Thursday, November 18, 2010

Batman and the Outsiders: The Chrysalis (comics)

Writer: Chuck Dixon
Artists: Julian Lopez, Carlos Rodriguez
Collects: Batman and the Outsiders #1-5

Is it just me, or is it a bit sad when the circumstances surrounding a book are more entertaining than the book itself? It seemed like this book pissed through creative teams on the way to being published. At one point Judd Winick was slated to write the book, then Tony Bedard, then one more if I remember right before Chuck Dixon was finally solidified as the writer. The cast of the book was almost as much of a question mark. At one point I was interested - putting Batman in a books title is an easy way to get my attention - but between all the ruckus leading to the books debut and Batman RIP making it clear the pointy eared ones involvement in the title would not last, the interest more or less bottomed out.

Turns out I didn't really miss anything.

So after a relatively disastrous team-up with the forces of Checkmate, Nightwing decided it would be a fairly ballin' idea to give the reins of the team up to Batman. It's a logical move for ol' Dick to make; after all, the Bat is the one who initially created the team to start with and has flitted in and out of their lives since. Batman does some trial by fire recruiting and this book starts up after all that has taken place. The first mission quickly leads them into hot water, OMAC's are involved and nasty folks need stoppin'. Sounds right up Batmans alley.

The book is pretty straightforward, yet still manages to be something of a mess. It feels like the book was trying to work out its creative nightmares as it went along, which leads to some odd instances within the comic itself. Several promised members featured prominently on the cover are gone by the end of the second issue - remnants of the plans of a different writer - and new members drop in seemingly at random, only to kind of hang around and not do much, at least not in this volume. Dixon works to get things to where he wants them to be, but even if you didn't know of all the behind the scenes malarky it's easy to get the feeling that the book did not go as planned.

The writing is solid, but not much more. To tell the truth, I'm not a huge fan of Chuck Dixon; I like some of his comics, but he is not one of those guys whose work I'll actively seek out. To me, he's always been middle of the road; one of the dependable workhorses of comics, if you will. You can depend on him for a solid script and timeliness - and hell, to be fair, sometimes you just want a straight up superhero adventure with no subtext - but if you want comics that really push boundaries or rise to great heights he's not exactly the writer you want to look for. Aside from some of his Batman and Punisher work, I have a difficult time remembering any stories he's written that didn't have the title "Year One". Sometimes I just find his work bland.

To that sense, this book definitely feels like one of his. Despite it's creative woes, he manages to pull the book into readable territory, which is no mean feat. But it's not something you're likely to remember afterwords, which is never a good sign.

I will give credit where it's due, however. Dixon makes use of several characters we haven't seen in a while. It's interesting to have Francine Langstrom as part of the supporting cast of the book, for example, as it's her husband - also known as Man-Bat - that usually takes up the page time. It's also nice to see something done with the Dibny's, who, despite receiving a fantastic setup for adventures as ghost detectives, have appeared in jack all since 52.

The art only compounds problems. Frankly, it feels rushed. Hell, it probably was, considering the trouble getting the book out there. The second issue has a guest artist and neither really turn in work that goes to a level much higher than "solid". One particular quirk to note is that Julian Lopez - the primary artist - has a tendency to overdo expressions; some of Geo-Forces midway through the book are almost comically overdone. The artist couldn't seem to settle on a consistent costume for Katana either, as it seems to change from issue to issue.

Oh well, at least Metamorpho has pants now; never could take him too serious prior.

The Score: 6.5 out of 10

Solid, but ultimately forgettable. It has its pluses, but the flaws seem to outweigh it; and Dixon isn't exactly an exciting enough scripter to make the entire exercise worthwhile on his own. It's a shame too, as the hook has potential; alas, it never truly seizes it and considering there's only one more volume from Dixon I highly doubt anything introduced in this book got to play out in any interesting way. You won't miss much if you skip it.

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