Future State: The Outsiders writer explains how the team gets literal during the DC event

One of the standout unique qualities of the DC Universe is the existence of fictional cities like Keystone City, Coast City, and of course, Superman’s adopted home of Metropolis. 

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But in recent years casting a shadow over all of them has been Batman’s native home Gotham City. The superhero and supervillain residents of Gotham, almost all of them under the umbrella of the ‘Batman Family,’ continue to increase their presence throughout DC’s line.

January and February’s Future State event serves to emphasize Gotham’s center-of-gravity status, with seven titles and given the anthology status of The Next Batman and Dark Detective, no less than 13 Gotham-related characters and concepts featured in their own stories, including Batman’s sometimes covert team the Outsiders.

And unlike the Justice League and Superman Future State families, all of the Batman family titles are set in the same (or nearly the same) time frame and involve a linking through story.

Last week Newsarama got to exchange a few thoughts with writer Brandon Thomas, who along with artists Sumit Kumar and Jordie Bellaire will be checking in on the Future State status of the Outsiders in the pages of January’s The Next Batman #1 and February’s #3. 

DC readers will also get their first look at art from the two-part story in the following interview. 

Newsarama: Brandon, of all the Future State families, from the outside looking in (no pun intended), the Batman family seems to have the most volume of characters and stories but they all seem pretty cohesive, occurring at the same time in the same circumstances. 

What can you tell us about Gotham City under the Magistrate as it related to the Outsiders?

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Brandon Thomas: Gotham is even more dangerous and brutal and uncompromising under The Magistrate’s rule. I think its current status plays into a lot of existential fears we’re all having about militarized police forces, surveillance tech run amok, and creeping authoritarianism. 

How it relates to The Outsiders really hinges on the type of decisions these characters are now forced into because of this threat. Most of them are typically on the fringes of Gotham and whatever’s going on there, but their shared connection brings them here and keeps them here for the foreseeable future. One of them takes the Magistrate’s reign of terror very personally, and because of that, they all take it personally. Every one of the characters has to really evolve and change the way they do their thing, and it makes for some great moments and powerful visuals. 

Nrama: How does telling your story in the greater whole work creatively? Do you receive a big bible from DC and (DC group editor) Ben Abernathy spelling out exactly what the Magistrate is, and/or does the entire writing staff get together on Zoom call to hash out all your stories to avoid conflicts?

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Thomas: That’s pretty close to how it went. There was a document that painted the broad strokes of things, along with some concept art and briefs of where other characters were, and how things all fit together. The only element that was already set involved Katana, but from there they told me to go crazy, and involve any other characters and concepts I wanted to give us an amazing two issues, and they actually meant that.

There are moments and scenarios that I pitched almost on a dare, really testing just how far they were willing to let me go with this, and they’ve been enormously supportive and receptive to everything. 

When they say the creators are really being turned loose on Future State and playing without a net, that’s not hype. I treated this situation and Future State: Aquaman as possibly the only times I’ll ever be allowed to work on these characters, and I think it shows in the stories. You can tell nothing is being left on the table.

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Nrama: Through the magic of advanced review copies, I’ve read your first story, but readers won’t have that opportunity until next month so I won’t spoil it … much. 

First of all, can you tell readers what meaning the Outsiders take on in the first story? And what does it mean for the story you’re trying to tell?

Thomas: The Outsiders name becomes very literal in Future State, as they have become the protectors of everything outside the border erected by the Magistrate. So any of the major problems or threats pushed out of there become things they have to deal with. Complicating things even more is the fact the territory is also operating as a safe harbor for political dissidents/protesters that have publicly objected to Magistrate rule and been forced out by violent threats to them and their families. 

And on top of all that, when the story begins, ‘The Outsiders’ just means Katana, as the team has been scattered and separated by recent events. So yeah, there’s a lot going on, which I think will be really exciting for the fans, and takes full advantage of the great status quo Future State gives us. 

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Nrama: Right, Katana is really at the center of most of the first issue. What can you tell readers about her status quo and where her head is at in this Gotham City near future?

Thomas: Well, she is (currently) the lone guardian of “the outside.” She’s the woman on the wall, a force of nature that’s made it clear to everyone, even the Magistrate, that her dominion is to be honored and respected at all times.

Whether that’s actually the case is something the story deals with directly, but I’d say the thing she’s battling more than anything in the beginning is a sense of loneliness and deep isolation. We don’t deal much with how her current status came to be, just the emotional effects it’s having on her mission right now, and again, this is another element that feels very much on a lot of people’s minds. Even someone as naturally solitary as Katana needs some human interaction to function normally, and we’ll have to see if denying that leads to any big problems for her. 

Nrama: DC has revealed in the solicitation copy Duke Thomas and Black Lightning are the other characters from the last Outsiders incarnation to star in this story. What can you tell us about how we find each character? DC has made no secret Black Lightning shows up as literal black lightning?

Thomas: Ha, yeah, I was curious if that was gonna get out there before it shipped, but I won’t say much more about Black Lightning and his current status, but Duke’s current POV is something that felt like a perfect escalation and gives him a real prominence within this future DCU. His identity as the Signal is public, and he’s used that to carve out a role as a face of the resistance, making him a wanted man by the Magistrate. When the issue opens, he’s smuggling some protestors out of the city, trying to get them to”the outside” and under the protection of Katana. 

So this scary new world has demanded more from everyone, and Duke Thomas is now equally at home giving inspirational speeches, and leading protests/rallies, as he is at busting heads. I loved writing him with this new state of mind, and though he and Katana are initially apart, there’s a lot of devotion and commitment still there, and you’ll see that on display. 

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Nrama: Is there any other past or ‘past-future’ of the Outsiders that show up in your story? 

Thomas: Hah, do you mean the previous versions of the book? Something that definitely ties into the most recent Bryan Hill run is an escalation of Black Lightning’s powers, which is carried forward in an interesting way here. 

Nrama: Anything else we didn’t ask about you want readers to know about the Outsiders? 

Thomas: You’re talking about the art, right? You’ve seen it, so I’ll just assume that’s a reference to the tremendous work of Sumit Kumar and Jordie Bellaire. I admit that I geeked out when I heard Jordie was on colors, and without embarrassing her too much, I never imagined this completely insane year would close with her coloring some comics I’d written. 

I’ve been a fan of Sumit since his Action Lab days, so you know, in my head the bar was pretty high for just how amazing this was going to look, but both of them just crushed it. Artistic destruction all around, and there’s a lot happening in just the first issue–this is not an easy or patient story by any means. 

I mean, Katana’s in a jetpack on page one, and it’s like that the whole way, with big, complicated action, a lot of backgrounds, vehicles, etc. It’s out of control, and it would’ve been easy, maybe even appropriate, to cut some corners here and there. Not these two though, not for a panel. 

It’s one of the most beautiful and action-packed comics that my name has ever been on, and the next issue makes it look like a warm-up. So happy with the work everyone has done, it’s special. 

[Since this interview DC has confirmed Thomas will continue telling the adventure of the current-day Outsiders as part of the new Batman: Urban Legends anthology series debuting in March, reuniting Katana, Black Lightning, and Metamorpho in a story drawn by Max Dunbar.]

Not gonna lie, the Outsiders did not make Newsarama’s countdown of the best superhero teams of all time. But check it out to find out why. 

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