By: James Robinson (writer), Javi Fernandez (artist), Rich & Tanya Horie (colorists)

The Story: He’ll give you two choices: yes or yes.  Did I stutter?

The Review: It’s still rather hard to know what to make of the Outsider.  Like Shade, one of Robinson’s famous pet characters, Michael Desai has a very complicated moral compass.  While we have no doubt he’s a villain, there are aspects to his behavior you can interpret as somewhat noble, in a twisted kind of way.  In this issue, the Outsider shows extraordinary cunning and duplicity, yet at heart, he’s oddly honest and easily manageable.

The best way to describe Michael’s villainy and nobility is he’s always fixed on his bottom line.  He will never expend more effort or do more damage than what is minimally necessary to get what he wants—call it mercy if you can—but that same practicality makes him cold to the point where his atrociousness is more plausible than not.

Just see the line of reasoning he takes in coercing information out of a backstabbing employee: “…you were so quick to abscond, I didn’t think you cared about any of [your family], so I’ve already had your wife killed…  If you’d been adamant—‘I’ll tell you everything, but please not my children’…I might have freed them from what promises to be a hellish fate.  But you…want to live.  To enjoy your bounty.”  Way to turn the shoe on the other foot, O’.

While that may have been one case where his victim turns out unworthy of sympathy, make no mistake; the Outsider is a devious man whose idea of fairness simply involves giving his opponents a chance to accept his will voluntarily, because no way will Michael Desai take no for an answer.  After Black Adam refuses to hand over drilling rights to Kahndaq, the Outsider brutally dismisses both Adam and Isis, stating, with a chilling mixture of regret and indifference, “I’m not a barbarian…I gave him a choice.  The stubborn fellow.”

You can see Robinson’s having fun crafting this ambiguous quality to the Outsider’s character, especially in the semi-fourth-wall-breaking monologue early on in the issue.  His metaphor of “the suit that all of us are fated to wear…” channels the lucid ramblings of Hamlet or Richard III, but it lacks too much context to give you any idea what he’s talking about.  In that sense, Robinson has the opposite problem of J.T. Krul; instead of annoying you with over-explicitness, he times and pretties the dialogue well, only to lose substance in the process.

The plot also gets kind of lost in the shuffle of all these character beats.  Certainly no one can possibly expect that final reveal of who’s really been after the Outsider all this time, but that’s only because Robinson lays down so little groundwork for this mystery that almost anybody would have surprised you.  Regardless, the revelation sets up for a rather intriguing last issue, though Robinson will have to go all out to sell the overall value of this story.

With most of the action wisely restrained from the all-out brawl of last issue to more paced, suspenseful vignettes, Fernandez’s gritty style of art gets a chance to shine.  He also captures each of Michael’s enigmatic moods and expressions perfectly, at once displaying the Outsider’s oiliness, condescension, and disgust within a very narrow framework of facial features.  At his most thoughtful, Fernandez’s sketchy lines evokes Jock’s work—nothing to sneeze about.

Conclusion: While you certainly feel like the titular character’s a guy worth getting to know, you can’t really say the same for the story he’s involved in.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Whatever scratched up S.H.A.Z.A.M.’s face (as seen in Flashpoint #1), it got to Black Adam too.  Could Wonder Woman really have clawed both?  Doesn’t seem like her style, but then, neither does ruthless invasion.