Overview: After a colleague is murdered by the League of Assassins, Black Lightning vows revenge, expressly without Batman’s help. As he ponders his next move, Signal and Orphan patrol the streets of Metropolis!
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): Jefferson Pierce mourns the death of his colleague Tina McClintock in the Metropolis City Morgue. As he reminisces their relationship as principal and teacher, Batman arrives to inform him that Ra’s al Ghul was behind her killing. Jefferson vows revenge and rescinds leadership of the Outsiders over to Katana.
Meanwhile, Duke Thomas (The Signal) and Cassandra Cain (Orphan) are chasing down a gun runner and subdue him when Batman arrives. He reprimands the two of them for keeping him out of the loop regarding Shiva’s return from the last issue. Cass proclaims that she’s not in danger of becoming like her mother and that Batman should stop trying to protect her, as she’s set on protecting Gotham. Bruce denies ever giving up on protecting them when Superman arrives behind him. Clark gives his condolences to Bruce regarding Alfred’s recent passing, the offers his help in solving the murder of Tina McClintock. Bruce rejects his help, uneasy with his decision to reveal his identity to the world. As they watch Superman fly away, Duke and Cassandra promise each other to help one another become who they want to be, not what Batman wants them to be.
Later that evening, Tatsu drops Jefferson off at his hotel. He enters and finds that the lights are out and that Shiva is waiting for him. She offers him assistance in getting revenge against the killer of his friend.
Analysis: This is a series that I very much want to love. Like with James Tynion’s Detective Comics run, the writer clearly loves the characters he incorporates as much as I do. Cassandra Cain continues to exist with this series, but furthering the development of Duke Thomas, Black Lightning and Katana makes for a great premise. And thus far, the series has been pretty decent.
But it’s rarely risen over that. Almost a year into its run, I don’t know that we’ve had many scenes between Black Lightning and Batman that haven’t been choked with acrimony. While I appreciate the insistence of Jefferson’s agency and individuality as his own man and not Batman’s pawn, the insistence that he’s always frustrated with Batman when Bruce is generally contrite with Jefferson makes him come off as a dick with a perpetual chip on his shoulder. Intellectually, we get where Jefferson is coming from, but Batman just hasn’t been shown to be that antagonistic in this series. Moreover, the key to everyone’s relationship with Bruce in this book is to disown him as a friend. Often I’m pressed into defending Batman on various forums regarding his methods and his relationship skills or lack thereof, but this is part of why it doesn’t work well as the anger feels like it’s manufactured without a destination in sight. Is this team heading towards a predictable split? Will they leave Batman, much like the original Outsiders did? Will he grow with or without them?
I ask these questions because I’m left with little else to ponder in this issue. Every scene was a character rejecting Batman at every turn (except Superman). This isn’t Bruce Wayne: Fugitive or No Man’s Land or War Games. Batman hasn’t had a recent history of devious behavior regarding these characters. If anything, this is a perfect series to grow his relationship with Cassandra, who has not been around much since Tynion’s Detective run. Duke also needs more focus, and while individual storylines are necessary, the lack of their interaction with Batman makes the tension feel hollow and forced. Everyone is delivering platitudes and mic-drop dialogue before they about-face their way out of the scene, and there’s nothing to feel from these melodramatic moments other than the realization that they were melodramatic.
Final Thoughts: We know that Ra’s isn’t going to, permanently or otherwise, turn Jefferson. Shiva isn’t going to turn Jefferson or Cassandra. We’re nine issues into the series, there just isn’t any believability in threatening the loyalty of the team yet, unless it’s new 52 Birds of Prey and one of them is a bad guy. So, like a recent arc of Teen Titans, this story seems deadlocked in a behavioral standstill. Either it follows protocol and keeps its heroes pure and unwavering, or they turn for shock value and the readers lose a fan favorite. There are more avenues outside of that binary, but the story isn’t being written as flexible to imply that there are.