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Friday, 30 November 2018

Outsiders 28 - the Outsiders end, defeated by the Manhunters

Mark Farmer joins Barr and Larsen on Outsiders 28 (Feb 88), a Millennium crossover that is also the final issue of the series. I really like the way they used Millenium to wipe out the team and end the book. It made the Manhunters seem far more of a threat to all the other heroes.

This issue also spins directly out of an issue of Millennium (number 5), as Looker leads the Outsiders to Abyssia, the underground kingdom where she gained her powers. The Manhunters have been using caverns below the surface of the Earth as their base, and it turns out that they have already conquered Abyssia before the Outsiders arrive.

They didn't do it alone, though. They have been working with Princess Tamira, who had seemingly died in battle with Looker back when Lia gained her powers. 

Looker is very much central to this issue, which puts the rest of the team into action in group scenes, but keeps them to the side of the main story. Tamira challenges Looker to a battle to determine which of them will get control of Looker's abilities. Tamira is revealed to have been horribly disfigured in the accident which had seemingly caused her death. She is using her powers to maintain her appearance, but has to shed that in her fight. On the other hand, she mentally blasts Looker and removes the illusory appearance that Lia has had ever since gaining her abilities.

Tamira winds up dying, and it appears that Looker has lost her powers for good. And though the Outsiders to trounce the Manhunters, Halo gets wounded, and winds up in a coma.

So the story ends with the team more or less disbanding. Katana is staying by Halo's side until she wakes, and one assumes Geo-Force is headed back to Markovia to deal with the crisis going on there. Of all the members of the team, Black Lightning is the first to be seen again, in a Secret Origins story. Looker returns, powers and appearance intact, in Detective Comics the following year, in the Mudpack story arc. The remainder of the team have to wait for the revival of the Outsiders in the 90s.

I didn't think I would like this series much. That's why I didn't buy it when it was coming out. And, sure enough, it feels disappointing. Some great characters and a lot of potential, but it all felt frittered away. Only the ending really worked, and even that was only because it was part of a larger story.

Outsiders 27 - the Atomic Knights meet the Outsiders, sort of

Outsiders 27 (Jan 88) is a Millenium crossover, but Barr and Larsen devote more time to an imaginary adventure with the classic Atomic Knights.

The story spins directly out of the last page of Millenium #1, as Dr Jace reveals herself to have been a Manhunter agent all along. She threatens the Outsiders, demanding that they join the Manhunters in their battle against the Guardians of the Universe and Green Lantern Corps. When the team refuses, she sends Metamorpho to destroy them. It's not like Metamorpho wants to do this, but the new body Jace has created for him is under her control. Between Metamorpho and the Manhunter weaponry, they are able to knock out the Outsiders.

The team then wind up all taking part in a dream of Gardner Grayle's, an adventure that brings back the Atomic Knights from the 60s, living in Durvale after a nuclear war, riding giant Dalmatians.

I had only read a couple Atomic Knights tales when this issue came out, and I didn't realize the villain they have to deal with, Kadey, had actually appeared in an Atomic Knights story back in the day. This tale maintains Kadey's character, setting up his own fascist state with him as the sole leader.

The Atomic Knights are already trying to defeat Kadey and his super robots when the Outsiders show up. They don't know where they are, and doubt the reality around them. Windfall remembers Gardner Grayle, but he is immersed in this world, and doesn't recall any of them. They defeat Kadey, but when a bomb goes off and Gardner moves to protect Windfall instead of Marene, Looker latches on to the submerged memory and uses it to open Grayle's mind to reality. This wakes the team up, bringing them all back to reality.

Metamorpho tries to fight against Dr Jace, who in turn tries to destroy him with one of the Manhunter weapons. This results in Dr Jace being killed, and Metamorpho's body being destroyed. The team are not overly concerned about that, though, certain that Metamorpho will be able to restore his form. 

This results in a bit of a weird ending, one that gets nostalgic for the Atomic Knights, rather than grieving for the dead teammate. And as it turns out, the Outsiders wildly underestimated how dead Metamorpho was. He would not return until Invasion!, when the meta-gene bomb goes off, giving him the spark to re-form his body.

Outsiders 26 - murder in Markovia

Geo-Force gets to star in the Barr, Aparo, and Wray story from Outsiders 26 (Dec 87).

The story begins with the Outsiders in the new Batcave west, complaining about losing their base and being wanted by the US government. In the middle of this, Geo-Force receives an urgent request to return to Markovia. He bids farewell to the team and flies back home, accompanied by Atomic Knight, who is having precognitive visions of a man in a chair, and Dr Jace, who continues to think evil thoughts.

In Markovia, Geo-Force is accused by his brother, the king, of harbouring the fugitive Outsiders on the now-destroyed oil rig, which had belonged to Markovia. The American ambassador is there, and threatens to cut off all aid to Markovia unless they stop helping the Outsiders. Geo-Force isn't sure what to do, but in the long run it doesn't really matter. Dr Jace waits until Brion has left the room, and then poisons both the king and the ambassador. Geo-Force is too distraught at the death of his brother, and the realization that he will become king, to think about the murders and realize Jace must be behind them.

But Dr Jace's plans are not finished. She then drugs Ilona, the queen, and has her accuse Geo-Force of killing his brother and usurping the throne. She announces that she is pregnant, so her unborn child should be the next ruler. Geo-Force now has to go on the run, and calls in the rest of the team.

Most of them show, aside from Batman. He has received an urgent summons from the Justice League. The Outsiders fight against Markovian troops, which are being supplemented by super-robots. But right in the middle of all of that, they too get summoned, by the Guardians of the Universe, and fly off to take part in Millenium.

Outsiders 25 - Major Disaster vs the Outsiders

Bill Wray joins Barr and Aparo for Outsiders 25 (Nov 87), which sees some big changes take place.

As the issue begins, both Looker and Geo-Force decide to end their relationship. This is another example of what I dislike about the book. Both agree to split up, and it all happens in four quick panels. No drama, no real emotion, no nothing. Then bang, we are off into the plot, with American troops coming after the Outsiders for breaking in to Camp David.

The team avoids the soldiers, and are annoyed that saving the president doesn't count for anything. Then the story moves on to Dr Jace and Metamorpho. She has a process she is willing to try, to stabilize Metamorpho's molecules, and then turn him human again. This will result in him losing his powers, and the Outsiders are divided on that notion. But Metamorpho wants to be human, so agrees to Dr Jace's plan. Jace then has some ominous thoughts, the first hint that there might be something more to this character.

Dr Jace also gets a visitor. Gardner Grayle, the Atomic Knight, has come to her for advice about the visions of the future that he has been having. This is the Atomic Knight's first appearance since Crisis. While talking with Dr Jace, he foresees the Outsiders' oil rig base being destroyed.

That's because Skull has hired Major Disaster to destroy it. The team go into battle with Major Disaster, and also wind up having to fight against the Atomic Knight. The Knight is trying to keep the team away from the base, so that none of them die in the explosion. They are trying to prevent the destruction, and none too keen on his interference. By this point Metamorpho is in his transitional state, and not able to fully use his powers.

The Outsiders avoid being injured by Major Disaster, but are unable to stop him from blowing up the base. I like the way they defeat him. Halo uses her distortion aura to make Major Disaster see Geo-Force as his old foe, Green Lantern, which unnerves the villain enough to make him vulnerable. I believe the next time we see Major Disaster is when he founds the Injustice League.

Outsiders 24 - battle at Camp David

Trevor Von Eeden and Erik Larsen split the art duties on the Barr story in Outsiders 24 (Oct 87), Von Eeden handling the first half, and Larsen the second.

The story continues from the previous issue, with Fusion heading for Camp David, to assassinate the president. Unlike last issue, neither the People's Heroes nor the Force of July are involved. It's all on the Outsiders, who have to break into Camp David and avoid the military while on their rescue mission. On the other hand, Windfall is involved in this part of the story. She hasn't been around much since joining the team.

By and large, this issue is mostly fighting between the Outsiders and Fusion, either in his merged form, or as three separate people. At one point Looker is able to mentally force Fusion to split, but in the long run that doesn't achieve anything.

The best scenes in the tale have Fusion pursuing an unusually active and athletic Ronald Reagan. It isn't too surprising when we find out this is really Batman in disguise.

In the end Fusion gets tricked into being aboard a plane that flies into a mountainside, presumably killing him. It's an ok issue, though the two art styles are really not complementary.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Outsiders 23 - the Force of July team with the People's Heroes

David Ross and Robert Smith join Barr for a full length tale in Outsiders 23 (Sept 87).

The People's Heroes are revealed to still be in prison in Africa at the start of this story, though they get broken out right away. Three super powered Russians are sent on this mission. They do not have individual names, just numbers. Each has super powers of his own, but the three can also merge into one body, Fusion, who is vastly more powerful than the three are separately.

The problem is that the merger has driven Fusion mad, and he decides to go destroy the Statue of Liberty and kill the president of the US all on his own. This is not at all what Gorbachev wants, and he winds up having to contact the Americans to let them know what is going on. The decision is made to have the People's Heroes work with the Force of July to stop Fusion. Both Hammer and Major Victory insist that they should be the one commanding the mission.

Looker gets alerted to all of this when she senses Pravda using her powers. They track the two groups, and prove very unwilling to listen.

Things might have gone smoother if Batman had been on the mission, but he is kept to the side until the end of the issue. So the Outsiders wind up having to fight against both groups until Fusion shows up.

Then the Outsiders wind up working with the People's Heroes and Force of July. Despite Fusion's vast powers, Major Victory, Hammer, and Geo-Force are able to match the three, knocking them out as they merge.

The story comes to a weird ending, though. A few panels after Fusion is defeated we are told that he escaped, and is still out to kill the president. Seems almost tacked on, as if the story was really meant to end at this point, and the decision to carry it into the next issue was last minute.

Outsiders 22 - Strike Force Kobra, and Dr Jace tells scary stories

Barr and Aparo conclude the Kobra story in Outsiders 22 (Aug 87), but its the back-up features that steal the show.

In the second half of the story Looker turns the tables, coming to Kobra's base but pretending to be Clayface impersonating Looker. This succeeds a little better than Clayface's attempt, but then Kobra is pretty distracted, turning a poor, single father into an energy beast as part of his Strike Force.

The other members of Kobra's brigade, who wind up in battle with the Outsiders, are Element Woman, Zebra Man, and Planet-Master. Curiously, at no point in this story does Batman comment on how recognizable these opponents are to him.

Clayface escapes from her holding cell and winds up fighting one on one with Looker. Clayface's true form is revealed to Looker, though not the reader, and the hero sympathizes with the villain.

Once Kobra is defeated and runs away nothing is done about Java. Everyone knows he betrayed them to Kobra, but no one seems to care. Simon Stagg just keeps him at his side, and Sapphire is more concerned with the abandoned child. Her father, who had become the energy beast, got dispersed. Metamorpho and Sapphire decide to raise the child as their own. As for Clayface, Looker tells the rest of the team that she escaped, though it is clear Looker let her go. Clayface returns a few months down the road in the Secret Origins issue devoted to the four Clayfaces.

I really love the back-up feature, Tales of the Outsiders, which is done like an old EC horror comic.

There are three stories in the feature, each one narrated by Dr Jace. Howard Simpson and Robert Smith do the art on the first, which has a Katana-like werewolf facing a Looker-like vampire. The style of art, and even the lettering, really captures the period.

Jonathan Peterson and Bob Orzechowski do the art on the second tale, a weird science type story with Geo-Force and Halo as a new Adam and Eve on a devastated planet.

And Bill Wray does the art on the last one, which features Java and Baron Bedlam and some ravenous dogs.

Outsiders 21 - Lady Clayface, and Baron Bedlam returns

Barr's two stories in Outsiders 21 (July 1987) overlap a bit awkwardly, because the second leads into the Outsiders Special, released the following week.

Metamorpho and Sapphire Stagg turn to her father, Simon, for help with their quest to have a baby. Simon is going to try to find a way to make Metamorpho human enough to conceive a child. Java, always in love with Sapphire, is not happy about this, and we discover that he has become an agent of Kobra, spying on Metamorpho and the rest of the Outsiders for the villain.

Geo-Force informs the team that Markovia has shut its embassy, and cut off contact with the outside world. He intends to go there and find out what is happening. Batman agrees, but before they can do anything they get involved in a different storyline. Looker's husband shows up at her door, and Looker is thrilled to see him. Except it turns out not to be her husband, but the newest Clayface, a female one. She takes Looker down, and then adopts her form and identity. Lady Clayface tries infiltrate the Outsiders, but makes a couple of errors and gives herself away to Batman. The team takes her down.

But Clayface's attack on Looker was really just a diversion. Kobra is primarily interested in Metamorpho, and uses Clayface to keep the rest of the team busy while Stagg does his experiment.

Only as the issue ends do we briefly meet the rest of Strike Force Kobra. These villains are all patterned on one shot villains that Batman faced in the early 60s, and were ordinary people before Kobra transformed them into his minions.

Curt Swan and Al Vey join Barr for the back-up story, which deals with events in Markovia.

Baron Bedlam seems to be alive again, and more powerful than before. He is able to enforce his will on other people, even to the degree of forcing them to kill themselves. There is an election in Markovia, and the new leader is a pawn of Bedlam's.

We overlap the part of the first story, with Geo-Force wanting to head home to find out what is going on. This second tale leads directly into the Outsiders Special, which sees them team up with Infinity, Inc., but takes place after the story in the next issue.