Review by Ian Keogh
This is the transition between the Outsiders as they were, and their reintegration into the original concept of their acting under Batman’s direction as the team did when introduced in 1985. Outsiders/Checkmate: Checkout saw Nightwing cede leadership of the team to Batman, and Batman’s vision is that in a time of increasing public scrutiny of established superhero teams, the Outsiders ought to live up to their name and act independently where needed.
What follows is a series of individual missions by assorted creators spotlighting those Batman’s considering for membership of his new team, and as might be expected from this approach, the quality is variable. The set-up, though, is novel, explaining why arch-loner Batman requires a team. There are simply too many matters he wants to investigate and even Batman can only fit 24 hours into a day. Each chapter concludes with Tony Bedard writing Batman’s assessment of how the tryout has worked, although the title gives away how many make the cut.
The writing team of Nunzio Defillipis and Christina Weir supply Nightwing and Captain Boomerang in an adaptation of Alien, keeping the tension high as the pair hunt down Chemo on a space station. Chemo is in effect a giant shambling pile of barely contained toxic chemicals, and Nightwing has personal business with him. Freddie Williams II provides decent art.
Outsiders creator Mike W. Barr is allocated Katana and Captain Marvel, but almost exclusively spotlights the former in a tale that doesn’t really stand up to much scrutiny. Katana must kill herself to enter a mystical realm within her soul taking sword, and Captain Marvel’s purpose is for a magical last second rescue. Kevin Sharpe can tell a story, but his figurework is poor.
Alien is more overtly name-checked in Bedard’s solo chapter teaming Thunder and the Martian Manhunter and containing several well concealed plot twists. It’s considerably diminished by the art of Koi Turnbull, only interested in producing a grandstanding image without caring about telling a story.
The best art to be found is that of Josh Middleton (sample page). The basics are well covered and there’s always room for the characters to breathe within his panels, which have a delicacy and a grace lacking throughout most of the book. G. Willow Wilson’s plot drops Aquaman and Metamorpho in the Sahara desert, and presaging her later work in Ms Marvel there’s a solid attempt at character diversification via the presentation of a Muslim heroine. It’s also the best plot here, presenting an ecological agenda amid a good insight into Metamorpho, and Bedard rises to the occasion by delivering a good twist to his section.
Grace had recently been revealed as an Amazon (of sorts) so partnering her with Wonder Woman makes perfect sense, and Marc Andreyko combines a deliberately awkward bonding session with a radioactive menace. It’s nicely illustrated in a polished superhero style by Cliff Richards, and leads into a first mission for the new team by Bedard, Matthew Clark and Ron Randall. That’s engaging without ever compelling.
Divorced from the possible thrill of the new Batman and the Outsiders series this leads into (starting with The Chysalis), Five of a Kind is nothing to write home about. You’d be better off buying the best parts as individual comics.