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London’s Olympics have so far lacked a melting Metamorpho je ne sais quoi – Batman and the Outsiders #15 & #16

August 2, 2012

If you’re a child of the ’80s and a comic book fan, there’s good chance that the above cover springs to mind every four (or every two) years. Batman and the Outsiders went all in with the 1984 Summer Olympics, incorporating that year’s Opening Ceremonies at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum into a two-part story. Therefore, though these games were boycotted by the Soviet Bloc, they still had a “villain” presence in the DC Universe, as a C-level Batman villain got a nutty idea into his head and ruined everyone’s good time. Except the reader’s. Because these two issues are odd and enjoyable, and a nice tie-in to a historical event.

If there’s one demerit here, it’s that Jim Aparo, so closely associated with Batman and his kooky young team of misfits, isn’t handling the interior art, replaced by Bill Willingham/Bill Anderson and Trevor Von Eeden. This is a gut-punch because that torch image is, seriously, one of the best covers that Aparo ever did, and it’s a bit of a letdown to not see his stuff on the inside (though the replacements do creditable work, as we’ll see). If I had to rank the top five covers of my youth, it would make the top five. And it might be at the top of the top. Metamorpho spilling over the side of the torch like an over-heated candle is beyond words. (Aparo had a magic touch when it came to BatO covers.)

On we go. The set up in this Mike W. Barr-penned tale is Maxie Zeus breaking out of Arkham Asylum after reading a newspaper article talking about the upcoming L.A. Olympics and American athlete Lacinia Nitocris. Batman is on the case, and stakes out the Opening Ceremonies with the Outsiders, where Zeus still manages to sneak in and muck everything up.

Before we get to the Olympics-ish action, though, there’s a little bit of broader DC Universe business to attend to. Zeus, to arm himself for his kooky little escapade, calls on his old friend the Monitor. Yes, that Monitor, the guy that would by the glue for the company-altering Crisis on Infinite Earths and numerous cross-overs that would ripple out in that maxi-series’ wake. He made off-panel appearances in the two years leading up to that event (an admirable bit of planning and seeding on the DC staff’s part — reap what you sow), coming across as an armorer of Earth’s villains. An Adnan Khashoggi in a gold satellite, if you will. (It was all part of his master plan to probe and examine the capabilities of various heroes.) Anyway, here he is, or at least his arm, along with the large-breasted one-day Harbinger (and an odd reference to Marv Wolfman):

The Monitor looks like he should be petting a cat.

He provides Zeus with a suitably mythological platoon of goons, and, as stated, they’re soon disrupting the opening ceremonies in the Coliseum. Here are the respective lineups, after Batman challenges them — Outsiders vs. New Olympians — to a test of athletic mettle, winner take all:

That’s a clown team, bro. (The New Olympians are, left to right, Antaeus, Vulcanus, Diana, Nox, and Proteus. There’s a little guy in a suit behind Zeus named Argus.)

Zeus agrees to Batman’s civilian-protecting challenge so he can impress Miss Nitocris, whom he had taken her hostage upon arrival. And Batman gets a bit of encouragement from an interesting quarter. If it’s a year that has a Summer Olympics, then it’s also a year that has a United States presidential election. Back in 1984, the incumbent was of course the Gipper, and Ronald Reagan is present at these aborted opening ceremonies. Depending on your political persuasion, he comes across as either a dithering, indecisive old fool or a compassionate soul only concerned about his fellow Americans:

One wonders why he didn’t just tie a bandana around his head, grease up his chest muscles and wade into the fray himself. A wasted opportunity. (The allusion to Munich is ironic these days, when the IOC has issues with a moment of silence for that massacre.)

Batman and Zeus look on while the two groups split, singly and in pairs, and engage in various odd and lethal sports. Katana does some fencing, Metamorpho and Black Lightning toss around a deadly spiked handball, and Halo does gymnastics at a construction site. Geo-Force? Geo-Force wrestles, but it’s clear that he’s not up on his Greek myths, a rough handicap when you’re grappling with a huge guy named Antaeus:

You have powers that can easily suspend him in the air. I suggest you use them.

While all this is going on, Batman’s brain is working overtime trying to figure out what Zeus is up to and what his interest in a single athlete is. He starts to figure it out, and when Zeus makes a getaway with his hostage in tow, Batman has to commandeer a ride to what he deduces to be their destination. It’s a goofball sequence worthy of the Adam West series:

Batman driving any car other than the Batmobile is a recipe for laughter, and a boxy 1980s cop car, one that he has to duck down in to accomodate his pointy ears, magnifies it. It’s very Toonces. (And the police are involved in city planning? What?)

He arrives at a building where Zeus’ daughter is being held, and then we understand the big plan. Maxie was just trying to impress a new Mommy:

Well, the man is, after all, crazy. As long as it makes sense to him, that’s all that matters. Fin.

Zeus was shipped on back to Arkham, and the New Olympians fell off the face of the Earth after this blip of an appearance. They returned only to be killed off rather memorably in Gog’s false god murder-spree in a 2008 Justice Society of America run. We weren’t dealing with the 1927 Yankees of bad guys is what I’m trying to say.

Though there was that disappointment at not getting Aparo interiors — like understudies at a big Broadway show — the replacements were solid. Von Eeden’s thick, bold inks and sharp style are visually refreshing. It’s a style you don’t often see in mainstream superhero comics, and echoes what Keith Giffen could do with masks and capes. The story is fairly silly, what with heroes and one-off villains making up their own odd little sports, but the Olympic tie-in makes it fun and memorable. And that cover — magnifique. A gold medal winner, to be sure. If you’re interested in these stories, or any other 1980s Outsider tales, they’ve had Showcase reprintings. There’s no better time to step into the ineffectual Olympics criminality of Maxie Zeus.

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