Misfit Super Teams: Runaways and Batman and the Outsiders

I’m mostly a DC fan, but I’ve got to admit, I have a soft spot for Runaways. It’s one of the Marvel titles I enjoy enough to consider trying to follow, or at least catch up on the various gaps in what I’ve read.

For those who don’t know, the premise of Runaways is the kids of a group of Supervillains discover that their parents are evil and (TITLE!) run away. They (I think, I missed that volume) kill their parents and take over their secret base, trying to cope with the power vacuum of villainy that the removal of their parents created.

I particularly like the older run, as it presents an ongoing relatively non-episodic story that more adheres to the narrative structure that got me into comics in the first place (graphic novels & manga).  I still have a hard time with strictly episodic superhero stories, though I’ve warmed up to mainstream comics in general a bit in the form of short arcs within a continuity. I’ll admit that one thing that kept me away from Runaways for some time despite loving the first volume was the assumption on my part that, like all other ongoing western comics, there would be no satisfying resolution and eventually the story would go off in radically divergent directions away from the establishing narrative, the characters would get replaced or Flanderized, and it would turn into a hugely disappointing unending mess. Well, I’m starting to try to just enjoy the ride, and once the road gets too bumpy, I’ll get off.

But back on topic, I think the reason why Runaways is the only Marvel title I really enjoy is that the characters perceive the rest of the Marvel Universe kind of in the way that I perceive it. Wolverine thinks he’s bad but he’s really just kind of a jerkass, Spiderman thinks he’s cool and hip and funny but actually he’s a giant tool, the X-Men are lame-os trying to be edgy, the Avengers are cool until you meet them. I actually relate to these Marvel characters because of their utter disdain for their fellow (and far more iconic) Marvel heroes, and it’s a strange feeling. They’re kind of a bizarro Teen Titans; without the guidance of A-tier heroes, they make a lot of mistakes and bad choices, but because of their interactions with the rest of the Marvel heroes, you still get the gooey angst similar to that which the Titans have for being in the shadow of their “parent” figure heroes, but since none of them are the children or side-kicks of Marvel staples, there’s not the understanding that they’ll patch things up with and eventually take up the mantle of a Jerkass Justice Leaguer Avenger or X-man. And as much as I love Raven, Nico is, if not a better character, a more interesting take on the dark magic girl insofar as how her powers work.

What I read of Volume 3 (in magazine terms, not collection terms) confirmed some of my fears about the devolution into villain of the weekisms, but the other collections I read have convinced me that I definitely need to go back and finish the stuff from Volumes 1 & 2.

And speaking of Superhero teams, in my quest to find the optimal insertion point into Batman nearly 80 year history, I grabbed a DC Showcase collection of Batman and the Outsiders from the library.

Why do I say I’m looking for an optimal insertion point? I know this probably makes me a terrible Batman fan, but my favorite Batman is early to mid-90s; I read the Dark Knight Archives that had the first 4 issues of Batman, and found it painfully dull; I read the DC Showcase Brave and the Bold Team Ups collection because I loved the Brave & the Bold cartoon show and wasn’t sure what was worse, the awful D-list villains, the overly long and boring stories, or the bad silver age 1-liners; for my money, Azbats aside, the Knightfall era is some of the best Batman I’ve read outside of some one-offs.

Why did I pick Batman and the Outsiders? Well, I liked the (wildly reimagined) Outsiders’ cameos in the Brave and the Bold cartoon and the publication dates of the Batman and the Outsiders are far closer to the era of Batman I know that like than the era of Batman I know that I don’t like.

It’s getting there. There are still some traces of bad 4th-wall breaking Silver Age cheese, though it’s generally only the occasional panel and it never goes into the full on “blah blah blah, good readers!” hyperbolic nonsense which made the Silver Age team-ups unreadable to me. The setup and introduction is a bit awkward (‘I’m quitting the JLA because you won’t invest cosmic conflict level resources into intervening in a civil war in a country smaller than Luxembourg to help me save Lucius Fox!’ ‘You guys who showed up out of nowhere and almost botched this for me: let me set you up in Bruce Wayne’s assorted safe houses. You’re my new team, because that little shit Robin is with the Teen Titans now!’), but the book finds its rhythm quickly. The interplay between the characters, particularly Halo/Katana and Halo/Geo-Force, is the strongest aspect of the title and helps to compensate for where the title lacks in good episodic stories. I’m generally not interested in whatever bottom tier villain they’re fighting, but I’m interested enough in finding out how the team members’ relationships evolve that I’m more than willing to keep reading.

I think the Outsiders hit their stride with the Teen Titans crossover; revealing Terra as Geo-Force’s missing sister suddenly makes the Outsiders relevant (in my reader’s mind, at least) to the DC Universe and its overall story. Geo-Force is a good, if troubled dude, and knowing that his sister is evil, Batman knows his sister is evil, and that his sister is going die in the not too distant continuity future… there’s gonna be some Pathos, man!  Plus, getting to see some vintage Robin Resentment and a cameo of a pre-Robin Jason Todd provides some nice fuel for my continuity-nerd furnace.

As for actual continuity, though, it’s kind of a problem since Batman and the Outsiders is, comparatively speaking, immediately before Crisis, meaning that it could’ve been wiped out partially, completely, or not at all. The Real Batman Chronology Project indicates that post-Crisis flashbacks indicate that Batman did leave the JLA, did form the Outsiders, and the lineup of Teen Titans who show up in that early crossover does hold up in post-Crisis continuity, but just how much can be ascribed to the life Batman from Year One actually lived in the second decade of his career is up in the air, and since it was so close to Crisis, there was not a wholesale post-crisis reintroduction of Batman’s formation of the Outsiders.

Regardless of its standing within Modern Age continuity, my conclusions are:
Batman and the Outsiders is worth checking out.
While the writing is still a bit dodgy, Pre-Crisis Batman is back on my Radar.
If they aren’t stupid expensive, I might someday pick up some original issues of B&tO to get a better appreciation of them; the Showcases might be a “bargain” but coloring can be the difference between an okay and a great comic.
Geo-Force fighting Superman at Christmas because Superman & Batman wouldn’t let him murder a professor who had been sexually abusing the girl he was in love with and drove her to a suicide attempt was one hell of a crazy story!