In the inaugural installment of The Great Teen Titans/Outsiders Deep Dive, I got into Graduation Day and the short story “A Day After” from Teen Titans/Outsiders Secret Files & Origins 2003. Briefly, the former Titans and Young Justice teams called it quits after a time-traveling blue robot popped into the present and woke up a Superman Robot that killed Donna Troy. Of course, these being superheroes, they tend to flock to one another and two new books soon followed: Teen Titans and Outsiders. Today we’ll get into the first volumes of each series, which debuted in 2003!
The first big question I found myself faced with was which book to start with. Outsiders technically debuted the month before Teen Titans, but it’s been a long time since I read the latter and I decided to go with A Kid’s Game first. According to Johns in his intro, written in 2003, he got the book after Dan DiDio asked him if he wanted to write it. The writer had been working his magic already at the company for a few years on books like Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E., JSA and Flash. As a long time fan of the Marv Wolfman/George Perez run, he immediately jumped at the chance.
Which explains his iconic line-up of Robin (Tim Drake), Impulse (Bart Allen), Superboy (Conner Kent), Beast Boy (Gar Logan), Starfire (Koriand’r) and Cyborg (Vic Stone). However, instead of a bunch of sidekicks coming together, like the original squad, Cyborg envisioned that he, Beast Boy and Starfire could offer the younger heroes a place to hang out and be around similarly powerful teens in a safe place. In other words, he wanted to set up a teen super camp with weekend attendance housed in Titans Tower.
Here’s a bit of background on the younger characters. Superboy’s the clone of Superman and someone else, the identity of the human donor will be a huge part of the story moving forward. When not fighting bad guys, he’s living in Smallville with Superman’s parents. Robin’s been working with Batman for a while and had an ongoing series at the same time that he appeared in Teen Titans. Wonder Girl finds herself dealing with Greek god interference on her life and Bart continues to struggle with the slowness of the past (he’s from the future). All four used to be a part of Young Justice, so they’ve got a history with one another.
So, even though they weren’t sure about starting with another team so soon after Donna Troy’s death, they still went to be with their friends. And it’s a good thing they do because a lot goes on in these first seven issues collected in the volume. First, Superboy finds out that his human DNA donor is actually Lex Luthor. He and Robin intend to find out if that’s right as Deathstroke decides to attack Alcatraz.
The team rushes into action, not knowing the cause of the apparent explosions, but soon face one of the most dangerous men in the entire DCU. He’s so dangerous that he doesn’t flinch at the idea of shooting Impulse in the knee with a shotgun at close range while saying, “Tell the Titans…kids shouldn’t wear costumes.”
After Cyborg drops Bart off at the hospital, Starfire demands that the younger members remain in Titans Tower while the older ones go after the incredibly dangerous assassin. They agree, but immediately sneak out to check on Bart who’s read an entire library’s worth of books and decided to change his identity to Kid Flash! This all happens just in time to face Slade who’s been inhabited by his body-controlling son Jericho. See, part of him blames the Titans for his own death. As you can guess, there’s a huge fight with Jericho jumping from one body to another and making friends battle friends. Eventually Raven pops up — she’d been resurrected by the Church of Blood earlier in the series — to absorb Jericho’s spirit and then disappeared until next arc.
This first batch of issues also features an extra-normal meeting between Cassie and Ares as the god instructs the girl to teach violence and use her anger. He grants her a lasso to do exactly that. There’s also a dust-up between Wonder Woman and the Titans, which brings in the Justice League. Nightwing pops up to chill everyone out. It’s a bit silly, but I’d imagine those kinds of misunderstandings would get weird in a world filled with super powers. The book ends with a look at what the Teen Titans do in the middle of the week and also reveals that Deathstroke’s now working with his daughter Rose.
While reading through this volume, I realized that it’s incredibly possible that I was doing so for the first time. As I mentioned in the first installment, I got into Outsiders first and assumed I’d gone back and read all of the Titans issues, but might be wrong. A lot of it felt fresh and new, which is a nice surprise for a book that’s over a decade old. It helps that the art by McKone and Grummett is just so damn good. The former’s got this round, perfectly-super-hero style that makes me love reading comics and Grummett’s the best around when it comes to capturing the physicality of young heroes in comparison to their older counterparts. They’re both two of my favorites and I love their stuff.
Having enjoyed the first volume of Teen Titans so much, I eagerly jumped into Outsiders Volume 1: Looking For Trouble (collecting #1-7) by Judd Winick, Tom Raney and Crisscross. In this case, Arsenal puts together a more proactive group, bringing in a mix of newcomers and established heroes like Thunder (Black Lightning’s daughter who has the ability to control her mass), the super-strong Grace, Metamorpho (we’ll get into that), Nightwing and Indigo, the robot who set off the events of Graduation Day.
Nightwing isn’t super into the idea until Arsenal convinces him that he isn’t looking to build a family, but instead a group of pros to go after super criminals before they became a huge problem. To do so, he secretly takes orders from Batman, which he never told Nightwing about until later. He also decides to take the money from Optitron to get a rad headquarters, a ship called the Pequod and even salary for his team. And it’s a good thing he did because they find themselves facing off against an army of angry, intelligent gorillas right off the bat!
While Gorilla Grodd aims a stolen ocean liner at New York City, another ape destroys Air Force One, which means that President Lex Luthor must move to a safer location. Luckily Jade’s around to help out and join the Outsiders, but that doesn’t stop Joker from grabbing Luthor in the safe house and torturing him for information about something the Clown Prince of Crime wants back. In NYC, after an epic battle, Grodd reveals that Gorilla City had been overrun with a pestilence that was killing everyone. The only way to get the cure was to lead this distracting crusade. Not long after they saved the President.
The next arc reveals that Arsenal’s been working with Batman. It also puts them on the scent of Brother Blood, who seems to be living a peaceful monastic life until the Outsiders discover a huge complex directly underneath the monastery. The team splits up to find a trio of sleeper agents, but fail all around. Arsenal thinks he’s arrived in time, but the man he “saved” turns out to be a cultist who shoots him seven times in the chest.
The team, along with two Green Arrows — Ollie and Connor — track Brother Blood to the Antarctic superhuman jail called The Slab. In the process of stopping Blood from kidnapping a legion of infants, the Outsiders make the hard decision to let the escaped criminals go free, which doesn’t exactly ingratiate them to the world. This book ends with the real Metamorpho popping up and informing the Outsider that he’s actually just a copy, which explains why he has some memories, but not all of them. Ultimately the original Metamorpho lets the younger one (he’ll start going by Shift soon) keep living after getting to know him.
I can’t close this out without heaping huge amounts of praise on Raney. He’s such a fantastic artist and is perfectly suited for a book like this that balances big-time superhero set pieces with smaller moments. His characters are powerful, sexy and clearly ready for trouble at the drop of a hat. Crisscross has a more animated feel in his issues, but also fits in perfectly with the established tone.
It’s funny, when I first read Outsiders, I thought it was so cool how Winick took a few known characters and then integrated all of these wildly different concepts and called it Outsiders. I knew there had been a few iterations of the team before, but didn’t quite make the connection right away that he was directly connecting the new with the old by way of Thunder and Shift. In my book, that makes the whole thing even cooler, but then again, I’m a big fan of continuity when it makes sense.
You can’t exactly tell from these first two entries, but these two books will be very intertwined for the first few years. The Outsiders attacking the Slab in Antarctica will directly lead to a new metahuman prison opening at Alcatraz, right across from Titans Tower. The following volumes will also see Brother Blood switch from terrorizing the Outsiders to going after the Titans. This will also fully bring Raven back into the fold, but all of that will wait until another day.