Outcasts (#1 – 12) – John Wagner, Alan Grant

3 out of 5

John Wagner, Alant Grant, Cam Kennedy, and a subtitle describing the series as a “twelve issue future shocker!” Cute.

We were in the midst of the so-called British Invasion in US comics; within the pages of Outcasts’ issues, you’ll see lots of ads / editorial for Alan Moore comics, and there’s a Grant Morrison Animal Man ad there as well. Wagner and Grant were part of that, and had been kicking around on some other comics, but here was their maxi-series for their own Watchmen, and I only wish I would’ve been an active comic reader at the time, because it is weird. Moore’s stuff was undeniably different from a literary perspective, and Grant has his own version of weird, but Wags and Grant working together produce a particular brew of dark comedy and commentary that’s very distinctively non-US; I really cannot think of another Marvel or DC book that would’ve been in any way complementary to Outcasts.

Of course, there is one major book that is an easy corollary: 2000 AD’s Judge Dredd. The world of Outcasts – which is unfortunately not in the DCU, made clear in the sole letters page this series has – is akin to the Dreddverse if the same washed-up societal dregs were lorded over by corporations and not by a police force. We have “the enforcers” in Outcasts, who are subject to the big bosses in charge instead of being in charge themselves. While this kinda sets up the series to be a bit more typical than the Dreddverse (corporations running things is like the standard dystopia-tinged future setting), our writers’ very particular absurdist approach prevents it from ever feeling predictable – indeed, any time we step towards too much gloom, they’ll take an aside to wax on about gameshow-like suicide emporiums, or the murder-approved sports entertainment – and removing the police force as the focus gives the duo the ability to view things from the point of view of underdogs: our titular Outcasts are a band of ne’er-do-wells rounded up by the secretly mutant, high society Kate Kaine, for the purpose of exposing the crimes of the politicians and CEOs in charge.

Still sounds pretty normal for this kind of business, yes? …Except no one’s really a “hero” in Wags and Grant’s hands, which is where the title gets a step up on peers or competition: Kaine is the closest to a standard anti-hero vigilante type, but those she recruits live up to the Outcasts name, with “Brain Damage” being very much a Mean Machine Angel proxy, and Shock – electro powers, natch – an easily-angered, six-fingered scouse-type, and Yancy Queeg, whose only power is to not die, and thus the perfect cannon fodder. These aren’t particularly “cool” characters, and they run about an even win versus loss ratio throughout the series, also racking up a body count on their side that you can’t imagine a DC or Marvel team book ever committing to, especially in the offhand, “they were slated to die anyway” tone of the book.

Kennedy slips into more 2000 ADism as the series goes along – it starts out much more urban and gritty, and then grows to have the bubbly architecture and winding roadways you might recognize – but Steve Montano’s strong, simplifying inking and the various colorists’ bright palettes do keeping things looking distinct.

The humor and inventiveness shown throughout would make this an above average Dredd strip – you can imagine Joe going up against the Outcasts – but one lacking in any longterm impacts. Going from 2000 AD to this is to see a somewhat more limited version of the Dreddverse. However, going the opposite direction would’ve been mind blowing – I don’t think Outcasts necessarily had a chance to go toe-to-toe with Moore or Morrison because Wags, Grant, and Kennedy were never out to make a big statement, or revitalize anything in particular, they just wanted to write / draw stuff they were good at in an American format. Which they did, and it being so unlike anything else from DC or Marvel would’ve made it a likely reread for anyone who chanced to pick it up. And then imagine tracking the creators back to 2000 AD, and discovering nearly ten years of history, at that point, to dig into, in a much more expansive version of the Outcasts’ type of world.