Ever since its relaunch just over two years ago, “Outsiders” has had a hard time finding its place, with numerous creative team changes and a largely muted reaction from the critical community. The only exceptions have been those times when a new team came on board or the status quo changed. Well, it’s that time again, as DC ‘shakes things up’ with executive editor Dan DiDio coming on as writer, popular artist Philip Tan taking over the art, and a shift from a Batman-focused team to a Superman-focused one. Unfortunately, this is not a change for the better as the results range from dull to just plain bad.
With the team staying at Geo-Force’s castle in Markovia, this is mostly a set-up issue that works toward the final page reveal of Superman’s connection to the team. The dynamic of the group is interesting, as every pairing that DiDio gives us features characters at odds, but that grows tiresome and does make me wonder how this team is expected to function at all -- or why they even try to hold things together. This disharmony is probably the best thing about this issue, as it provides a unique quality to this title as most teams are presented as families or groups of friends.
However, the actual execution of these various fractures of the group is incredibly poor; DiDio doesn’t establish clear reasons for the characters to disagree. Geo-Force and Owl-Man begin the issue by not getting along simply because. . . they don’t get along? Or, there’s an absolutely awful confrontation between Metamorpho and the Creeper in a coffee shop that goes from friendly to "That’s it, I’m leaving! Screw you!" in no time at all. Oh, and there’s a fart joke that isn’t funny. The only problem that has some traction is between Black Lightning and Katana disagreeing over Katana’s desired use of lethal force as they attack a pirate ship that has been raiding Markovian vessels. But, neither character expresses their views in any manner, which is strange since they’re supposed to be friends.
None of this is helped by the art, which is wildly inconsistent throughout the issue. The first problem is that this is supposed to be the first issue of a brand new creative team that is meant to have at least some sort of a run together and Philip Tan doesn’t draw the entire issue. Don Kramer comes on board for a few pages and the two styles do not mesh. Even the coloring on the two artists’ pages shifts in tone, mostly since Kramer’s style is much cleaner and doesn’t use as many shadows or dark patches of ink. Ignoring that, even Tan’s work alternates between a heavy use of blacks and bright panels -- in the same scene where the lighting hasn’t changed. The lead pirate is a good example of this inconsistency as his hair length and color changes from panel to panel, as does his body type. Tan’s reliance on heavy shadowing is also distracting in many scenes where one wonders where these shadows are coming from and why do they change their placement so often.
This isn’t exactly an auspicious debut of the DiDio/Tan era on “Outsiders.” The writing is dull and bad, while the art is inconsistent and puzzling. The big reveal at the end shows some promise of redemption as it’s an interesting idea that could cause further dissension in the group, but considering the state of the Superman books, one has to wonder if the timing is right -- a question that’s disheartening considering that the writer of this comic is DC’s executive editor.