“The Outsiders” #39 feels like a comic not of its time. I’m not entirely sure if that’s a compliment or not, because some parts of the comic work and others do not. As a basic concept, the idea of two groups of Outsiders fighting one another is a strong, classic concept. It reminds me of old annuals where superhero teams were split in two and forced to fight lest a cosmic foe destroy the Earth. Those were always fun comics and a chance to see how your favorite heroes measure up against one another in a fight. Bringing that idea to this issue of “The Outsiders” should have made for an entertaining comic, but it’s dismissed so quickly that the prospect of superheroes fighting one another is nothing more than a tease.
On one side are the Outsiders led by Geo-Force and, on the other, is the group led by Black Lightning. They’re fighting to influence/end the war in Markovia -- exactly why isn’t made clear here and that lack of a reason is why the fighting stops so quickly with peace quickly brokered between the two teams. What little is shown is fun and would have been better in an expanded form.
In fact, the entire issue has a rushed feel. No doubt the series ending with issue 40 is a factor, but the pacing of the issue doesn’t work. Keith Giffen uses a six-panel grid for much of the issue and, while six panels may be plenty these days, it somehow seems too relaxed a pace for the story being told. So much is going on with the Outsiders/Outsiders battle -- the fight between Geo-Force and Veritas, an appearance by Herald that’s wrapped up astonishingly quickly, and Batman rushing to Markovia despite the protests of Amanda Waller -- that the issue needed more room for it all. As well, the strict use of the six-panel grid makes for some panels that barely have anything in them and could have easily been smaller, both for economical storytelling and for purely aesthetic reasons.
Giffen’s art itself helps lend the issue that retro feel I talked about above. It’s clear and energetic storytelling with block, dynamic characters. The fight between Freight Train and Katana gets a page early in the issue, depicted in such a basic, to-the-point style. It’s almost a step-by-step showcase of the fight and the transition of Freight Train being knocked down by Katana, to Owlman being thrown out a window in a similar pose is solid. Giffen’s characters are always in motion and almost every panel communicates a necessary piece of information. Later in the issue, he breaks away from the six-panel grid, and the issue comes alive more then, the art ebbing and flowing with the demands of the story more.
If “The Outsiders” #39 had more space or a more specific focus, it would be a stronger comic. So much is going on that nothing gets enough space or attention with numerous plots ended before they have a chance to begin it seems. Since the book is ending next month, the rush to wrap everything up is surely a factor and that’s a shame, because there was potential here for the sort of simple, entertaining superhero comic book that you don’t see too much these days.