Welcome back to Week Four of VILLAINS WATCH, the weekly look at DC’s Forever Evil mini-series, its lead-ins and effects. This week is a look at the two diverging characters who have been known as The Outsider, whose newest incarnation is the subject of this week’s Justice League #23.4: Secret Society special. But first, a little recap:
“A very well-done single issue that not only managed to shed deep and significant light on a villainess sure to be taking the spotlight soon, but also reintroduce a fan favorite to the New 52, Wonder Woman #23.1 is not to be missed. Ostrander is still, years after developing some of DC’s most compelling villains in Suicide Squad, at the the top of his game, and I can’t wait to see where he shows up next for the publisher.”
Silver Age Origin
The story of the Outsider begins a bit outside of the comics with a man named Frederick Wertham. A psychiatrist specializing in mass media research into the effects of sex and violence on society, Wertham wrote a book called Seduction of the Innocent in 1954 that claimed imagery in comic books was negatively affecting the morality of youth at the time. Riding the wave of McCarthyism that was overwhelming the United States in the early 1950s, Wertham proposed in particular that Batman and Robin were an example of an inappropriate homosexual adult-child relationship, among many other strange unsupported claims. Today, we have since learned that much of Wertham’s research and case study material was fabricated, but at the time, his book led to the creation of the Comics Code Authority, and quite a few plot changes in comics of the time. Not the least of these changes, was the death of Wayne family butler Alfred Pennyworth.
Removing Alfred from the Batman stories of the 1950s and replacing him with newfound relative Aunt Harriet — in order to place a female influence in this purported house of oversexualized men — DC took Pennyworth off the table by having him hurl himself in front of a boulder in order to save the Dynamic Duo from certain death. What readers didn’t know until much later is that Alfred (like every other comic book character ever) was resurrected by a scientist named Brandon Crawford.
Unfortunately, the revival was imperfect, and Alfred was turned into the opposite of everything he had ever been. Once a gentile, good-natured man utterly devoted to the Dark Knight and his young ward, Alfred was now the Outsider: a physically powerful, sinister villain now committed to hatred and the utter downfall of the Dynamic Duo. His personality not the only thing to invert, the Outsider emerged from his resurrection with pasty white skin, a mass of boils and a brand new power: telekinesis. The Outsider worked behind the scenes to mess with Batman and Robin from a distance for quite a while, but eventually faced them himself, leading to the eventual reversal of Alfred’s condition. Alfred would have no memory of his time as the Outsider, although he did revert to his menacing ways a few times over the years to once again trouble the Batman Family and Batman’s ironically named own super-team, the Outsiders. Despite this, Alfred remained (and remains to this day) a critical part of Batman’s operation and a key mentor to generations of heroes that have passed through Wayne Manor, from Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon to Halo and Damian Wayne.
When Barry Allen could no longer live with the pain of his mother’s death, seemingly at the hands of his father when he was just a child, he took to the timestream as the Flash and in his grief, changed EVERYTHING. Now living in a universe post-Flashpoint as it was called, Barry Allen woke up in a world where Superman was in military captivity since birth, Batman was Thomas Wayne Sr. whose son Bruce was brutally murdered, and Wonder Woman and Aquaman split up the planet’s resources and aggressively warred against each other. Amid all these new versions of existing heroes came the Outsider — no longer a transformed Alfred Pennyworth — now an Indian mogul named Michael Desai who controlled one of the small pockets of the earth that the Amazons and Atlantians had no control over.
Michael’s birth was a traumatic event for more than just his parents — not only did his mother die in the process of bringing him to life, but his father’s grief-fueled rejection of his oddly wrinkled, pale-skinned appearance led to Michael inadvertently killing hundreds of thousands of people in his home of Chandigarh, India. At the center of the remaining three-mile sinkhole, was infant Michael, who grew up an orphan to become one of the richest men in the world.
The Outsider would accumulate many enemies over the years due to his meddling in the regions surrounding his own India: Black Adam, King of Kandahq; Blackout, a electric powered Pakistani teenager Michael wanted to enslave as a power source; and the Martian Manhunter, who Desai discovered after he arrived on our planet and subsequently sold to the Russians for their own Project Superman. Ultimately, it would be the Martian Manhunter who would come closest to destroying the Outsider, in service of either Aquaman or Wonder Woman. Michael would never find out which, however, as he unleashed his own significant physical prowess, normally reserved, to take out the Martian and then join Cyborg’s attack against the two world leaders — all for his own benefit, of course. The Outsider is nothing if not self-interested.
We are set to receive the full background of the man now known as The Outsider in this week’s Villains Month special entitled, The Secret Society, but we actually have quite of bit of information already about who we have been dealing with since his first shadowy appearance at the conclusion of Justice League #6.
The Outsider who is behind the recent formation of the Secret Society of Super-Villains is, in fact, once again Alfred Pennyworth, but he of the alternate world named Earth 3. Home to the Crime Syndicate and the seat of all evil in the Multiverse, Earth 3 is an exact duplicate of our own world, but mirrored — east is west, right is wrong, and all continents and motivations flipped to produce a world where villains always win. Butler not to Bruce Wayne, but his younger surviving brother Thomas, the Outsider escaped from Earth 3 with Syndicate member Atomica during the multi-dimensional disturbance that occurred in the wake of Darkseid’s attack on the Justice League. Pennyworth then spent five years establishing the conditions that could bring his master and his colleagues to Prime Earth and away from their own devastated planet.
These plans included recruiting the Secret Society, planting Atomica as a double (actually triple) agent in the Justice League, and locating the woman who bore the technological means to transfer from Earth 3, in a skull she believed to be the fabled and magical Pandora’s Box. Along the way, the Outsider has proven to be a clever foe, orchestrating Superman’s murder of Doctor Light, a hero the Outsider himself empowered with a communicator device from his home planet. He also has demonstrated the power of telekinesis that Alfred Pennyworth displayed in the Silver Age, particularly when facing off against the Martian Manhunter, who once again honed in on his antagonist when the Justice League of America infiltrated the Secret Society’s lair. What role the Society plays in the Outsider’s greater plans, and why his dedication runs so deep to the Thomas Wayne of this disturbingly backwards world, have yet to be revealed — that is, until this week in all likelihood.
- Detective Comics #340 (1965): The Outsider Strikes Again!
- Detective Comics #356 (1966): The Inside Story of the Outsider
- Batman #255 (1973): The Outsider Strikes Back!
- Batman Family #13 (1977): The Man Who Melted Manhattan!
- DC Comics Presents #83 (1985): Shadow of the Outsider
- Flashpoint: The Outsider (2011)
- Justice League #22-23, Justice League of America #4-7 (2013): Trinity War
- Justice League #23.4: Secret Society (2013)
Coming up in October: The origins of the Secret Society of Super-Villains! And what other super-villain groups has Lex Luthor (and others) formed to fight the Justice League? And just who is this Mark Shaw fellow?