The State of Future State, Part 1

JK, Shane and Tom take a look at DC’s Future State titles, starting with ‘The Next Batman,’ ‘Superman of Metropolis,’ ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Flash.’

DC officially kicked off Future State earlier this month, and the comics we’ve seen give a rough — emphasis on “rough” for some heroes — idea of what possible futures look like for their characters. This line-wide event, or publishing initiative, or whatever we want to call it, will go on through February and has replaced their regular titles until March.

With the event now in full gear, Shane Bailey, Tom Bondurant and I decided to discuss each one, roundtable style. Also, since the titles are all set at different times — some are just a few years into the future, while others jump forward thousands of years — I thought it might help to share this timeline of when each one is set:

I know it has helped us as we’ve been reading them.

So let’s get started …

The Next Batman

Featuring: The Next Batman, by John Ridley, Nick Derington and Laura Braga; Outsiders, by Brandon Thomas and Sumit Kumar; and Arkham Knights, by Paul Jenkins and Jack Herbert.

JK Parkin: Arguably the comic with the most build-up coming into this is The Next Batman, both because of the creators involved — Oscar winner John Ridley, with artist Nick Derington — and of course, the character. It’s Batman, in the future, and he’s not only not Bruce Wayne, but he’s also not a white guy. I’ll say “arguably” because he doesn’t have his own CW show on the horizon like another new character they’re introducing (at least not yet) … but we’ll get to her later. Anyway, what did you guys think of the first issue of The Next Batman?

Shane Bailey: The art is magnificent by Derington with the amazing Tamra Bonvillain on colors.  I liked it overall though it’s kind of depressing reading about dystopian futures right now . I’m into the idea of a new Batman. I’ve always been into legacy characters as that’s what DC was all about since the 60s, at least in my mind. It’s just the setting that took me a while to get used to, I think partially because the book doesn’t really do well in setting a sense of time and place. I still think it’s one of the strongest books of the line and I’m definitely interested in learning more about how this situation came about with the magistrate and the crack down on masks in Gotham, which we touch on more once we get to Dark Detective. I’m excited about the fact that there’s only a tenious link to Bruce there and they didn’t go with the obvious Batwing from the Batman family and have that Fox take the role (More on that in Dark Detective too).

Another thing I liked about it IS that I didn’t really know what was going on. I haven’t really felt like that since I was a kid when reading the DC Universe. In that aspect it reminded me of the Ultimate Universe back when that was new and fresh, in a way I didn’t feel when New 52 launched because this doesn’t really throw out the old for the new, the old is still there.

And i love the anthology aspect of the book. The Outsiders being literally outside of Gotham actually worked well. Arkham Knights, where the inmates of Arkham are blackmailed into becoming protectors, felt very Paul Jenkins and though I love him, felt a little off as an idea, but it kept my interest enough to want to know more. And that’s what I love about the anthology format anyway. They are trying new things and seeing what sticks. That’s promising to me.

The Next Batman

Tom Bondurant: I really liked the lead story, and I agree with Shane that the art and colors are fantastic. It doesn’t lean as hard into the dystopia as the backups do, which is nice. Instead, it focuses on characters as the entry point into the world-building, instead of the other way around. Batman is still fighting against corruption and crime, just in different forms. I liked how Bane has become the symbol for “fighting the system through crime,” because it calls back to the pseudo-populism that readers might associate with him thanks to The Dark Knight Rises. Since I don’t think this is supposed to be Bane himself, Ridley gets to make him into a legend — and also gets to point out that Batman has apparently not inspired a similar group of followers.

Otherwise I felt like the backups were just too busy. The art was very busy (although I liked Sunit Kunar’s multi-level warehouse fight sequence in the “Outsiders” feature) and there were so many characters to keep track of that it was somewhat disorienting. In that respect the backups might be at a sort of structural disadvantage, since they have 20 pages each to introduce a pair of teams, and the main story has 22 pages to spend on a smaller cast. Plus the “paramilitary police force” is really becoming a cliche at this point. James Tynion IV did something similar in the “Rebirthed” Detective Comics, and that got picked up by the Batwoman TV show.

I also liked the anthology format, and I will say that this is the kind of book that would inspire me to go deeper into the world-building. However, the world hasn’t really grabbed me so far, and the backup features haven’t found the same balance between character and setting that the main story has.

Outsiders

Shane Bailey: I agree with you, the backup features have to do a lot more work with a lot less pages, maybe that’s why I felt such a weird disconnect with Arkham Knights because they had to fit so many character appearances in so few pages. It felt like a character was introduced every panel and it sort of bounced around without focusing on anything. Hopefully the creators will get used to the format as it’s supposed to stick around after the event.

Ultimately though, the main story is enough to bring me back every month and I still felt like I got my money’s worth even with the extra price point. It felt meaty and worth the cost unlike some of the other first issues.

JK Parkin: So I agree with Shane on the art — one surefire way to get me excited about a comic is to announce that Nick Derington is drawing it. He and Tamra Bonvillain did an excellent job together on Doom Patrol, which was certainly a different book than this, tonally. Doom Patrol was brighter and happier, and in some ways more “superhero-y,” as was the Batman story Derington drew for the Walmart 80-page giants. I think their work here shows their versatility, as they bring this dystopian, grittier Gotham to life. Bonvillain’s colors, especially, kept the tone in line with the story — somewhat darker and more foreboding than their previous work together without sacrificing their signature style.

Shane Bailey: The neon of the city really stands out against the dark of the alleys, too. I love that aspect.

JK Parkin: Storywise, I enjoyed the introduction of the Fox family here, and I like the interactions between Batman, the Bane gang and the two kids being pressured into joining. The super villain gangs seem like an extension or even tribute to the Joker gang that ran rampant through The Dark Knight Returns, so it wasn’t lost on me that we’re being presented with a future that might have some homages or parallels with the classic dystopian Batman future story. That being said, Tom, you make a good point about how some things like a paramilitary police force and the dystopian Gotham have become a bit cliche at this point. This is a new Batman, but the circumstances surrounding him don’t feel that new. I hope as more issues go by we get to see how he handles these circumstances differently than Bruce Wayne would. Given the time differences between this and Justice League, which I read last night, they seem to be hinting that he’s going to be more successful at cleaning up Gotham than Bruce ever was.

Arkham Knights

Shane Bailey: Yeah, they did a great job working in nods to Batman history in subtle ways.

You bring up a good point on the time differences between the books, and I touched on it before a bit, but they don’t really do a good job of setting a time this takes place compared to the other books, when reading them all you spend the first couple pages saying to yourself “huh? But I thought? Oh, I guess this is before the other book!”

Unless I missed it somewhere it would have been nice to have a quick timeline on the inside cover or something.

JK Parkin: The timeline graphic really helped set some context around “when” these stories are occurring.

Shane Bailey: I feel like you shouldn’t have to go outside the book for that, though; the everyday reader isn’t going to do that.

All in all, I really enjoyed the first taste of Future State though and it’s a welcome change from what we’ve seen before.

I want to know more, but just from this, I’d be happy if The Next Batman sticks around in some fashion.

JK Parkin: Agreed — I’m glad Ridley’s sticking with the character, too, in upcoming issues of Batman: Black and White and the DC Digital First miniseries that was just announced.

Tom Bondurant: One last thing about Batman himself. I am a lot less plugged into the rumor mill these days, so I wasn’t sure whether he was supposed to be Luke or Tim. I do think that the story misdirects the reader, because you have Luke talking about “a late night” and admonished not to be “Bruce Wayne” and then he goes to Tim/Jace, who seems like a supporting character in context. I actually liked that element, because a) it calls back indirectly to “The Case Of The Chemical Syndicate” (which ends by revealing Bruce is Batman) and b) it plays into this notion of Batman as a more mysterious figure with an agenda that isn’t necessarily the same as Bruce’s.

Superman of Metropolis

Featuring: Superman of Metropolis, by Sean Lewis and John Timms; The Guardian, by Sean Lewis and Cully Hamner; and Mister Miracle, by Brandon Easton and Valentine De Landro.

JK Parkin: Turning now to one of the other “tentpole” books of the launch — like The Next Batman introduced us to the bigger setting of Gotham, Superman of Metropolis does the same with another iconic DC Universe setting — it even gets second billing in the title. The first issue features a story about an older Jon Kent, who has taken on the role of his father, with back-up stories featuring Mister Miracle — the Shilo Norman Mister Miracle — and the Guardian.

I’d have to say I didn’t enjoy this near as much as I did The Next Batman. I didn’t feel as much of a connection to the characters, even as a fan of the current, younger Jon Kent, and this first issue spent way too much time telling us stuff vs. showing us. Text wise, it felt really dense.

What did you guys think of the debut of this new Superman, and the issue overall?

Shane Bailey: At first I thought it was ok, but the more I think about the book, everything just felt off and it didn’t give us an explanation. The timeline isn’t explained well here again either.

If I’m not mistaken this is supposed to be Jon at the beginning of his run as THE Superman taking over for his Dad, so he’s learning the ropes. We do learn a little about the scenario in Metropolis, but it’s all narration. Show don’t tell!

As for the Metropolis part of the title, there’s something about a company named Trojan turning people into nanotech, which isn’t really explained well, while Lex Luthor is exiled from the city and Trojan declares it the “Free Republic of Metropolis” so I guess the city is it’s own country now.

The thing about this book is it mentions a lot of things IN the book that are alot more interesting than what is SHOWN in the book. I want to learn about the Braniac War, the Five Empires, the Golden Gods of Creon and…THE TIME LUCHADORES! WHY CAN’T WE SEE THE TIME LUCHADORES! That’s way more interesting!

Time Luchadores!!!!

It just seems like everything was just thrown together and they were like, I know the story is supposed to be about Braniac’s heir fighting Superman’s heir, but we have to get all this explanation out of the way first, throw it in there. Oh and throw in some fun stuff for one panel or so, but don’t actually use it.

It’s a shame, because I really like Sean Lewis’ writing elsewhere so I’m holding out hope for the next issue to be a little more organized and coherent. Timms art is good too on the pinup panels but everything gets a little busy and all use the same color and carry the same weight that you get a little lost in them. For now I’m chalking all this up to first issue jitters.

JK Parkin: Seriously, time luchadores! I’m all in for that. I hope we get to see them at some point, whether that’s in Future State or even when the regular DCU returns in March. I assume if they’re time luchadores, they could drop an elbow at any point in DC history.

Shane Bailey: Exactly, more of that please. I’m super into the old’s World’s Finest issues from the 60s and 70s so if they can work in some of that zaniness here, but with modern storytelling i’m all for it. I get a touch of that with Brain Cells here in this issue so maybe we’ll see more of that style in the next issue.

Tom Bondurant: I thought the Superman story — like its hero, come to think of it — had some intriguing ideas but explored them in a very convoluted, messy way. Most importantly, why does Superman want to protect Brain Cells, when BC doesn’t seem to be that trustworthy? Also, the script suggests that Superman is somehow less powerful than previously thought, because he’s not a pure Kryptonian. I know Jon Kent has only been around for a few years, but I never got that sense from how he’s been presented so far. Finally, while I get that Jon is trying to save everybody and has to resort to a radical solution, the whole story seemed to be careening out of control. If that was the point, it was still pretty jarring. Even assuming that Jon is worn down from previous adventures, didn’t he learn anything from his years with Jor-El and the Legion? Shouldn’t he be more capable than this?

Shane Bailey: I think the point was that Brain Cells was manipulating EVERYONE, including Superman himself to shrink metropolis, but that wasn’t conveyed well.

Tom Bondurant: See, I never got that from my readings. The story feels like an early draft that everyone decided was good enough. I don’t really disagree with the underlying premise, or the choice to downplay Superman’s aspirational qualities. It almost feels, paradoxically, like the circumstances aren’t bad enough to throw an experienced young super-person off his game.

And not to get into “not my Jon Kent” territory, but by this point he should basically be at Nightwing or Classic Wally-Flash experience levels. Sure, those guys might make mistakes if they had to take over for their mentors, but they can still handle a lot.

Shane Bailey: I totally agree with you there and I feel he’s portrayed much more like what you are looking for in some of the other books we’ll be looking at.

I think this one is a miss, but I’m still holding out hope.

Mister Miracle

JK Parkin: I think Tom hit the nail on the head with “convoluted” and “messy.” That’s how it felt to me as well. I think there were some cool ideas in there, but it just didn’t seem to come together well, which is too bad, especially for a first issue.

I think the back-up stories were executed a bit better. What did you guys think of them?

Shane Bailey: I really enjoyed the backups, there’s something about Morrison’s reboot of both the Guardian and Mr.Miracle characters that just screams fun to me.

The creators here seen to continue in his footsteps and I kind of wish these were given more space than the main story.

JK Parkin: I was thinking about Grant Morrison’s influence on the main story as well –didn’t he do a story where Metropolis ended up inside a bottle, too?

Tom Bondurant: Morrison and Rags Morales put Metropolis under glass in the first New 52 volume of Action Comics. I thought the Morrisonian influence was stronger in this issue’s Guardian story. The Mister Miracle story seemed a little too superhero-y. It didn’t have the showmanship (for lack of a better term) or otherworldliness that Morrison, and of course Jack Kirby, brought to the character. Of the two backups I liked the Guardian better, because it seemed like Mister Miracle was just fighting drones.

The Guardian

Shane Bailey: I think I enjoyed Guardian the most, it was a quick action packed tale by Sean Lewis so I don’t know what happened in the Superman part of the book, this proves he’s got the chops. This story tells us more about Metropolis and it’s current setup than the main story even tying in Brain Cells and the nanites.  It made it feel like a real and interesting place. The art by Cully Hammer and Michael Avon Oeming was excellent, their style really flowed together well.

I agree with you on the showmanship on the Miracle story too, though I still enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to more of both.

JK Parkin: I agree on the Guardian being the better of the two, but neither of them really grabbed me as much as I’d hoped. While I would definitely buy an ongoing of The Next Batman, I don’t think I’d be back for the second issue of Superman of Metropolis after reading the first one.

Tom Bondurant: I did want to mention one last thing on the Guardian story. I got a kick out of the symbolic magician’s top hat panel at the bottom of page 7. Once I realized it wasn’t a Zatanna reference, it seemed like a storytelling flourish you might have seen from a trippy 1970s sci-fi comic. It made me happy, even if it was just Cully Hamner needing to fill in space on the page.

Wonder Woman by Joëlle Jones

JK Parkin: Moving on, let’s talk about the first issue of Wonder Woman, which features the debut of an all-new character — an Amazon whose origins seem tied to more than one Pantheon. Yara Flor has gotten a lot of attention in the build-up to Future State, and she’s even getting a pilot on The CW.

This was probably my favorite of all the Future State comics I’ve read thus far. I like the approach to introducing her and think Joelle Jones was the perfect person to do so. This first issue reminded me, in some ways, of the Brian Azzarello/Cliff Chiang New 52 Wonder Woman comic, which leaned in heavily on mythology and, well, didn’t seem too concerned with what else was going on in the New 52 at the time. They just jumped in and told their story, the heck with any continuity or shared universe trappings, and I always thought it was better for it.

Shane Bailey: I had a different reaction than most people I’ve talked to that read the comic, this one left me wanting more. It’s not that it was bad or anything, as it wasn’t. I just felt like I didn’t get as much out of this book. It felt thin next to the other books we talked about, both in content and physically. I would have liked this to be an anthology series too as she’s an integral part of DC’s Trinity.

I also felt like I was reading another character when I read about Yara in other Future State books compared to this one too, but we may want to talk about that later. That could be due to those pesky time problems again. 

I’m also assuming we’re going to get an explanation on why we are still focusing on Greek Mythology here compared to her other appearances where they are focused on her own mythology? 

Wonder Woman

That all said, I did find the art and writing here delightful. I especially liked the way they treated the Underworld as an airport complete with its own TSA, ticketing and signage. The fights with the various monsters were all well choreographed, and Yara’s interaction with the other characters were all really fun. We even get a nice contrast between what Yara is willing to do vs. what Diana would do with the coin bit that occurs. It’s a good sign that it left me wanting more, as I in fact DID want more, I just didn’t feel fully satisfied reading it. It felt like it didn’t really have a definite end to the issue. It ended when it just got started. Am I the only one that felt like that?

Also did anyone get that Grant Morrison “I don’t know what the $#%$ is going on, but I’m enjoying it and I’ll figure it out later,” vibe from this book?

Tom Bondurant: This also reminded me of the Azzarello/Chiang Wonder Woman, plus I got a strong Saga vibe both from Jones’ art and the story’s general tone. It’s entertaining without being too irreverent, and I say that because a too-silly opening would have undercut the stakes for the “afterlife concourse” sequence. Put another way, I could see the basic structure of this story repurposed for Diana of Themyscira — she fights a monster, meets an ally, and goes to rescue a friend from the underworld — and this was a good way to use those familiar elements with a less-traditional Wonder Woman. It was a good choice to introduce this character with that sort of standalone adventure, instead of contrasting her against a recognizable DC setting like Gotham or Metropolis.

Shane Bailey: At first I thought it was strange that it was so standalone, but I think you’re right. It did the character a favor. It gave us a taste of the character before her other team up appearances.

JK Parkin: I hadn’t thought about Saga but that’s a good point, Tom, especially with the narration. We know at some point this Wonder Woman will become Wonder Girl in the current DCU, with Jones on board, and I’m happy to keep reading this version of the character.

Shane Bailey: I just realized what this book reminds me of — Alan Moore’s Promethea. It’s got that same whimsical, but heavy, quality.

Flash By Brandon Vietti and Dale Eaglesham

JK Parkin: Next up is a Flash, by Brandon Vietti and Dale Eaglesham. I’ll let someone else start this time; what did you think?

Shane Bailey: Out of all the books this is the one I was most disappointed with as it seems to continue the style of storytelling of the previous DC books, running down one of my favorite characters Wally West. I didn’t like this one at all. They keep saying Wally is going to be an important part of the new line, but if this is any indication I’ll pass. I’m just so tired of the good guy turned bad story. It’s one thing if they are designed for it like Terra in Teen Titans, but when you take a hero and turn them bad like this, you’re turning off a whole section of the audience. This isn’t the time to be tearing down our heroes. We get enough of that on the news.

JK Parkin: I agree; I believe this was the second title I read, right after Wonder Woman, so my expectations were high. I will say I did enjoy that first page, where we caught a glimpse of all the missions Checkmate was overseeing; like Superman of Metropolis and the Time Luchadores, it’s like we were being teased with some fun concepts that unfortunately sounded like more fun than the story we were reading.

Flash

Tom Bondurant: This was a big miss for me as well. These were very familiar characters wrenched out of their usual setting and plunged into a truly horrific storyline, so it was basically upsetting from the start. Joshua Williamson’s Flash run (including the Death Metal: Speed Metal special) just brought back the pre-New 52 speedsters, but you don’t really get to see them in action here, and — not to put too fine a point on it — the plot kind of abuses them. The art was kind of choppy and the script was full of exposition, maybe because it felt like part 3 of a 6-part arc. There may be a fun story out there which features Barry Allen wielding a ray gun and riding a moped, but this wasn’t it. This issue felt the most like one of the Futures End tie-in comics where everything’s just gone to hell and our heroes have to deal with it. Even if it’s all setup for a happy (or at least happier) ending, it was a tough read.

JK Parkin: There was so much potential here, too — the de-powered speedsters using the weapons of their enemies sounds like the makings of a fun story, but like you said, this wasn’t it.

Next time: Harley Quinn, Swamp Thing, Justice League and more!

5 thoughts on “The State of Future State, Part 1”

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