It seems a sad but true fact that nobody cares about the political turmoil in Africa until it is too late to do anything about it. There are lip-service condolences and half-hearted donations, but the famine and poverty that manifests itself in thousands of casualties is often overlooked. Comics, for the most part, have been no exception to this sad rule. While teams like Stormwatch and The Authority tackled these issues, superheroes in the traditional vein rarely if ever deal with third-world dictators or countries rife with disease. Outsiders #34-37, breaks with that tradition and follows the team as it infiltrates an impoverished African country with the goal of stopping weapons proliferation and deposing its genocidal leader. The storyline, which takes place a year after the events of Infinite Crisis is titled, “The Good Fight.”
Following the Crisis, the world believes that the Outsiders are dead. However, Nightwing and his team have been secretly operating in the African nation of Mali. While the government is fictional, the scenario is very real. The nation is in the midst of massive internal problems: dictatorship, poverty, decease, tribal conflict, rape, and genocide. Anissa Pierce, aka Thunder, has been secretly inserted into the government to get close to the president and locate a cache of Sarin gas. As the team proceeds with their mission, they go beyond the normal tactics of traditional superheroes. Grace and Captain Boomerang torture a government employee and threaten his family if he does not cooperate. Rex Mason, disguised as Pierce, even sleeps with the president to get information from him. The story concludes at the beginning of the next arc “Silver and Grey,” with the Outsiders threatening to throw the ousted president out of an airplane and finally leaving him on a deserted island. They put a new leader in power and warn him to not make the former president’s mistakes or he will share his fate.
Ultimately the conclusion to the story is an oversimplification. The complex internal problems of a war-torn nation cannot be solved by simply overthrowing its leader. However, the fact that Winnick even dedicates the time to the story shows an important shift in comics. Some may argue that comics should create fantasy worlds where we can escape real world issues. “The Good Fight” reminds us that comics can be tools to educate readers on genuine concerns while still keeping true to the superhero paradigm. While disease, poverty and dictators will never supplant supervillains, the inclusion of these very real issues is significant.
Superman makes an appearance at the end that is loaded with irony. He informs Nightwing that he is concerned by his team’s methods and wants to be sure that they never cross the line. Nightwing informs him that he will do what is necessary to help people and even threatens Superman with a box that is later shown to have kryptonite inside. This confrontation is more then just about the Outsider’s goals, it is representative of the two approaches to helping the world. Superman represents the status quo where the world is saved from Alien invaders and evil villains intent on global domination, but political turmoil and social upheaval are left to others. Nightwing represents a newer, darker hero that will do unpleasant things for the greater good. The line Superman does not want them to cross is no doubt the line that other teams like the Authority, or anti-heroes like the Punisher, have already chosen to step over. Moreover, they represent new questions of which direction do the fans want comics to go: extreme fantasy or a more realistic interpretation?
There are several levels to Outsiders #34-37 in which a reader can engage the story. Winick writes an original and multi-dimensioned comic that contributes to the richness of the superhero genre and adds fuel to the debate over its direction.