Outsiders Trade Post: Five Of A Kind & The Chrysalis

outsiders five of a kind Outsiders: Five Of A Kind (DC)
Written by Ninzio Defilippis, Christina Weir, Tony Bedard, Mike W. Barr, G. Willow Wilson & Marc Andreyko, drawn by Freddie Williams II, Kevin Sharpe, Koi Turnbull, Josh Middleton, Cliff Richards, Matthew Clark & Ron Rondall
Collects Nightwing & Captain Boomerang #1, Katana & Shazam #1, Thunder & Martian Manhunter #1, Metamorpho & Aquaman #1, Grace & Wonder Woman #1 & Outsiders #50

As I mentioned in my year-end review of my favorite trade-reading experiences of 2012, I really enjoyed my re-read of Judd Winick’s Outsiders. He seemed to have a real vision for that book that kept things moving for nearly 50 full issues.

And then things changed. In Winick’s run we learned that the team was actually having its strings pulled by Deathstroke dressed as Batman instead of the hero himself. Batman eventually steps back in to take control of the team he originally started, utilizing the One Year Later-established idea that they’re actually a group of international terrorists as a way to do good in the darkness.

That basic idea lead into the Five Of A Kind trade which collects several one-shots that are supposed to team current Outsiders up with other heroes Batman trusts in an effort to see who should actually join the team. But, that’s not really what happens, not that that’s a terrible thing. The Nightwing/Boomerang issues follows the concept pretty well, but the one with Katana, by Batman & The Outsiders writer Mike W. Barr is basically a story starring her with Shazam popping in in a supporting role. The real running theme between the issues is that Batman’s kind of a jerk, which winds up losing more team members than his actual cuts (or was that all part of his plan?!).

While the comics in this collection don’t necessarily do what they set out to, it is interesting as an artifact of continuity old and then-new. Nightwing and Boomer deal with Chemo after he was used to destroy Bludhaven, Katana dives deep into story elements going back to her early days, Martian Manhunter and Thunder face off against Kyle Rayner villain Grayven and Grace and Wonder Woman operate in a post-Amazons Attack DCU. Heck, there’s also a lead into Salvation Run as well as nods to Countdown. So, there’s a strange mix of older stories being referenced and newer ones, making this a unique collection that probably won’t have much appeal outside of completists.

batman and the outsides vol 1 the chrysalisBatman And The Outsiders Volume 1: The Chrysalis (DC)
Written by Chuck Dixon, drawn by Julain Lopez with Carlos Rodriguez
Collects Batman And The Outsiders #1-5

The events of Five Of A Kind lead directly into a new series called Batman And The Outsiders written by Chuck Dixon. The series would go through a large number of creative and personnel changes as well as a switch back to the simpler Outsiders title before getting the axe. When these issues came out, I was still at Wizard and had a direct pipeline into what was going on behind the scenes, so we knew why Catwoman and Martian Manhunter were really leaving the team. It reeked of editorial interference, but Dixon’s a pro and kept things moving right along.

This time around, I tried pushing a lot of those memories out of mind and it helped me dig this story even more. By the way, the team consists of Grace, Metamorpho, Katana, Martian Manhunter and Catwoman (who both left by the end of the second issue). Thunder’s hanging out trying to prove herself worthy while Batman brings in Geo-Force, Batgirl and Green Arrow to help out on the various missions. Oh, there’s also a reprogrammed OMAC called REMAC who goes on to become more interesting in the second volume.

I think Dixon handled himself pretty well on this book, which also goes on to bring back some villains he created for Guy Gardner (pre-Warrior) and Detective Comics. There’s a big corporation experimenting with OMACs and rockets and space or something. It didn’t feel like the hows and whys were as important as the whos with this one, which isn’t a drawback for me. I dug the personal interactions between these characters, many of whom were on the original team. We also got to see them use their powers for infiltration purposes which works out really well.

Dixon was on for another arc/trade which I want to get my hands on. After that, the concept shifts a bit. At that point, Batman’s gone post-Final Crisis and R.I.P. and it’s revealed that the team he put together is actually there to replace him should anything happen. Yeah, it’s egotistical to think that you’d need a group of people to replace just you, but we’re talking about Batman here, so it makes sense. I don’t remember how well it was executed, but I’ll probably get my hands on those trades eventually and let you know how it goes.

Books Of Oa: Green Lantern Corps Revolt Of The Alpha Lanterns & The Weaponers

Green Lantern Corps: Revolt Of The Alpha Lanterns (DC Comics)
Written by Tony Bedard & Sterling Gates, drawn by Adrian Syaf & Nelson
Collects Green Lantern Corps #48-52, 21, 22

I actually read these two volumes of Post-Blackest Night, Brightest Day Green Lantern Corps trades at the same time I read their Green Lantern and Emerald Warriors counterparts, but kind of ran out of steam writing about GL books again. Like those books, these have a somewhat new status quo with the Honor Guard’s ranks swelling to include Kyle Rayner, John Stewart, Ganthet (now a Lantern), Stel, Soranik Natu, Boodikka and Hannu after they save the universe from Cyborg Superman…again. I really liked this trick the first time it was pulled back in one of Johns’ earliest arcs on Green Lantern and I get the recurring theme of Cyborg wanting to figure out a way to die and thus using various machines to help him get that (Manhunters earlier, the Alpha Lanterns and Stel’s robotic people here). That’s what the majority of this arc deals with, which I appreciate because it’s not like the other books and so obviously a set up for War of the Green Lanterns, but the more I think about it now, the more original I wish the story was. Bedard does a good job of working with these characters, their relationships and their quirks, but, like I said, I wish it was more on its own and blazing new trails. What I’m saying is, Cyborg Superman needs a long break (does he even exist in the New 52?).

Meanwhile, this collection also brings together the two issue arc by Sterling Gates that chronicled Boodikka, some of her past and her present as an Alpha Lantern. These aren’t the greatest stories to ever be told, but you guys know how much issues getting skipped over bothers me, so I’m glad they’re in here.

I know I sound pretty down on this book, but I like how Bedard handled the characters and Syaf’s art is growing on me. He does good, bold characters, has some solid faces but comes off a little muddy (that might be on the inker or colorist, though). I also dig this team. It might be further away from the previous GLC idea of “NYPD Blue in space,” but I have an affinity for these characters from the old days.

Green Lantern Corps: The Weaponer (DC)
Written by Tony Bedard, drawn by Tyler Kirkham
Collects Green Lantern Corps #53-57

I enjoyed this second volume a lot more than the first. Not only is the team I enjoy already established, but it deals with evolving issues like Kyle’s relationship with Soranik and her father Sinestro as well as a new villain who has the power to wield an aspect of the White Lantern in The Weaponer. See, this guy actually created Sinestro’s first yellow ring on Qward by harnessing the power of their god the Anti-Monitor. Because he was successful, Sinestro returned and essentially enslaved his fellow Qwardians to make enough yellow rings for the burgeoning Sinestro Corps. This eventually made him an outcast to his people which made him go a bit mad. There’s some Brightest Day stuff in here that I don’t really know about (including the very clumsy inclusion of Firestorm for an issue or two) but the important thing is that the Weaponer figured out how to manipulate some of the white lantern energy into all kinds of weapons.

Since he understandably hates Sinestro, the Weaponer takes Soranik captive and tells Kyle that he’ll let her go if Kyle brings Sinestro to Qward. But, Sinestro refuses. Instead he sends his corpsmen into the fray and a war erupts. This is the kind of stuff I dig if you’re going to get away from the space cop idea. Space army works just as well in my book if it’s handled well. There’s an added element here that I also found interesting as the Sinestro Corps members wind up on opposite ends of a battle with some Green Lanterns because all the Corps have a cease fire on the heels of Blackest Night. How the various characters dealt with that bit of business was fun to watch. I also appreciated the ending which I won’t ruin, but showed exactly what kind of character we’re dealing with in the Weaponer.

I really dug Kirkham’s art on this book. I don’t know how many of his comics I’ve actually read, but he’s got a really nice dynamic style that works well with the mix of constructs, muscles and drama found in these pages. Flipping through the book again, I’m hard pressed to find a panel that doesn’t look kinetic and interesting.

KEEP OR DUMP? There’s no real question here, I’ll be keeping both of these books. I’m pretty proud of my Green Lantern trade collection (I’ve got everything post-Rebirth up to but not including War Of The Green Lanterns. I think it’s a solid series that I’ll keep getting the books for, though, as always, I’m curious to see how things transfer over into the New 52. That’s something I’m completely unfamiliar with at this point, but I hear things carry over pretty well. However, if it turns out I don’t like where things go, I’ll go back and evaluate where I want to cut off my involvement with the collections. Wow, I really made that sound a lot more in depth than it is.

Countdown’s Not SO Bad

DC’s been losing my interest more and more with their weekly comics over the past few years. 52 combined most of my favorite writers with some really interesting characters (thanks to those writers) into a comic that rocked my world week in and week out. Then Countdown came along and I was with it for about half of the series before giving up. And I’ve only read one issue of Trinity. I’m super excited about Wednesday Comics though.

I think my biggest problem with Countdown was how much they tried to tie the rest of the DCU into the book. Plus there were just too many stories being spread thinner than maybe they should have. Did the Green Arrow/Black Canary Wedding REALLY need to tie-in? How do Superboy Prime and Kyle Rayner fit in here as compared to Sinestro Corps? What the heck was the point of Salvation Run?

Well, to try and answer some of those questions for myself and to give the book a fair shot, I decided to read the stack of Countdown trades I’ve acquired. I’ve got the four trades making up the regular series (52 total issues) and then a number of the tie-in books (pretty much everything with Countdown in the title). I wanted to start off with just the main book and see how well it reads on its own.

I’ll be honest, it read a lot better than I thought it would. I definitely liked Adam Beechen’s issues the best and there was some pretty good art by guys like Scott Kollins, Jim Calafiore, Jamal Igle and Freddie Williams III. Overall, aside from the continuity head-scratchers that people still reference (how did all this tie into Final Crisis exactly?), the story suffers from being too long and seemingly directionless for the first half of its issues. You’ve got characters like Holly the former Catwoman, a tainted Mary Marvel, Jimmy Olsen, Pied Piper and Trickster and of course Donna Troy, Jason Todd, the Ryan Choi Atom, Kyle Rayner and Bob the Monitor taking a tour of the microverse and then the multiverse. For the most part in the first half of the story, head writer Paul Dini and his crew of Sean McKeever, Tony Bedard, Adam Beechen and Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray do a good job of advancing these various stories (some more successfully than others), but they don’t really tie-in for a while (there’s also a lot of carry-over problems that lead to pacing issues and small things like the fact that at the end of one issue, Piper and Trickster are falling out of a plane with no bag and in the next, they have Trickster’s bag of tricks).

I know a lot of people didn’t like Mary Marvel’s transformation from goody goody superheroine into badass, evil chick, but reading the whole storyarc in a few days, I actually liked the progression. However, I did not like the turn they gave her towards the end of the book, but what are you gonna do? I also liked the Earth they showed us that Ray Palmer has been hiding out, though the twist right after that felt a little rushed.

Speaking of the main characters, I never really got a sense of Jason Todd’s character. I think it’s because he kept bouncing between hero and killer and he had been handled so differently by different writers over time, plus I know how (pun intended) Bat-shit crazy he’s gotten lately. And, on a final quick character note, as a big fan of Kyle Rayner (he was the GL that got me into that world), I found it annoying that they kept referring to him as someone who shouldn’t exist. I get Jason “Wall Punch” Todd and Donna “Been Dead and Back a Bunch” Troy, but what’d Kyle do? It’s never explained, he just shows up and is lumped in the the so-called Challengers (a name never actually established in this book, just stamped on at some point). I wonder if they’ll ever reference these Challengers as watchers of the Monitors again, but I kind of doubt it.

I’ve got a few more complaints that I’ve got to get off my chest. Where the heck did Superboy Prime and Monarch explode to? This may have been addressed since, but I can’t remember the events chronologically. I was bummed to see Monarch’s awesome army of multiverse evildoers getting taken out so quickly. I was hoping they’d be a bigger part of the story. Also, what the heck is the purpose of the Monitors? We’re never told anything more than they watch over their multiverse. Anything else? They seem to be pretty powerful at times, but not at others, what’s the deal? Another thing that bugged me was how they just took old Elseworlds stories and made many of those the 52 worlds. Sure, 52 is a pretty big number of worlds, but do you really want to give a whole UNIVERSE to “Batman is a vampire?” Seems like a waste. Related to that, why were we given two full issues showing how one of the Earth’s becomes the Jack Kirby-created Kamandi/OMAC world? I actually really, really liked those issues, but what was the point? Especially when they haven’t been referenced since (like the rest of the multiverse, sadly).

And finally, I was disappointed in the presentation of the trades. I get that people were over Countdown as soon as the last issue hit, but there could have been an intro or two or even a kind of director’s commentary. Worst of all, though, is that there weren’t any kind of recaps about what happened outside of the Countdown series. We’re not told anything real about Superboy Prime’s previous dealings or what happened at Green Arrow and Black Canary’s wedding. I’m totally fine with small paragraphs catching people up, they would have been a nice addition, especially when the book was so tied to continuity at the time.

Overall, it kind of feels like the creators either chose the most random characters they could find or were handed them and then asked to create a story. It’s not until Keith Giffen gets brought on as story coordinator about halfway through that the stories start coming together and making sense. So, while it feels like a clean-up job, the book definitely takes on new life in the last two trades. There were even genuine moments where I was worried for the characters and pumped my fist when cool stuff happened (especially Red Robin and a Batman jumping into the fray).

If I thought it would make any sense I would suggest just getting the last two trades, but the second volume actually has Giffen’s recap issue that kind of sets everything into motion. In the end, you don’t really need to know what happened in Countdown to understand the DCU right now (and not reading it will probably keep you away from some questions, especially continuity ones) but I enjoyed it more than I thought I would and got through the four volumes reading them on and off over the past five days which says something. If I really disliked it, I wouldn’t have been able to finish the books.

So, I won’t suggest that you’ve missed out on something big or that you should even spend the cover price of $19.99 per volume on these bad boys, but if you find them in a cheap trade bin at a con or on Amazon, it might be worth your time to check them out. For me, it definitely helped that I was a few months back from all the craziness of the DCU at the time and agonizing over where the various stories fit in (I AM a continuity nerd after all). Now on to some of the supplemental stuff like the Search for Ray Palmer one-shots, Countdown to Mystery and Adventure, Death of the News Gods and beyond.