Black Lightning! Katana! Metamorpho! (Most of) the O.G. Outsiders are back, and they're on a mission that's taking them deep into the heart of Japan, and the shadows of Katana's past. But one of them isn't acting quite right right... and it leads to disaster!
The Outsiders were originally envisioned as Batman’s alternate to the Justice League, a more low-key group unsullied by little things like, oh, international law and various sovereignties in the name of getting the job done. And it came complete by legitimate industry legends Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo! What wasn’t to love? And although the rosters and M.O.s changed over the years, the general conceit remained undiluted: a team of superheroes operating under the radar, usually under Batman’s supervision.
And now the team’s time has come ’round again, this time under the watchful eye of writer Brandon Thomas (Excellence). Hot off the criminally-underrated Future State: Aquaman, Thomas is a writer on the rise. His style isn’t so much that he has a particularly defining style, he’s just good. He understands the fundamentals of how to pace a story, how to get to the heart of his characters, how to make their world sing and relate intrinsically to its inhabitants. These aren’t traits a lot of writers have; sure, they can tell a story, but how well does it land? How memorable is it? Will it be remembered, or will it be read and enjoyed but promptly forgotten? Capable, but unmemorable. But Brandon Thomas is That Guy. Give him a story to write about building a barn or something equally mundane, and it’ll be the most enthralling barn-building story you’ll ever read.
And that’s what he’s done here with the return of The Outsiders, in part one of “The Caretaker.” Black Lightning, Katana, and Metamorpho aren’t up to anything particularly unique – at least on the surface. Thomas opens the story in medias res, with Black Lightning and Katana on the run from some Japanese goons. We aren’t spoon-fed the plot, but rather, have to pick out the details from well-placed dialogue that informs but isn’t overtly expositional. That’s a wise move on Thomas’ part; in the hands of a lesser writer, the pacing could have been bogged down with excessive dialogue. Instead, Thomas trusts the reader to put things together as the the story goes along – and it works, elevating what could have been a rote tale to something intriguing and engaging.
Given its concise length, though, “The Caretaker” does feel a bit light for its own good. Especially given the cliffhanger it ends on – a true WTF moment that demands the reader come back for more, but by equal measure makes us wish it could have come a bit earlier in the narrative. As it is, “The Caretaker” is intriguing and engaging, but is scarcely more than set-up at this point. Given Brandon Thomas’ strengths as a writer, though, I have a feeling that it will be a stand-out among Batman: Urban Legends‘ already-strong roster when it’s all said and done.
On the art side, Max Dunbar (Dungeons & Dragons: Infernal Tides) – a rising star in his own right – and colorist Luis Guerrero bring a fun kineticism to Thomas’ story. For comparison, Dunbar skews a bit toward the Todd Nauck school of art – leaning into cartoony, but still strongly-rendered and never childish. It’s fun art, bolstered by strong, vibrant coloring from Guerrero. Dunbar’s inking is strong, too – shades of Jonathan Glapion abound, especially on that twisty final page of the story. Add Steve Wands’ always-strong lettering into the mix, and you have a story that – while not lighting the world on fire just yet – is a strong first outing crafted in a way that engages from the first page and leaves readers immediately wanting more at the end.
Batman: Urban Legends #1 is a gripping read from start to finish, and the Outsiders tale is no exception. Fast-paced and gripping from the first to last page, "The Caretaker" is expertly crafted by a strong up-and-coming creative team.
Batman: Urban Legends #1: The Outsiders
Writing - 7/107/10
Storyline - 7.5/107.5/10
Art - 7.5/107.5/10
Color - 8/108/10
Cover Art - 7/107/10
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