificial. They weren’t a natural grouping, like the original Teen Titans, or one with a strong thematic hook, like the Metal Men. They were selected under the alleged organizing principle of being “outsiders,” but only Metamorpho (and maybe Black Lightning) had much of a claim to that loner status.

    In addition, it just didn’t seem at all the sort of team that Batman–fed up with the Justice League–would put together. People complain about Robin being primary colored, but man, the palette of the Outsiders is eye-searing. And, of course, one member is entirely color based.

    I’m not saying that Batman would necessarily pick his teammates for purely aesthetic reasons, but I’d think he’d be more likely to go for heroes that could comfortably work in the shadows and/or at street level. Of the Outsiders, only Black Lightning seemed a good fit.

  4. Martin Wisse

    Ehh. The series was no worse than many another. And that comedy page was deliberately bad…

  5. Bully

    “Deliberately bad” excuses embarrassing and racist stereotypes that should have been long put to bed in comics by the 1980s, then?

  6. WizarDru

    Wow, that WAS pretty bad. I was expecting a reference to Hostess Fruit Pies in there, somewhere.

    I remember it being a big deal back in the early 80s when Batman decided to quite the League and start his Outsiders…though for the life of me, I can’t recall WHY….why he left, why the Outsiders were important and so on. But then, I mostly read Marvel anyhow.

  7. suedenim

    I have to say, though, you seldom see a Gibney Flip in superhero comics!

    http://www.lileks.com/comics/jerry/1.html

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