I don’t remember all that much about this issue of BATMAN FAMILY, in that at some point I traded it to my neighbor Johnny Rantinella for some other comic or comics I wanted more. This despite the fact that the issue featured one of my favorite Batman villains of the 1960s, the Outsider. I’ve written about him before in the past, and this time out, I have no choice but to reveal his true identity and backstory.
This issue also combines the three regular series that ran in BATMAN FAMILY into a single book-length team-up tale. So it was a pretty big event in the history of the series. The artwork was also pretty great, with hot tyro Marshall Rogers joined by the always-great Don Newton, a longtime fan artist made good, and who died sadly at a very young age. His work has largely been forgotten today, but he represented another leap forward into the 1970s for the look of the DC line.
Picking up where the preceding issue left off, Robin and Batgirl find themselves shackled to their motorcycles and racing towards one another. The Dynamite Duo are able to wrestle their steering enough to avoid colliding with one another, but then their bikes start to drive up walls and hurl themselves at buildings and so forth. This business goes on for a while, until Batgirl can toss her Utility Belt to Robin, who then uses the acid contained therein to melt first his shackles and thereafter, Batgirl’s. And the freed heroes realize that, at every turn, they both saw Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred.
Elsewhere, Man-Bat continues his search for the Sunset Gang, the outfit who last issue transformed him into a were-jaguar. He’s able to seek them out through some mumbo-jumbo that doesn’t make any real sense about how the desire to commit a crime creates certain mental impulses that Man-Bat’s sonar can home in on. Yeah, it’s nonsense, but it gets him to where he can open up on the Sunset Gang, avoiding the weapon that transformed him the last time. But after he takes them out, a commanding voice surprises him.
It’s the Outsider, who reveals himself to be the power behind the Sunset Gang. Using his tremendous mental powers, the Outsider splits off the were-jaguar portion of Kirk Langstrom from man-Bat and sets the two halves to fighting one another to the death. He explains that he has vowed death to all of the members of the Batman Family, which is why he’s hassling Man-Bat, whom he’s never met before. Man-Bat puts up a good fight, but in the end he is overwhelmed by the were-jaguar and seemingly eliminated. Now the Outsider plans to turn his attentions back once more to Batgirl and Robin.
Meanwhile, at the Teen Titans headquarters in the Gabriel’s Horn restaurant, Robin and Batgirl try to get a line on Alfred’s whereabouts, to no avail. Robin takes this opportunity to reveal the true depths of his feelings for Barbara, but of course Batgirl has fallen asleep and doesn’t hear his confession of love. But her slumber is disturbed by the appearance of the Outsider, who climbs directly out of the Titans’ monitoring equipment and proceeds to attack the duo. Robin tries to appeal to the Alfred buried within the Outsider–because, of course, Alfred is his true identity, as we’ll explain in a bit. But the Outsider tells him that the blow on the head that Alfred received in that strange Commissioner Gordon and Alfred story a few issues earlier set off this latest transformation.
The Outsider summons the were-jaguar to destroy Batgirl and Robin, telling them that it had already finished off Man-Bat. Leaving them to their fate, he departs. Then, the Outsider transforms tee whole of the Manhattan skyline into waxen candles, a demonstration of his power that will next be turned upon Gothan City. But before he can carry out his threat, he’s jumped by the trio of Robin, Batgirl and Man-Bat–the latter revealing how he triumphed over his were-jaguar self and took the creature’s place, so as to suss out the Outsider’s plans.
During the battle that follows, Robin hits the Outsider with the same energy beam that transformed Man-Bat into the were-jaguar, the result in this case being to split Alfred from the Outsider. Without Alfred as a part of him, the Outsider’s powers over physical matter no longer work, and it’s but a moment’s work for the manservant to outfight and overpower his criminal evil self. The Outsider is sent plummeting off of the 59th Street bridge, Gwen Stacy-style, and Robin tells Alfred that it’s fine, that the Outsider wasn’t really alive to begin with, so it’s all right to have straight-up murdered him. That’s the super hero biz, I guess!. And in an epilogue, Barbara Gordon returns to her apartment in Washington DC, where a knock at the door turns out to be Kathy Kane, Batwoman–who promptly melts into a puddle of goo. To Be Continued!
The issue also included a two-page rundown of the Outsider’s history–how Alfred seemingly died saving Batman and Robin (and, indeed, was considered dead in the series for a number of years.) But Alfred’s near-lifeless body was found by a typical rogue scientist, who tried to restore him to life, instead transforming him into a mockery of human life with extraordinary powers and an immense hatred of Batman–the Outsider. The identity of the Outsider was a green Goblin-style mystery in the Bat-books for a number of years–but it was one that several fans guessed, as there really wasn’t any other possible suspect who knew as much about Batman and Robin’s secret lives as the Outsider did. In the end, the Dynamic Duo were able to restore Alfred to life and sanity (just in time for him to appear on the Batman television series, not-so-coincidentally) but the Outsider part of him had resurfaced a time or two in the intervening years.
Also in this release was another in the continuing question of whether Robin should adopt a new less-juvenile costume, with fans submitting their own best designs. Among those fans this time out was artist Norm Breyfogle, who a decade later would have a long and distinguished career as a primary Batman artist. I can’t say that I really dig his design here, though.