By: James Robinson (writer), Javi Fernandez (artist), Rich & Tanya Horie (colorists)
The Story: Even when he’s right in front of you, you’re not really talking face-to-face.
The Review: After perusing Robinson’s rather tepid run on Justice League of America and Cry for Justice, I wondered what all the fuss about him was about until I read his seminal work for DC, Starman. The dramatic difference in quality (read: it was far, far better) he brought to this earlier series showed exactly where his strengths lie: the revitalization of obscure characters, careful attention to continuity, and an emphasis on solo characters with inscrutable personalities.
Here, Robinson gets to apply these elements to another unheard-of figure and make him like new. The Outsider was originally Alfred Pennyworth, who died but was resurrected in an experiment-gone-wrong into a chalk-man with a misdirected hatred for his former masters, Batman and Robin. In a very Silver Aged contrivance, the heroes managed to get him under a resurrection machine and turn him back to normal, after which they, like the rest of us, quickly forgot the incident ever happened.
Robinson instantly gives new life to the villain, separating his existence from Alfred (though he gives a little shout-out to his original alter-ego in the issue), and making his very birth the cause of significant change to the Flashpoint world. He grows even more compelling when you see him established as an indomitable master manipulator, breathlessly networked, and with a hand in every market, legal or not. He’d be the Kingpin if he was flesh-toned and gained the weight of a baby orca (they even share the same outfit: an impeccable white suit with purple trim).
This is a man who denies special interest in the teenaged Blackout (paralleling the gathering of “heroes” from Flashpoint #1) while tracking him down at the same time. Through the wonders of his hologram tech he feigns interest in saving the world while simultaneously speeding its decline into chaos (“Sir…fighting seems to be intensifying.” “Boosting our control of the drug routes to Russia. Make sure both sides get more arms.”). Say what you like, but this guy does not let the grass grow under his feet.
In stark contrast to this strangely intriguing black market drama, the action in this issue gets hopelessly nonsensical very fast. Mr. and Mrs. Terrific and the Rising Sun (of Japan) show up mainly to gun down a lot of orange shirts as they remind the Outsider of his crimes against them through a lot of expository yelling. Forgetting this is a man who, as a newborn, survived a disaster that wiped out his hometown (an oversight which indicates Mr. Terrific doesn’t have quite the smarts in this world as he used to), their efforts get quickly and pointlessly shut down.
Fernandez applies almost two different styles to his artwork. For the early sequences, he brings a sketchy quality that conveys the similarly sketchy work the Outsider deals in. When the action begins, his lines become more fluid and energetic, but they also wind up caricaturizing the gore and violence, emphasizing how utterly over-the-top and needless the whole scene is.
Conclusion: Sometimes explosive action is not the way to go, especially as it concerns a string-puller like the Outsider. We’ll have to see if Robinson can pull off a worthwhile storyline for this bizarre character.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – With the implication that he caused the “event” which destroyed his hometown when his father called him a monster just after he was born, the Outsider can be added to an ever-growing list of male characters with daddy issues (Hal Jordan of Green Lantern movie fame being the most recent casualty).