Monday, December 03, 2007

My Outsiders

As unlikely as it may seem, I spent the majority of the weekend in an elf costume. Why is not important, but it has made me focus on How To Make the Best of A Non-Ideal Task... .

Actually, as a comic book fan, that's something I do anyway. Sometimes, as an intellectual exercise, I try to imagine what I would do if DC assigned me to do something I really, really hated. Because any writer can write a character they love (well, anyone but Phil Jimenez), but it's a true test of a writer to write a character they hate.

It's an illustrative exercise. Not only does it help you identify and label what precisely you don't like about such characters or concepts, it helps you to realize that they might not be irremediable after all.

Take, for example, the Outsiders. Please. Badump dump. There are very few things in DC I hate more than the Outsiders. So what would I do if I had to write the Outsiders?

The question asked, I suddenly realize I don't hate all the individual Outsiders, just the ones created specifically for the team. Well, of course; they are brain(dead)-children of Enemy of Society Mike W. Barr, from whom, like abhorred Strife, no good can come (see Hesiod's Theogony, lines 226 - 232). How could it be otherwise?

Nor do I hate the concept of the Outsiders; a team created by gathering characters on the periphery of the established DC "families" and groups. Linking otherwise "free radical" characters into some core is consistent with the thesis of my pet concept, the Dynastic Centerpiece Model: that characters become greater when they are framed by their relationships with a larger group of characters. This is a recurring tack at DC, and has often revived moribund characters (Shadowpact, Suicide Squad, Secret Six, Dr. Thirteen's Limbo Squadron).

If my one arm were twisted to write the Outsiders but my other arms free to do so as I wished, I would start with gathering some of the real "outsiders", characters who've been pushed out of regular Dynasties and groups. Then I realized: I actually did that once, tongue in cheek.

If I wrote the Outsiders, here's roughly who might be in it.

  • Metamorpho
  • NOT Black Lighting (who has graduated to "insider" in my mind, and should remain in the JLA)
  • Huntress
  • The Question
  • Batwoman
  • Man-of-Bats and Little Raven
  • Red Tornado (who should not now be, or ever have been, in the JLA)
  • Reverb, renamed as Vibe II (end of subject)
  • Zatanna
  • Ralph Dibny (yeah; you heard me)
  • Vixen (I really can't believe I just wrote that)
  • Gypsy
  • Ice
  • Tempest
  • Owlwoman
  • Bloodwynd
  • Tasmanian Devil
  • Phantom Stranger (in his way)
  • Dr. Thirteen
  • Blue Jay
  • Little Mermaid
  • Baron Winter (an idea so dumb I figure it has to work)
  • Bulleteer
  • Belphegor
  • Super Chief (dead or not)
  • The Creeper

(1) Yes, I'm aware of the Detroit thing in there, and the Global Guardians thing.
(2) I really do NOT like some of the characters in the list; but I'm still entranced with the idea of including them. I consider that a good sign.
(3) I imagine it more as a co-op than a "team" per se. Picture a member proposing a mission at a meeting, and then other members volunteer to participate in that mission or not. No formal "leader"; just a facilitator, probably a civilian one.

I think a book about this group of "outsider" would be a good Outsiders. What do you think?


Anonymous said...

I spent the majority of the weekend in an elf costume. Why is not important

Yeah, but the problem with not telling us is that it does allow our imaginations to create our own "Why was Scip in an elf costume?" scenarios. Mine is that you spent the weekend unsuccessfully auditioning for the Dudley Moore role in the upcoming DC stage musical adaptation of the classic 80s holiday fiasco Santa Claus: The Motion Picture and following your rejection you were so despondent you went out and beat to death the first person you came across who was shorter than 4'11".

Now do you see why it's wise not to be so stingy with the details?

Whatever the reason, I have no problem with your conception of The Outsiders, so long that at some point they are pitted against a newly built version of The Nuclear Family. Now, that's my kind of stupid.

Anonymous said...

I would read an Outsiders book featuring Metamorpho, Zatanna, Huntress, Ralph Dibny, Bulleteer, and the Question. Replacing any suggestion of Batman with the Phantom Stranger instead would make it that much better.

Siskoid said...

I think you found a way to make the Outsiders workable, and it has nothing to do with the characters involved (so long as they are not A-list).

No, what works is the co-op idea, something along the lines of the Conglomerate, but not corporate, or the Defenders, but official, or the Suicide Squad, but not criminals. That's a fine idea, and I think I may be the civilian you're looking for.

Scipio said...

"following your rejection you were so despondent you went out and beat to death the first person you came across"

Actually, I went and had a manicure and pedicure, which is similarly cathartic.

Michael Strauss said...

Of course the Question and Creeper absolutely belong on the Outsiders and Black Lightning doesn't, not anymore.

That's a much bigger roster than I'd use, but I'd go with a more stable line-up instead of the rotating cast.

The similarities, they've gotta mean something. Oh, yeah. They mean that an awesome Outsiders book should be full of Steve Ditko crazies (not to mention the ghost of Vibe), and not include Grace and Thunder.

Jacob T. Levy said...

Great start to an idea-- kind of early-JLTF-y, too. My concern is: what would get these people (even setting Baron Winter aside) to meetings where they don't know what missions will be proposed?

You need a roster of people who:
a1) live in the same place or
a2) have easy access to high-speed transportation

b1) kind of like superheroing in a general way that's not fanatically tied to their one particular mission or
b2) need a regular paycheck enough that they'll show up for meetings or
b3) owe a big enough favor to the Outsiders' leader that they'll show up for meetings or
b4) are constrained to show up in some other way, e.g. the Belle Reve Suicide Squadders

c) don't constantly have urgent cases of their own or long-term missions to fulfill (differs from b1 which is about inclination and motivation; c is about time constraints)

d) don't have some other full-time team commitment

That's similar to the pool Oracle's able to draw from for Birds of Prey.

You can have one or two characters always saying "I don't even know what I'm doing here" (I imagine Dr. 13 as one candidate) but there has to be a core of at least 5-10 who will regularly show up to hear the mission leader's pitch.

Metamorpho, Red Tornado, the Detroit crowd, and some of the Global Guardians work for that. But none of the mystics except Zatanna and maybe Bloodwynd (who we'll just rename Bloodwind to de-90s-ify him) really work; I don't think Huntress, Question, or Batwoman work unless the HQ is in Gotham or the leader is someone with a special hold on them; and I haven't seen Creeper work well in any super-hero setting since the 70s (Blue Devil Summer Fun excepted).

The Stranger could pop in; but he can do that with the JLA, JSA, or anyone else, too.

argh.sims said...

As unlikely as it may seem, I spent the majority of the weekend in an elf costume.

The real question is: Does photo evidence of this event exist? ;-)

argh.sims said...

But seriously, I like your concept for the Outsiders. It would be a major improvement over the current idea.

Scipio said...

I would think that sufficient motivation for most of them would be that they have a pool of people to call it when they themselves need help on a mission, and the bigger guns are always busy. Or that they believe in the missions they volunteer for.

It avoids the whole, "Is this a mission the team should be going on?" You don't wanna go, you don't go.

It avoids the whole "What good will Aquaman be in Kansas?" problem.

It allows for specialist teams with their own focus. For example, I can imagine Super-Chief, Owlwoman, and Man-of-Bats would make themselves readily available for a situation on a reservation (perhaps at the request of Red Arrow, who, almost no one remembers, grew up on the rez).

Really; no paychecks, no headquarters. Every team does not need a gigantic table, a gavel, and a highly visible high-tech HQ. Evite, texting, cellphones, email. It's a superhero rave thing:

"Got a lead on Prof. Oblitero. Ready to move tomorrow. Who's in?"

That's what Outsiders would/should be like.

Anonymous said...

Not only would it be a good Outsiders, if you added a couple more big guns (Eradicator and the Floronic Man, say,) it would pretty much be the Defenders.

Anonymous said...

This is a recurring tack at DC, and has often revived moribund characters (Shadowpact, Suicide Squad, Secret Six, Dr. Thirteen's Limbo Squadron)

Not to mention the All-Star Squadron. Most of their core group (the ones we saw most often) had been moribund for decades when that was published.

Jacob T. Levy said...

"Got a lead on Prof. Oblitero. Ready to move tomorrow. Who's in?"

love it.

Anonymous said...

I, for one, am proud to live in a world where a man doesn't have to explain his reasons for wearing an elf suit.

Billy said...

I'd read that book.

MaGnUs said...

I like the idea. Can the Question be Vic Sage? I have no problem with Montoya, but...

And pray do tell, is Dr. Thirteen's Limbo Squadron related in any way with dancing?

G. Bob said...

Like most of the list, but a few changes on my dream line up.

Animal Man.

Vibe? Why the hell not. Better than that would be that Vibes ghost hangs out with Deadman but nobody can see him.

Matthew E said...

As unlikely as it may seem, I spent the majority of the weekend in an elf costume.

I don't think that seems unlikely.

Now, when you say Tempest: do you mean the former Aqualad or Dr. Clay? I recommend Dr. Clay, because my idea for Aqualad is to send him to the 31st century and have him join the Legion.

I like some of the other suggestions, especially, say, the Creeper, Blue Jay, the Question... these are people who will simply *never* fit in. How about the Black Orchid? Maybe bring back Madame Fatal?

Scipio said...

Manhunter would be a welcome addition!

Dr. Clay is dead; I mean Aqualad.

Madame Fatal? Inspired!

Will said...

How 'bout Manitou Raven? He seems to fit with your Native American theme and he's definitely an outsider because he's from millenia ago and his wife cheated on him with Green Arrow. Actually is still alive? Anyway, he gets my endorsement in any event because he's Apache Chief and that's totally rad.

Anonymous said...

I would totally buy this book. The team's informality great, but I especially like that the heroes would be motivated by wanting to be, y'know, heroes. None of this Marvelly, 90's-style "paycheck" crap!

We all know DC folks read your stuff, so here's hoping someone takes notice.

Anonymous said...

Manitou Raven has departed the land of the living, but his wife took up his role as Manitou Dawn.

Her and Faith would be good Outsiders. Faith already has a connection with Batman, maybe he recommends her for the role.

So glad that someone else remembers Belphegor! I haven't seen her since a verrry short Global Guardians back-up story in an issue of JLI from the 1980s. Where's she been all this time?

I like the idea of the Question as the leader. Conglomerate refugees Praxis (an Outsider if I ever saw one), Vapor, Templar, and Echo would be good candidates, too.

Scipio said...

"We all know DC folks read your stuff, so here's hoping someone takes notice."

They do?

Sigh; and yet they never call, LOL!

The Blot said...

Are we talking New Question Renee Montoya or JLU Vic Sage Question miraculously brought into continuity through Countdown/Final Crisis? Because if they bring Vic back I’m in!

ASK said...

Although this has been said, this does seem more like the JLTF then it does the Outsiders? Of course, that does beg the question of what
conceptual framework would tie all the different iterations of the
Outsiders together?

However, I think there is another issue that this concept raises. While you've mentioned earlier (with some force) that DC Comics are based on the crime story and not the soap opera, I think a major attraction of the team book is a stable cast of characters who interact with each other in set
ways. With the rotating cast that you propose how would you make up for this? Is this going to be widescreen action like Global Frequency? High on action, low on pathos?

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who noticed that Scipio failed in this intellectual exercise. The task was to write characters he hates...

...and he proceeds to replace the character(s), and/or dilute the lineup with a bunch of other characters he does like.

His answer does not actually address how he would write those characters that he hates.

Scipio said...

Characters or concepts, Dan.

And I assure you, Red Tornado, Ralph Dibny, Vixen, Gypsy, Tempest, and the Creeper, are not exactly of my list of Most Treasure DC Characters...

MaGnUs said...

Not JLU Vic Sage, New Earth Vic Sage, brought back to life, or Earth-4 Vic Sage (home of the Charlton heroes). JLU Vic was fun, but not enough like the "real" Vic.

Oh, and Dr. Joshua Clay is dead, but is that ever permanent?

Anonymous said...

"They do?

Sigh; and yet they never call, LOL!"


I think it's safe to say you have fans among the company.

Jared said...

So your version of the the Global Frequency?

Can Warren Ellis co-write it with you?

Scipio said...


I think it's safe to say you have fans among the company."

Hm. Touche, Ed.

"So your version of the the Global Frequency?"

I'm not familiar with them; is it a similar set-up?

Unknown said...

I agree on Bloodwynd, but not Vixen she needs to be back with the Suicide Squad where she was allowed to be a badass. Love the choice of Super-Chief as well, and hell yeah Vibe II. Poor Red Tornado gets no love.

Your Obedient Serpent said...

I love the "rave/flash mob" model where the classic HQ is replaced by text messages and the like.

On the flip side, the inclusion of Baron Winters and his Visa Mansion (it's everywhere you want to be) immediately solves Jacob's issues 1a and 1b -- you don't all need to live in one place or have high-speed transport when your clubhouse is just around the corner... ANY corner.