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…
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…