The State of Future State, Part 4

JK, Shane and Tom are back with another look at DC’s Future State first issues, including ‘Immortal Wonder Woman,’ ‘Nightwing’ and more.

After a slight delay, we are back with our fourth roundtable on DC’s Future State titles, where Shane Bailey, Tom Bondurant and I talk about the first issues of Nightwing, Catwoman, Shazam!, Superman: Worlds of War and Immortal Wonder Woman.

You can see what we had to say about some of the other Future State first issues in parts one, two and three.

As always, the timeline DC provided helps put the timing of these stories into context:

I should also add that this conversation took place over the course of several days/weeks, and some of it occurred before announcements like Future State: Gotham and the Mister Miracle miniseries. Now onward!

Nightwing #1

JK Parkin: Here we are for round four — let’s kick things off by talking about Nightwing #1. What did you guys think?

Shane Bailey: I enjoyed everything about this book but the chin strap.

JK Parkin: Ha!

Shane Bailey: Seriously, though, I really did enjoy this book. Having Nightwing’s base of operations in an abandoned Arkham Asylum was a nice touch. And it was cool that he still has a little bit of his sense of humor, too. That didn’t come across at all in Teen Titans. The New Batman was used well here, and I enjoyed seeing their interaction. The siege could be really cool with each of them taking out the soldiers as they come in. I’m excited about the next issue. 

Tom Bondurant: This book was fun for a lot of reasons. The Magistrate was used well right from the start, Nightwing felt like his old self, and the story filled in some of those expositional gaps that had been frustrating me. I’m a longtime Nicola Scott fan, so it was great to see her work again. According to the timeline, this book runs concurrent with Robin Eternal, and in hindsight seems to be a good complement to that one. Having Batman guest-star — plus cameos from Barbara Gordon et al. — not only helped with the larger context, it demonstrated Dick’s laid-back leadership style. His first meeting with the new Batman was also a treat.

Shane Bailey: I agree the Magistrate was used a lot better here. It did feel like this book explained things much better than the others. It’s weird reading all of these books with the magistrate because I keep expecting progress but really every book is kind of introducing the magistrate over and over as they are all their own story. I have to remember there’s no main Future State book.

It’s different points of view at different times in the same place.

And you’re right, having little connections and mentions of things happening outside the book, just like in Robin Eternal, helped make the book seem part of something larger and helped solidify it’s place in the timeline much better than the previous books we read.

JK Parkin: I liked this for a lot of the same reason you guys did; I thought Scott’s artwork was excellent as always. I also liked that we got to see more of a “face” to the Magistrate’s troops, and they weren’t just one-dimensional robots/guys in body armor. Nightwing’s interaction with the sniper was nicely played. And I’m really looking forward to the next chapter, with the “Assault on Precinct 13” vibe they have going. Mostly, though, this was just a well done Nightwing comic … the action and movement from panel to panel felt natural, his dialogue was spot on, his leadership role in the resistance, his emotional response to thinking Batman was dead … everything just seemed to click here.

Catwoman #1 by Ram V and Otto Schmidt

JK Parkin: Staying in Gotham, I also enjoyed Catwoman #1, though probably not as much as Nightwing. But I thought the “train heist” was fun. What did you guys think?

Tom Bondurant: For me it had a lot of the same pluses as Nightwing. The plot and characterization meshed well with the Magistrate setting, and the overall vibe was fairly light-hearted. I mean, she got a Cat-Cycle, and I don’t remember Catwoman having a super-cool vehicle since the Dick Sprang days. A couple of things didn’t quite land — I thought that was Selina on Page 1 getting on the train, and I don’t really get why Onomatopoeia is so dangerous — but overall it was a fun read. The cliffhanger raised a lot of questions too, which I guess is the point.

Shane Bailey: I love a good heist comic and the designs in this book were amazing. Catwoman’s new costume is really cool, the slide goggles in particular. The new Magistrate character gave another face to them besides the Peacekeeper 01 character and the reveal of Onomatopoeia was pretty cool. I don’t think I ever said, “Oh cool, it’s Onomatopoeia!” before. And Tom, he’s just always been a dangerous dude because that’s how they set him up in Green Arrow: Quiver when he first appeared. He’s like Boba Fett that way. They just said he’s a badass and suddenly he’s a badass. I thought this whole issue was really fun and if this is indicative of the new Catwoman book, then count me in.

JK Parkin: I agree, Shane. I think this is the first time I’ve ever read a comic featuring Onomatopoeia myself, so I wasn’t familiar with him. But he seems to be a “big gun” in the context of the story — can he use sound effects to make things happen? Or is he like that guy from the Police Academy movies, who just makes sounds? Not to date myself. [laughs]

Shane Bailey: He’s just a good fighter; he can’t use sounds effects to make things happen that I know of. It’s just the way he communicates.

So yeah, like the Police Academy guy [laughs].

Shazam! #1 by Tim Sheridan, Eduardo Pansica and Julio Ferreira

JK Parkin: Let’s move on to Shazam! I thought it was, basically, another example of what I don’t like when it comes to a Shazam! title . What did you guys think?

Tom Bondurant: Well, it was suspenseful, and it ended on an effective cliffhanger, but it didn’t get me on board with the underlying premise. This is not fair to the creative team, but boy am I tired of the “edgy Shazam” take. Grant Morrison is at least partly responsible, since he gave the world Dark Mary Marvel in Final Crisis; but he also did a pretty traditional version with Cameron Stewart in Multiversity. (To be sure, the creepy parts there were relegated to the various Sivanas.) Part of me feels like people look at Shazam! and think “we can’t do it happy, like Multiversity or the Zachary Levi movie, because we want to do our own thing,” and so you get stuck with these subversive versions. Again, though, it was decent on its own merits.

By the way, I know I have mentioned Morrison a lot in connection with Future State, but it just hit me that this is indirectly revisiting the JLA arc “Crisis Times Five,” which guest-starred Captain Marvel and the Justice Society.

Shane Bailey: I liked the art on this book, it reminded me of Ivan Reis a bit which is a good thing. I also liked the team in this book, but wow do I agree wholeheartedly with Tom, I would be ecstatic if I never saw another dark take on Shazam in my life. It seems like a fundamental misunderstanding of the character. To be honest, until recently it seemed like that’s the only take I see of the character.

It was entertaining enough, but that just took me right out of the story. It also seems like a waste of The Creeper and The Question.

JK Parkin: I actually kind of liked the more recent Shazam series by Geoff Johns and Dale Eaglesham. Although it certainly went to some dark places, I thought Shazam/Billy Batson and the rest of the Marvel family were handled pretty well. I think the Shazam we’re seeing here, though, goes well beyond “dark places” and into territory that’s more in line with maybe Kingdom Come? It’s not really a place I need to see the character going again.

It’s also too bad that this is more of  a continuation of what’s happening in Teen Titans vs. something more stand alone like Supergirl or Swamp Thing. There was an opportunity to capture the magic of the character in an event like this, something that could exist in its own bubble, but this really missed the mark for me. Add to that the numerous characters we have thrown into the mix, and it also felt muddled overall to me as well.

Shane Bailey: Yeah, I think it’s a real missed opportunity to take the character someplace truly new and magical.

Tom Bondurant: I should have said this earlier — but when a revamp from Geoff Freaking Johns emphasizes a character’s cheery, magical nature, maybe going dark is less of an option?

Also, something which just occurred to me: Do we expect these relatively short arcs to end with any real closure? Like, will Neron be defeated, or Merlin’s forces? Or was this just A Chilling Glimpse Into The (Potential) World That’s Coming?

Shane Bailey: They told Johns if he wrote another dark Shazam DC would lose an arm and a leg on that book. Bah dum tsssss….

Tom Bondurant: Ouch!

Shane Bailey: That’s what I mentioned earlier. I’m wondering how all these books will be resolved in the time we have left in Future State. It doesn’t make sense to just leave everything in limbo. Unless there’s going to be a “Future State” book like Batman Beyond or something where that one book covers all of that future. At this point we know some characters will continue, but we don’t know about the line as a whole. Is it a Miles Morales situation where they bring them into the main universe or a Ultimate Universe type of thing? It would almost be easier to understand if there was some kind of framing device to the whole Future State event itself. I think something was originally supposed to be there, but plans changed? At this point we just have to wait and see.

JK Parkin: I’m expecting it to be something that’ll be referenced in the future. Like, for instance, DC One Million, which showed up again in the Black Adam story. I sort of expect it to be another Kamandi, Legion or OMAC — more possible futures where heroes might time travel and run into these characters and settings. The Next Batman and Yara Flor seem to be getting the most attention after the event, but I’m sure some of the others will appear again, whether it’s their present-day version or the actual future version doing some time traveling. Or just new books about them, like Future State: Gotham.

Shane Bailey: Yeah, I can’t see DC wasting such a fertile setting after doing all this work.

Superman: Worlds of War #1

Featuring Superman: Worlds of War, by Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Mikel Janin; Midnighter, by Becky Cloonan, Michael W. Conrad and Gleb Melnikov; Black Racer, by Jeremy Adams and Siya Oum; and Mister Miracle, by Brandon Easton and Valentine De Landro.

JK Parkin: Up next let’s talk about Superman: Worlds of War — an anthology of stories that are tied together more by the setting, Warworld, than they are by the title character. I thought it was an eclectic mix of stories and characters, to say the least. What did you guys think? 

Tom Bondurant: It was certainly eclectic, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I was a little curious about the second Mister Miracle story, which is apparently unrelated to the one from Superman of Metropolis. I mean, I like Shilo Norman pretty well, but I didn’t think DC would be pushing him this hard.

The Black Racer story kind of came out of left field, and appeared to be using some superficial similarities to the original. Maybe she’ll turn into the actual Black Racer and start marking these Warworlders for death en masse; but for now she doesn’t seem that distinctive.

I thought the Midnighter story was a nice, brief adventure showcasing his attitude and combat skills, and I liked the cliffhanger.

Finally, the lead story was a nice mix of minor Superman tropes — “Superman is immortal” and “Superman is stuck in space.” If the Superwoman issue reminded me of her late Silver Age period, this one felt like something Cary Bates or Elliott Maggin might have dreamed up for the Bronze Age, like for Superman #400. Having different people sound off on what makes Superman special can come across like strawman arguments for the author to knock down, but I thought this story conveyed the slippery notion of “faith in Superman” fairly well.

Shane Bailey: I’m a sucker for Warworld and bearded Superman, so I was really into this. I’m also super into stories where regular people sit around and talk about Superman, so this worked on multiple levels. It did remind me of Superman #400 — you’re right, Tom — and that’s a good thing to be compared to.

I wasn’t as into the other stories as much as the main one. It was a bit weird to see Mr. Miracle again; you would think they would focus on another character and spread the love around, but it wasn’t bad. It was just a bit more of the same we’ve already seen in Future State.

I didn’t really love the art of the Midnighter’s story. The designs in the cyborg creatures were strange and a bit over the top with Gatling guns in their abdomen and stuff like that. The story kind of annoyed me, too, as the cliffhanger has been done a lot and  when one of the few gay couple in comics are constantly broken up or turned evil, it gets pretty old. Is that just me?

Anyway, the final story with the Black Racer was fun, and I like that they are giving the identity to a new character here, but I’m still waiting for her to do something Black Racer-ish? I was interested enough to want to know more, though it was just a bit thin.

JK Parkin: I’m not sure if the new Black Racer will end up having powers or a purpose like the original, or will have some sort of connection beyond the name. But I liked her origin story probably the best of the stories in Worlds of War. Maybe we’ll find out she’s the Black Racer’s daughter — we already know he has a son, so I guess that’s possible. Maybe when he gets around the universe, he really gets around … 

The main story wasn’t bad, but as Tom pointed out, it does feel like something we might have seen before — at least the vigil happening on Earth. It will be interesting to see if they follow what’s happening with the Superman cult on Earth, or if they’ll just stay focused on Warworld in future issues. And I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out that this issue had Superman, Mister Miracle and Black Racer all in space, which did make me think of Jack Kirby more than once while reading it.

Immortal Wonder Woman #1

Featuring Wonder Woman by Becky Cloonan, Michael Conrad, and Jen Bartel; and Nubia by L.L. McKinney, Alitha Martinez, Mark Morales and Emilio Lopez

JK Parkin: I believe the last comic we have to talk about from week three is Immortal Wonder Woman, which also includes the Nubia back-up. What did you guys think?

Tom Bondurant: The lead story felt like it was checking in from an entirely different big-event crossover. I don’t think I groaned aloud on the first page, because basically from the first panel I realized she was in the Batcave. Still, it’s not a great start for your “Wonder Woman at the end of time” story when the first thing she does is get validation from Batman. That, plus the Swamp Thing scenes, put me in mind of Death Metal, and you’ll excuse me if I’m a little Death Metal-ed out.

However! I thought the story recovered from that awkward beginning, and turned into a more mythologically tinged setup for the end of the big Darkseid battle. Jen Bartel’s art was good throughout, whether it was in the gloomy Batcave, on sunny Themyscira or fighting Darkseid. Cloonan and Conrad’s script captured Diana and friends fairly well, the Batcave scene notwithstanding. 

Shane Bailey: I have to say I LOVED the art on this book. Bartel’s art pops of the page, and the colors are so vibrant. I love the look and style of this book. I did feel a bit thrown into the deep end here like you said, Tom. It did feel like another event almost, and it did recovery quickly, so I agree there, too. By the end of the issue, I was anxious for the next issue.

I’m a big Cloonan fan, though, so I expect a bit more from her and I don’t know if this lived up to my high expectations. She sometimes has some slow burn scripts and this may be one of them. I’m on for the next issue for sure to find out.  I enjoyed seeing Nubia, too. I honestly don’t know much about the character, so I’m excited to follow her adventures here.

Tom Bondurant: I liked the Nubia story as well. Between it and the Yara Flor Wonder Woman, DC is making the most of this particular legacy. Like Yara, Nubia arrives pretty much fully formed, with an easy-to-grasp backstory and a good use of a relatively new Amazonian villain. There’s also some similar thematic material tying into DC’s overall mythological history. However, Nubia is distinct enough from Yara that the two don’t seem redundant. All of these Future State tales tend to come with an infodump, so I appreciated how efficient this one’s was. I also liked the downbeat cliffhanger, which ended this installment on an unexpectedly wry note.

JK Parkin: That’s a good point, Tom; of the three Trinity members, Wonder Woman has always had a less prominent “family” than Batman and Superman, if you start adding up the Superboys and Robins and Nightwings and Supergirls and what have you. So it’s good to see it expand in two interesting directions, thanks to Future State. I thought the introduction of Nubia was nicely done.

As for the main story, Bartel’s art was definitely the star here. I honestly didn’t make the Death Metal connection until you mentioned it here, Tom, but I did find it odd that this story, which takes place so far in the future, started with the Bat Cave. I don’t know if I buy that it would still be around, at least not in the form in which it was presented. That being said, I liked the end; setting up potentially bad-ass, epic battles is something I think Cloonan does well.

Shane Bailey: I think that’s a great point about Yara, Diana and Nubia, and I think that’s why I like Future State so much despite its flaws. It seems to be a return and a celebration of the legacy aspect of the DC universe, which has, since the Silver Age, been it’s defining characteristic for me — the fact that the hero identity is iconic, but is filled by distinct people. Green Lantern is iconic, but you fall in love with Kyle or Jessica or whoever. Flash is iconic, but you fell in love with Wally or Barry or Bart…

I feel like the Wonder Woman area of the DC Universe has that now and they can all coexist. There’s literally someone for everyone between Diana, Yara, Nubia, Donna or Cassie.

JK Parkin: So that wraps up the third week of the event, with one more to go before we cover all the titles. Any overall thoughts on the event thus far, before we move to the fourth and final week?

Tom Bondurant: Overall it’s been fun. For me there’s only been one real clunker (Flash, sadly) and a lot of the darker books still don’t seem that gratuitous. I came into it thinking it would be a somewhat disposable two-month vacation from the main line, but it’s been a nice showcase for a lot of diverse takes.

Shane Bailey: I think I have the same takeaway, Flash was the only real book I didn’t like (Stop the Wally abuse!) But overall I think it’s a success and I really like the return to a theme of legacy and families of characters in the DC Universe. I’m really glad this timeline will be continued after the event.

JK Parkin: You have to wonder if Future State: Gotham will be the only spinoff coming out of this. And while I don’t think Flash is the only clunker — both Superman of Metropolis and Shazam! didn’t really work for me — I do agree that overall the event has been fun.

We’ll back next time to wrap up our look at all the Future State first issues — stay tuned!

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