Whereas the Challengers of the Unknown showcase volume really suffered from the black and white printing, this book glories in it. When these issues were originally published (1983–1985) comics printing was at its most cheap and rubbishy (ironically the title went to pieces after graduating to fancy Baxter printing). Here the artwork is perfectly clear and very attractive. Jim Aparo does some wonderful work on the title, while Bill Willingham and Trevor von Eeden take enjoyably different approaches on fill-ins.
(I can’t wait for the JLI showcase volumes that we’re bound to see one day. If ever wonderful artwork was buried under unsympathetic printing it was then.)
As for the stories, written by Mike Barr, I think the Slings & Arrows Guide says it best (as usual): “pedestrian, but generally entertaining”. There’s nothing amazing here; it’s run-of-the-mill team stuff, and the characters and their relationships aren’t all that great. But despite that I’ve always had a soft spot for the Outsiders (to see them at their best check out The Nail, the JLA graphic novel by Alan Davis). If you’re in the mood for a simple, self-contained team book, this’ll do the trick.
For me the best thing about the book is Batman himself, or The Batman, as he is usually called here. He’s not the affable duffer of the 1950s and 1960s comics, nor yet is he the middle-aged tough-love foster parent of the modern comics. He’s as young as I’ve ever seen him portrayed – you’d think him in his mid-20s in some panels – and he’s flawed, passionate, and still finding his way. He’s a hero working with his peers; he’s the best trained and best equipped of them, but they don’t worship him. This was a Batman I really enjoyed reading about.
Showcase Presents: Batman and the Outsiders, Vol. 1, by Mike Barr and Jim Aparo, DC Comics, tpb, 552pp.