When this weekly series was released 10 years, I was terribly curious about it. There was a lot about the premise that piqued my interest. Each of the five issues offered a team-up between two unlikely characters, and I’m always been a sucker for team-up titles. Furthermore, I was a fan of the original Batman and the Outsiders title from the 1980s and had lost track of the 21st century revival. I also appreciate a comic on a weekly schedule, and several of the creative contributors on the series were of interest to me. Nevertheless, I ended up passing on it. I was probably bogged down with too many other comics to read anyway. I recently got the chance to pick these comics up at a fraction of the original price (cheaper than the cost of a single issue), and now I’m wondering if maybe I sensed something less than satisfying about these books when they originally hit the stands.
Just about everything in these comics is wrong-headed. The plots are unconnected and the effort to force such a connection falls flat. Some of the plots are outlandish and defy a reader’s ability to suspend disbelief, and the various storylines are linked to a handful of other event-driven titles. DC also committed that typical cardinal sin of making all five of these comics “first issues,” even though they’re meant to be a series of five linked one-shots. And worst of all, while Five of a Kind endeavors to establish a new Outsiders lineup, it fails horribly when it comes to introducing these disparate characters and team concept to new readers.
Outsiders: Five of a Kind – Nightwing/Boomerang #1 (DC Comics)
by Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir, Tony Bedard & Freddie Williams II
I think Freddie Williams II is an unfortunately overlooked talent in mainstream comics, though thankfully, he never seems to be out of work. The problem is that he just hasn’t been paired with the right high-profile project to bring him to the attention of a wider readership. Though this earlier work doesn’t stand out as the best sample of his craft, I enjoyed his depiction of the titular characters, especially the poorly named Captain Boomerang Jr. Williams conveys the youth and headstrong nature of the character, but he also instills a lot of the same attitude in his heroic “partner” on this mission. Their irritation with one another, a key element of the story, comes through in the art. It’s unfortunate we don’t get to see Boomerang’s speed abilities until the end of the story. I found Guy Major’s colors to be especially sharp here.
The plot and script are a mess here. To appreciate Nightwing’s perspective, one has to be well versed in what befell his base of operations in a different event book, and Boomerang’s history is pivotal as well and not fully explored. Furthermore, the selection of two agile but ground-level heroes for an orbital mission makes no sense. Ultimately, we’re meant to see that Batman is manipulating them both, but the writing was so off the wall, by the end, I didn’t care. 3/10
Outsiders: Five of a Kind – Katana/Shazam! #1 (DC Comics)
by Mike W. Barr, Tony Bedard, Kevin Sharpe & Robin Riggs
With a Cliff Chiang cover, it would be easy for a comics lover to get excited about this comic book, and as a fan of 1980s DC lore, seeing Mike W. Barr’s name on the book was a thrill as well. But that elation gave way to disappointment quickly, as we see two unlikely allies brought together by the forced concept of magic. Shazam! Is an overseer of all things magical, and there’s a magical aspect to Katana’s sword, which is the problem here. The notion that Batman would be aware of the issue and arranged for this pairing was laughable, and Shazam’s unusual role in the DC Universe at this point in time was almost impenetrable for the uninitiated. The introduction of a forgettable villain to mirror Katana (as she’s also named for her weapon) was amateurish, and the notion that souls absorbed into the sword lived new lives robbed it of its tragic and haunted qualities. Why Batman would need to “test” Katana for a spot on the new team lineup is never explained either.
Kevin Sharpe’s linework throughout the book is capable but fairly standard and forgettable. It’s also a terrible fit for the settings for this story, and Shazam! never seems like the imposing, mythic figure he’s meant to be here. 2/10
Outsiders: Five of a Kind – Martian Manhunter/Thunder #1 (DC Comics)
by Tony Bedard, Koi Turnbull & Art Thibert
Another one-shot brings another completely unrelated threat that the Batman dispatches mismatched heroes to face. This time, we learn of a “god killer” menace aiming to slaughter New Gods, and the heroes must both aid and thwart the offspring of Darkseid. I have no idea where the god-killer plot leads after this one-shot, if it lead anywhere. This seems like an oddly forgettable ending to the story of Grayven, the son of Darkseid who was introduced as an antagonist in the Kyle Rayner era of Green Lantern. Again, there’s no connection to any of the plots in the previous Five of a Kind comics, and my ultimate takeaway after reading the issue was to think, “What was the point?”
Koi Turnbull’s art tells the story, such as it is, capably, and he conveys Thunder’s attitude pretty well. That attitude is important, as it’s the only thing that keeps the better known and more powerful Martian Manhunter from completely stealing the focus from her. Turnbull’s art here reminded me a bit of the style of Mark “Doc” Bright, which I enjoy, so I can’t really take issue with the visuals. At the same time, there was never a panel or moment that left me wide-eyed either. 3/10
Outsiders: Five of a Kind – Metamorpho/Aquaman #1 (DC Comics)
by G. Willow Wilson, Tony Bedard & Josh Middleton
This stands out as easily the best of the one-shots in this Five of a Kind series, and when one looks at the main writer and artist, it’s no surprise why. Again, the reader will be frustrated by the complete lack of connection to any of the other one-shots, and the clumsy connection to Metamorpho’s history makes for a clunky plot. But Wilson’s script really brings these characters to life. I love the maturity that defines the experienced elemental hero here, and how he guides two younger superhumans – the second, sword-wielding Aquaman and the sand-controlling Halcyon – through the environmental issue and their own impulsivity. I don’t know if Wilson or DC meant to do more with Halcyon; I don’t recall ever seeing the character since, and she definitely reminds me a great deal of the X-Men’s Dust. Wilson had a great handle on these characters, though, and had she not been chained to so few pages and the fleeting nature of this series, she could have offered something interesting. Furthermore, the notion of throwing Aquaman into a desert mission is rather off-putting (even if the plot ends up accommodating his powers).
Middleton’s linework and colors are absolutely beautiful. I love the contrast between the soft yellow, arid qualities of the desert landscape with the deep, dark greens of the underwater scenes (a requisite for any Aquaman team-up story). Middleton captures Aquaman’s youth quite well, though the Halcyon design is rather ordinary and forgettable. 5/10
Outsiders: Five of a Kind – Wonder Woman/Grace #1 (DC Comics)
by Marc Andreyko, Tony Bedard, Cliff Richards & Art Thibert
Once again, the writers link this one-shot to yet another event book that had unfolded recently at the time for the publisher, Amazons Attack. I hadn’t read that book, and while Andreyko’s script offers a superficial recap of what it was about (and how there are apparently two races of Amazons), I still felt like I wasn’t nearly well versed enough in it to fully appreciate the premise of this Amazonian team-up. Again, this plot bears no real connection to the previous Five of a Kind storylines. It all feels rather scattershot, and the random nature of these plots — which are at best ordinary, cookie-cutter genre stories — are off-putting. I get the juxtaposition of the two titular Amazonian heroines, as they’re polar opposites despite their shared heritage. The fleeting nature of the story makes it impossible for it to make an impression, and the potential for real character-driven moments with the promise of a reunion with Grace’s foster family is tossed aside too casually. It felt like an opportunity lost to a generic red-wire-blue-wire bomb plot.
Cliff Richards’ pencils benefit from the pairing with Art Thibert’s inks. They merge to achieve a softer, airier look that reminds me of the style of Aaron Lopresti. Overall, though, the linework rarely rises above the level of standard super-hero fare. An online search suggests the cover for this one-shot was rendered by Christian Alamy, known primarily as an inker in the industry. It’s a striking image, and it made me think of the draftsmanship of such talents as J.G. Jones and Frank Cho, and the facial expressions on the two heroines’ faces concisely conveys their polarized personalities. 4/10