Bizarro Back Issues: The Strange Story Of The Outsiders! (1975)
If I were to tell you that I was reading up on the Outsiders, there's a good chance that you'd assume I was talking about the team of misfits that Batman put together when he got fed up with Superman's two-bit Justice League and their cowardly refusal to commit international crimes in the name of justice. Heck, if you really wanted to go obscure with it, you might even suggest that I was going all the way back to 1964 and that time that Alfred was killed off and resurrected as a weird gangster Frankenstein called the Outsider. Both are solid guesses, but both are wrong.
No, this week's selection is the other other Outsiders, the presumably heroic gang of weirdos who appeared in exactly one issue of 1st Issue Special, and then drifted off into obscurity before half of them even got an origin.
If you're not familiar with 1st Issue Special, it's one of the weirdest titles that DC ever published. It essentially followed the model set by Showcase back in the Silver Age, working as a sort of try-out book to see if readers were interested in new characters. The thing is, while Showcase had a legacy that would include stuff like Ray Palmer as the Atom, Metamorpho, the Metal Men, and, y'know, Barry Allen and the moment that sparked the Silver Age, 1st Issue Special had a somewhat more dubious track record.
Part of that, I think, has to do with format. Showcase was meant to do two or three issues at a time, giving readers --- and creators --- a chance to get a feel for their new characters. 1st Issue Special, on the other hand, was built exactly as the title implies, with each issue theoretically serving to launch a new series. The thing is, that never happened.
Okay, well, not never. The most successful idea introduced in the series was Warlord, Mike Grell's sword-and-sorcery-and-occasional-airplanes comic that would go on to a series that lasted 133 issues and still stands as DC's greatest venture into the fantasy genre. As for everything else, well, nothing ever really caught on, even when it was good. And a lot of it was great. In its thirteen issues, 1st Issue Special had work from Jack Kirby, Walt Simonson, Steve Ditko, Gerry Conway, and more, and if you're looking for a new idea in the mid-'70s, you could do a lot worse than to look at those guys to see what they could come up with.
Simon and Grandenetti --- who were also the team behind Prez --- had previously worked together on 1st Issue #2, where they introduced the team of boy millionaires known as the Green Team. But while that team has a little bit of affection that's rooted in its obscurity (and its later appearance in Grant Morrison and Chas Truog's Animal Man), nobody ever really talks about the Outsiders. And it's not hard to see why.
It's not that this comic isn't weird, because it's very weird in both content and structure, but because when you get right down to it, it's been done better. The basic idea here is that they're a heroic team of, for lack of a better word, "freaks," but, well, DC already had the Doom Patrol, and that comic was better, weirder, and somehow made more sense than this one.
Anyway, we open in the middle of things, with the Outsiders catching a news broadcast about an angry mob attacking a huge-headed child named Billy, and once that problem's established, we're off to the races. We're barely introduced to the team, but since Simon and Grandenetti thought to include the textual equivalent of a theme song --- right down to framing it with musical notes --- we at least know that we're looking at Lizard Johnny, The Amazin' Ronnie, Hairy Larry, Doc Scary, and Mighty Mary.
Ronnie has four arms, Mighty Mary has the head of a beautiful blonde and the body of a Creature From The Black Lagoon, Lizard Johnny can regenerate any limbs that get chopped, off, and Hairy Larry --- who also gets a second codename, Wheeler Dealer --- has a high-powered wheelchair capable of pulling a trailer.
It is, to be honest, a pretty overloaded introduction, and it only gets weirder once they save Billy and then start talking about how they're characters in a comic book.
And it only gets weirder once we get into the origin stories.
Now, if you've been paying attention, you may have noticed that we have six main characters in this comic, including Billy. You may also notice that at this point in the story, we're on page five of an 18-page story, meaning that we've only got 13 pages to handle the rest of the origins. So, in one of the strangest choices in a comic that's full of them, we only actually get the backstory for three of these characters.
First up, we have the Amazin' Ronnie, whose backstory is that he was caught by a fisherman and then almost chopped up by a doctor:
Fortunately, he's rescued by a second doctor, Doctor Goodie, and spirited away as an infant. We get no other information on his upbringing.
We do, however, find out what happened to Doctor Goodie. He gets chosen by the government for a manned mission to Venus, where he'll learn the secrets of cancer-curing laser beams (?!) and bring them back to America. That's all well and good, but when his spaceship crashes, his body is nearly destroyed, only to be put back together by mysterious aliens who... well, they do okay, but not great.
Gifted with cybernetic hands, Dr. Goodie takes the name Dr. Scary, and begins rescuing other unfortunate souls to create his team of Outsiders. At least, that's what I think he does, we don't really get an origin for any of the others.
We do, however, get this pretty sweet cutaway of their headquarters, underneath "the world's newest and most modern hospital."
The third origin story concerns Billy, the youngster with the giant head, who has lived in the basement of his father's tailor shop until the day that a pair of robbers decide that this locked trap door probably hides treasure. The tailor gets murdered, Billy is freed, and everyone more or less freaks out about it, which takes us right back to the first panel of the story.
No, really. Simon and Grandenetti tell you to go back and read it all again.
And with that, the story ends. Or at least, the issue ends, the story turns into a weird narrative loop that can trap unwary souls into reading 1st Issue Special #10 for eternity.
Like I said: It's weird.