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Walk like an Egyptian – Batman and the Outsiders #17

September 15, 2011

What a fun cover, right? It has to be one of the better ones that’s been posted here in a long while. Kudos to Lynn Varley, longtime Frank Miller collaborator/ex-wife and the only colorist I can ever name off the top of my head, for her contribution to its “muted by time” palette.

As I held this comic in my hands preparing to scan it, I realized that Batman and the Outsiders has a fairly prominent place in my own personal Bat-memories. It was published smack dab in the middle of my young boy comic book heyday, and a part of me always envisions Batman alongside his diverse little band of young heroes. You had European (Markovian, to be precise) royalty in Geo-Force, an African-American with a bolt-on afro in Black Lightning, a Japanese babe (with a blade that could spawn many a castration phobia) in Katana, sometimes blonde bimbos like Halo and Looker, and Whatever-The-Fuck-Metamorpho-Was. Quite the ensemble.

Perhaps the most important member of the team was the original artist on the book. Jim Aparo, who has a seat at (if not at the head of) the table in any discussion of the greatest artists to ever doodle the Caped Crusader’s pointy ears, did some very, very fine work on that character in this series. Now that I think of it, that may have a lot to do with my fondness for this series. It was likely my first exposure to the Aparo-Bat. It’s like going to you first ballgame as a kid. You don’t forget such intros.

The story that goes along with that stupendous cover — scripted by Mike W. Barr — is one of those time-travel conundrums that makes your head feel like its going to explode Scanners-style. But before we get to the vein-throbbing paradoxes, we’re gifted with some more DC sand-hieroglyphs. For your viewing pleasure:

That looks like an album cover.

This whole tale is wound up with Metamorpho’s Egypt-themed senses-shattering origin. When he’s gravely injured, the group flies him back to the spot where he first gained his powers. Once inside the fateful pyramid they’re all magically transported back in time to the land of Tutankhamen and Ramses in olden times. When they get there Metamorpho is remade as a brainwashed servant of some evil dude seeking to overturn the line of pharaohs and natural course of history, while the rest of the gang is cast in the roles of saviors. Let the Batman ass-kicking commence:

It’s kind of nice to see the big guy happy in his work.

Metamorpho overcomes his erstwhile allies with his elemental powers, perhaps stealing some cues from mentor Batman’s “How to Defeat Fellow Heroes” playbook:

It falls to Geo-Force to zip them all out of there, and when they reach safety the fractured group ponders their temporal predicament and Batman shows off his knowledge of Egyptian dynastic history:

If you’re starting to get a headache, allow me to add that at one point in the book (when the team is in the present-day) the phrase “At that moment, 3000 years ago…” is used. That should tip you right over into migraine territory. It’s like something the Enterprise-D crew would use to cripple the Borg.

Things are continued into the next issue, where history is preserved and Metamorpho returns to his normal, not-all-that-happy self. Yay.

Outsiders certainly had its moments. I can remember loving the brief arc in 1984 that tied in with that years Los Angeles Olympics, a two-parter which featured another great cover with the memorable image of Metamorpho melting in an oversized torch. Barr and Aparo (and later Alan Davis) really had a good time working with Batman and his little band of “Not Ready for Prime Time” players, and it paid dividends for the readers. And this was the look of the Dark Knight Detective that I grew to adore. Check out the pensive, shadowy Batman in that last scan — no one could do “Batman rubbing his chin, deep in thought” quite like Aparo. That’s the Batman of my youth. Good stuff.

As a side-note, sort of an “Inside Baseball” indicator of my affection for this title, I should note its placement in my “little black book.” I keep my checklists written down in a small Moleskine notebook (which is rapidly running out of room, rendering the remaining pages as valuable as Manhattan real estate), and when I really started getting into buying older comics a few years ago, I of course started making lists for classic books like The Fantastic Four, The Mighty Thor, The Amazing Spider-Man, etc. But wedged into those early listings, before Action and Superman and Batman and Detective were included, I put down Batman and the Outsiders. Not a big deal, but that says it all.

Priorities.

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