Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

I got one for the hardcore Batman fans out there. And I mean the hardcore ones- the ones who don’t just read Detective Comics, but Nightwing, Batgirl, Birds of Prey… How about Batman and the Outsiders? Never heard of it? Far too few have. I’m a big fan of a lot of DC’s lesser known team-books. For some reason, these never seem to pick up a big fanbase the way Justice League does. Hell, people know more about Alpha Flight than they do about the other DC books (not that Alpha Flight isn’t cool...just saying). Teen Titans are getting there. But Justice Society, Doom Patrol, Shadowpack and a few others just don’t seem so firmly entrenched in the public’s psyche as the Avengers and X-Men. Of course it doesn’t help that there’s this weird relationship between DC and it’s various imprints, like Vertigo and Wildstorm. Generally, comics printed under these label are standalone or exist in their own universe- but there are some loose exceptions, like Animal Man and Doom Patrol. Did you know Hellblazer was originally a DC comic? Did you ever see the movie Constantine, with Keanu Reeves? I love that movie, actually- highly underrated. But the character- John Constantine- originally trucked around with all the other DC magic-ky characters. Actually, he started off as a character in Swamp Thing (which, depending on who you talk to, is one of the greatest comics ever, comparable to Sandman and Torso and such). If you ever read Crisis on Infinite Earths, for example, back in the day, Constantine makes a brief appearance. But nowadays, Hellblazer takes place in its own universe without superheroes running around in tights- because let’s face it, that just doesn’t fit the whole gritty, pseudo-realistic thing the comics got going on, right? Man, how’d I get here? Oh yeah. Outsiders. I’d like the Outsiders to get a little more play on the comic grapevine. The title of the comic sometimes has the “Batman and…” at the front, and at other times it doesn’t. But ultimately, the gist is this- Bruce Wayne has his own superhero team. Of course, when I say he has his own superhero team, I’m referring to this certain depiction of Batman. That is, Batman as he appears in comics like Justice League, where he doesn’t just fight crime but contends with world threatening conspiracies, monsters, aliens and all sorts of wackiness. It’s almost like there’s two kinds of Batman stories- well, okay, that’s an oversimplification. There are all sorts of Batman stories. But there’s the Batman comics where Batman stays exclusively in Gotham City and everything feels kind of like a Law and Order episode, and then there’s the Batman comics where, despite being only human, Batman’s intellect and preparedness is so frightening that he can keep pace with Superman, Wonder Woman and all the rest. In the former, Batman is kind of saintly and demonly, all rolled into one. In the latter, Batman is kind of the conscience of the superhero community and works, sometimes behind the scenes, to guide it in the right direction. What I’m really getting at here is that Batman doesn’t roll around Gotham City with a bunch of guys who can shoot lasers and throw criminals through buildings, thus rendering the suspense and conflict of his own comic null and void. Outsiders, as a comic, is more in touch with the bigger DC canon than the Batman mythos explicitly. But what’s interesting about them is that when you start reading this comic, it won’t be long before you see why it’s his team. First of all, they don’t all have superpowers. Second? They aren’t exactly the Justice League. The outsiders are more kind of a “special ops” superhero groups. Batman uses them to kind of “grease the wheels” behind the scenes of the DC universe, to make sure the balance of power between organizations like Checkmate and Lexcorp and even world governments stay…well, tipped in the good guys favor. Maybe some of what gets in the way is the somewhat fluid cast in the book. I know there’s a new volume on the way and that it’s likely to have some new members. But briefly, here’s a run down of some teammates past and present, in case you want to pick this book up: Captain Boomerang: This long-time Flash villian has something of a cult following himself. Actually, the current Captain Boomerang is the son of the original, introduced in Identity Crisis. His father was no stranger to the whole cloak-and-dagger thing, as he spent most of his career on the Suicide Squad, trying to clear his criminal record through service to the state. Boomerang’s son has super-speed, probably because his mother was Golden Glider. Nightwing: Batman’s old partner, the former Robin, only all growed-up. Katana: A bad-ass martial artist on a par with Batman, Katana sports an enchanted sword, the Soultaker. The sword literally steals the souls of whoever Katana kills with it- and actually, she even can commune with the dead souls trapped in the sword. I know. Weird. There can be only one. Martian Manhunter: The last survivor of the Martian race, J’onn J’onzz is a powerhouse of telepathy and super-strength, not to mention shape changing. What people don’t always realize is that he started his “career” as a superhero in Gotham City. So he and Batman go way back. Metamorpho: Rex may be weird looking, but essentially he’s like a lot of shape-changing characters you know- only without much limitation. Rex can turn his body into anything- I mean, anything. Any substance, shape, you name it. His origin involved being double crossed by the overcontrolling father of his then fiancée and getting exposed to some nasty radioactive material. He’s had a lot of difficulty adjusting to his new form, but he’s learned to live with it. Grace: Spent her childhood trapped in an enforced prostitution ring. Later, she developed metahuman strength and ran away. Obviously, this is just a cursory list. The cast is big, and what I’ve written here isn’t gargantuan. But it’s a good start, and if you’d like to get look at some of the DC Universe’s “steamy underbelly” this comic is worth checking out.