Welcome To The Future Part 1: Future State Batman

This week DC comics wrapped up the entirety of their Future State initiative (minus a single issue of Superman Vs. Imperious Lex), and while I am well known as an indie comic reader and reviewer, I am also a deeply devoted DC fan, and I’ve been following the Future State titles from the beginning. Also, as an indie fan, I was very excited to see a lot of new, indie talent given a chance to play with these characters. As such, I’ve decided to take a little break from indies, and give my thoughts on the good, bad, and ugly of Future State. Was it worth it? Did we learn anything? Is there anything we can take away from this event? Well loyal reader, let’s dig into part one and find out.

Now, let me start off by being fair. There was a lot of behind the scenes stuff going on for years to bring us to Future State. I’m not going to go into a long and detailed backstory of the multiple waves of DC firings, including Editor Dan Didio. I’m not going to try to justify the 5G push, its eventual failure, its rebirth as Future State or its place as a pseudo-follow-up to Scott Snyder’s latest iteration of his Metal storyline.

No, I want to look at Future State as its own thing, free from all the baggage. In many ways this was supposed to be the new direction for the DC universe, and I want to address it as that. If this was the future of DC comics, would we be in good hands? Let’s find out.

I’ve broken this list down into three categories, and for each book I’ve included a brief summary and my thoughts about it, and maybe help you find something worthwhile to read. There will be spoilers as we go so be forewarned.

The Bat Family Books

Now, before we get into these titles I just wanted to take a moment to say that overall, even though not every book in this line was a winner, I liked a lot of what I read. I like the idea of mainstream books shaking things up and playing with continuity, and I like the idea of moving the characters forward, both in terms of time and age, as well as in terms of breaking the circular storytelling trap DC seems to constantly find itself in.

Death means nothing in DC, because eventually everyone get’s brought back. It’s no wonder that Batman is so hurt by the death of his parents, since they appear to be the only people in the DC universe who have never come back to life (No, Flashpoint Thomas Wayne doesn’t count, but boy did Tom King want him to).

But it’s not just death that is meaningless in DC, because really, nothing truly matters. Whatever anyone does with any character in their story arc, at the end of the day they always have to put the toys back in the box so the next writer can start from the same place.

It’s frustrating and repetitive, and explains in a big way why the majority of long time comic readers don’t leave books because they hate the story or the character, they leave because they get bored. Unless you’re James Tynion IV, you can only watch Batman punch the Joker so many times before you reach a point where nothing matters anymore. I hated Bendis’s run on Superman so I dropped it. When asked by the owner of my LCS about it, I told him it didn’t matter because I’d jump back on with the next guy, who would inevitably do everything in his power to undo everything Bendis had done, and just go from there.

What’s particularly frustrating for me about this is that at the end of the day there is no reason for DC to do this. They already have a reset built into their universe, the almighty Crisis, that can come along and reset everything itself anyways.

Why not allow the characters to really grow, change, evolve, die, and pass on their legacies, and then every 10 or so years do a reboot if they need to, where they keep what worked, and reset what didn’t? I’m oversimplifying of course, and I am well aware of the financial incentives to keep these characters static, but there’s a reason that DC, with all the power of Warner Brothers, and Marvel with the power of Disney, are incapable of garnering more than 30% of the comic market share each, and that’s because even their newest, freshest books tend to feel stale. There’s a reason Injustice and DCeased sold so well and gained so much praise and that’s because they actually had stakes. Characters lived and died, the world changed, and you didn’t know what was going to happen from issue to issue. It was fresh and wonderful, and it’s what DC should be doing.

And that takes us to the best of Future State. At its best Future State showed us the potential inherit in the DC Universe. Characters can grow and evolve. Titles can be passed down from generation to generation, and it can work, well! Not all of these were the very finest in storytelling, but they all did something new and wonderful and deserve a chance to keep going. So let’s get into it and talk about the best that Future State offered

When Future State was released, it was broken up into 3 “families.” There was the Bat family, The Superman family, and the Justice League family. While there was some crossover between them, these worlds did stay fairly self contained, due in part to time jumps and continuity hoops. As such, I’ll be reviewing each set of family series as both individual issues and as a whole. Up first, the Bat Family.

The Good

Harley Quinn (2 issues)

Here’s the blurb from DC: In a bold move that rocks Gotham City, the Magistrate has imprisoned Harley Quinn! The villain once known as the Scarecrow, now a pawn of the Magistrate, taps into Harley’s knowledge of Gotham’s villains and the Black Mask Gang for his own dark purposes. Crane and his bosses think they have Harley Quinn defeated and her spirit broken, but they are sorely mistaken-and Harley will have her revenge. Written by rising star writer Stephanie Phillips and drawn by fan-favorite artist Simone Di Meo, the next era of Harley Quinn begins here!

I’ll be honest, Harleen is one of my favorite characters of all time, so I feel especially protective of her, and always hold my breath a bit when a new author takes her on. So it was with no small amount of trepidation that I read through these first two issues, written by Stephanie Philips, who had already been announced as the new ongoing author of Harley’s upcoming 4th series.

The Verdict? It’s rock solid.

Philips gets this character. I’ve made no secret about my dislike for a lot of what has been done with her character in the past. Harley is one of the few DC characters that I feel has really been given a chance to evolve beyond her original concept. Still, despite the growth she has shown over the years, there is always a strong faction of her fans that wants her to return to her villainous roots (including a worse sub set that wants her to go back to the Joker, which, I’ll be honest here, if you like the character of Harley Quinn, that is literally the worst thing you can wish upon her).

Philips though, leans on a different part of Harley’s backstory, her work as a psychiatrist and criminal expert, and gives us a Harley who proves that even though everyone doubts her, she is frequently the smartest person in the room. Seeing Harley as a master manipulator, using her brains to help hunt down criminals and bring them to justice, well, it warms my heart and gives me hope for the character’s future. I really liked this two part story, and really hope that Philips brings a lot of this same interpretation to her series. Will she be able to keep that fire alive? Only time, and no doubt my wallet, will tell.

Catwoman (2 issues)

Here’s the blurb from DC: Masked vigilantes have been deemed illegal, and the Magistrate has commandeered a bullet train to take those they’ve captured to a reformation facility-and filled the rest of the train with innocent children! Catwoman is hellbent on ensuring it never reaches its destination. Armed with a new magnetic suit, assisted by her trusty band of Strays, and featuring Catwoman’s new protégé, she must pull off the impossible: a train heist where she steals…the train itself! But Selina isn’t the only person aboard who has plans for this train and its most unexpected passenger!

This series does a very nice job of a few critical things. For one, it builds nicely upon the current Catwoman series, where Selina has returned home to reclaim her spot as a protector of a new batch of “strays.” This series also, unlike some I’ll talk about later (I’m looking at you Flash), shows a real understanding of what makes a Catwoman story work, and how, like Harley, Selina is best when allowed to show off every aspect of her abilities. She’s tough, smart, and vicious when she needs to be, and that’s the Selina I love. Catwoman always wins because she’s thought out every eventuality ahead of time, and even when confronted by an absolutely world changing shock, she can roll with the punches and still come out on top.

Plus the new costume she has for the series is wonderful, and much more realistic than what she is sadly sporting in her current series. If nothing else makes the jump from this 2-parter, I really hope the art direction does.

It’s a nice, compact Catwoman book and should definitely be on the reading list of any Catwoman fan.

Nightwing (2 issues)

Here’s the blurb from DC: Batman is gone! Now, Nightwing has taken on the mission of keeping the citizens of Gotham City safe from the Magistrate. But to do that, he’ll have stay one step ahead of the Magistrate! And you know things have gotten bad in Gotham when the safest place for Dick to hide out is the abandoned Arkham Asylum! When Nightwing gets a visit from a mask claiming to be the new Batman…does he fight like one? Pick up this dark peek into the future by writer Andrew Constant and artist Nicola Scott to find out!

As I believe I have said before in previous columns, I have never been the biggest Nightwing fan. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike his character, but there has been a bizarre push from DC, ever since New 52, to get readers to dislike him, and even if I was predisposed to like his character before, that effort has made him hard to get behind. I wasn’t that into his character pre-New 52, and have felt little interest in him since.

All that being said, there was a time that I did really get behind the character, and that’s when he took over for Batman and partnered with Damian as the new Batman and Robin. Right off the bat (heh, bat) I am a sucker for generational heroes. Wally West, Jamie Reyes, Star Man, Star Girl, give me a character taking up a mantle and I am a happy boy. Nothing breathes fresher life into a character for me than trying to live up to/ escape a mentor’s shadow, and I am always here for that. It’s not only a great way to move the plot forward and update the characters, but it also adds a new dynamic to a character that might have grown stale, and to be honest it can give a real shot in the arm to characters that need a boost.

And really, in a lot of ways, that was the motivation at the core of Future State, to push these characters forward and give them a fresh start, and in some cases a fresh face. Does it work all the time? Absolutely not, but when it does, I feel it can change everything for the better and bring in new readers at the same time.

This Nightwing 2-parter does a great job showing how Dick would respond to the loss of Batman, and how he quickly assumes a leadership roll equal to, if not greater than, Bruce ever did. It’s nice to see Dick as a leader and really, between the Titans and this series, I wish we saw more of that in the future.

I completely understand that people love Nightwing as a solo character, but let’s be honest, Dick works best when he is in a position of power. He needs to be challenged and to have conflicted feelings about his leadership, and that shows in this book. Dick makes a much better mentor than Batman ever did, which is why I loved his run as as Batman, and I really, really want to see more of that in the future.

Which I hope you all remember when we eventually get to my breakdown of the absolute garbage that was Future State Teen Titans.

The Bad

Now, a quick note here before I dive into the bad. By bad I don’t mean that the book is terrible, or shouldn’t be read. What I mean is that the book had too many flaws for me to recommend it, and that it had a lot of problems that outweighed the positives. I also know that there will be a lot of disagreement about this from my readers, so I look forward to reading your comments in the comments!

Batman: Dark Detective (4 issues)

Here’s the blurb from DC: The world thought Bruce Wayne was dead. They were dead wrong! (Sorry, me interjecting here. That’s not even a pun. What is that? Come on DC) When the sinister para-military organization known as the Magistrate seizes control of Gotham City, the original Batman went big to put them down…but even the Dark Knight couldn’t predict how far this evil force would go to stop him. Now, Bruce Wayne is on the run! From Eisner Award-winning writer Mariko Tamaki and rising star artist Dan Mora, it’s the story of a Batman pushed to the brink—with nothing left to lose.

To begin, the premise of this book is really flawed. Wait, let me back up a bit. The entire premise of the entire Bat family series is flawed. Yeah, let’s start there.

See, here’s the problem. There is a strong faction of Batman fans that want him, desperately want him, to be Daredevil. They want Batman to be a gritty, street level crime fighter, with nothing to help him besides his wits and fists.

The problem with this is that Batman has NEVER been a gritty, street level hero. He’s always been a billionaire who has a vast armada of weapons, tools, tech, and sidekicks to help him. He’s on the frickin Justice League. He has fought aliens and super villains, and while he is a great crime solver and hand to hand fighter, he spends more time using tech to defeat the bad guys than he does through his fists.

Batman himself has said he’s not the best detective in the world!

And yet, people want him to be Daredevil, so our writing team has him lose his fortune, has the majority of his tech and his money stripped away, and the result is…this. A broke, isolated Batman that spends all of his time on his back foot trying to get a grip on what’s going on, and desperately trying to play catch-up through the whole series.

Taking Batman’s tech away doesn’t show us how great he really is, it shows us how dependent upon that tech he’ll always be. The whole reason Batman has a Bat-Family is because, as we have been shown time and time again, an isolated Batman is a worse Batman, not a better one.

And yet here we are, with a Batman whom everyone thinks is dead (except for the tons of people who know he’s alive and yet either don’t tell the others or just don’t seem to care), totally isolated from his family, for, reasons? Yeah, never really get’s explained much. Also, in a police state with camera’s everywhere, he walks around with no disguise, even though he would be the most wanted man in Gotham? Maybe? But he’s dead?

This series was the most flawed of the entire Bat Family run, because it really wasn’t needed. If DC had the courage of their convictions they should have just killed Batman off for real and had the rest of Gotham deal with that. Instead, by pulling back we get this half hearted pseudo series that raises more questions than it answers, and ultimately causes more problems than it solves.

But I will say, the art is solid. And the story itself would not be terrible as a stand alone Elseworlds tale, but taken together as part of the entire Future State line, it just doesn’t make any sense.

The Next Batman (4 issues)

Here’s the blurb from DC: Gotham City has always been dangerous, but now, it’s downright deadly! Following the tragedy of “A-Day,” the mayor allowed the private law enforcement group known as the Magistrate to take over policing so-called mask crime—and that has given rise to a new Dark Knight! What is this mysterious crimefighter’s connection to former Batman weaponeer Lucius Fox? The fight for justice has never been this dangerous!

So, let’s address the elephant in the room right away. Perhaps no book in the Future State line-up garnered as much pre-fan hate as this book. Some of that hate was deserved, and a lot of it wasn’t. Let me be very clear here, Jace Fox is not a bad Batman, and honestly his part in the Justice League series was probably my favourite part of that book. I do not have a problem with generational heroes, as I previously said, but yeah, overall this book has issues.

The biggest issue is that it tells the wrong story. We are meeting Jace as an already fairly well established, if not extremely unfocused, Batman. Now, joining a DC character halfway through being a hero isn’t too unusual, but for a brand new character, well, it adds an extra level of confusion to an already confusing plot.

What would of worked better would have been to share Jace’s first story, how he became Batman, what drove him to do this and how he got the gear he got along the way. This is the first time a lot of people would have even met the character, and seeing him make the decision to be a hero like this is something that really is needed if you’re going to get new readers on board.

Instead we get a very disjointed tale with bits and pieces of Jace’s story, none of which really gel together in a way that tells a satisfying story. If we had previously established who he was and how he got to be where he was, it might have worked better, but like this we get a glimpse at something that could have been great, but ultimately failed.

This title is where a lot of the Future State cracks started to show for me, since this supposedly was going to be one of the core books of the new line, and Jace was going to be a central figure. The readers needed to understand his motivations early, and not try to drip out bits and pieces of back story about him as we go. If this was an ongoing series, yeah, take the time to play out his origin, but as a pseudo mini-series, well, it just doesn’t work as well as I’d like it to.

Robin Eternal 2 issues

Here’s the blurb from DC: Lazarus Resin is on its way to Gotham City, and the Magistrate intends to use this regenerative super drug to make its forces immortal! That is, unless Tim Drake has anything to say about it! Join the ultimate heist at 20,000 feet as Robin and Spoiler hijack the sky convoy that could mean the end of freedom in Gotham forever-if the emotional baggage between Tim and Stephanie doesn’t do them in first! It’s the fist-flying, sky-diving, robot smashing, fascist-punching adventure that you cannot miss-from rising star writer Meghan Fitzmartin (Supernatural) and top artist Eddy Barrows (Detective Comics)

I really went back and forth over where to go with this one. I really enjoyed the first issue, and I don’t hate issue 2, but at the end of the day this series just had too many flaws to overlook, especially with regards to the premise.

Now, as I have said before, I really like it when the Big 2 take risks. Either they pay off amazingly, or are utter failures, but spectacular ones that make life more interesting.

The premise of this series is that Tim Drake dies, and then is brought back as a semi-unstable super powered Robin. The premise is interesting, but ultimately I feel it is not sustainable.

New 52 and beyond have been really tough on Tim. Several of the higher ups at DC don’t like him, not because there is anything wrong with him as a character, but because of what he represents to Batman, namely how old Bruce is. For Bruce to have trained Dick, had him grow up, trained and lost Jason, and then trained Tim, well, let’s just say that if he didn’t already have a number of hot rod sports cars, he’d definitely be at the age where he’d be looking to buy one.

Add into that Damian as the current Robin, and Tim becomes one Robin too many (or Red Robin, which I’d say is a dumb name, but, I mean, Blue Beetle, Green Lantern, Red Tornado. Color names are a DC favorite). As such, a lot of writers have struggled to figure out what to do with him as of late, with Bendis kind of trying to do something new with him, and, yeah, not my favorite revamp.

But this series goes one step beyond and just straight up kills him, and brings him back with Lazarus pit resin, that somehow brings robots to life, I guess, and then if people get into it it brings them back, but as crazy people with super powers, but Tim is fighting it but also hallucinating Batman and, and, and,

I’m sorry, it’s just a bridge too far. I get that every Future State Bat book can’t just be people fighting but long term, where would be go from here? Either Tim would be forever changed into a super soldier, which, fine, ok, I’d be curious to see that, or, the more likely option, he’d spend the entire series trying to save himself and return to normal.

Either way, it would fundamentally change his character. Again, I’m not always opposed to that, but for me this book just didn’t work.

The Ugly

So, the good news is that I don’t really have a single issue in the Bat Family series that I thought was totally terrible. That will not be the case with the next two volumes. However I will say that where this series really did poorly was with the backup stories. I’m not going to spend my time going in depth about all of them, but, well here’s a quick list:

Arkham Knight story: Weird cult of villains trying to be heroes. We already have Suicide Squad, don’t need this. Creepy and confusing.

Red Hood/ Ravager story: Do any Red Hood stories not involve women throwing themselves at him? Maybe, I’ve never been a fan so I claim ignorance.

Oracle/ Batgirls Arkham rescue: When does this even happen? How does the Harley in this story fit in with the others? Also I get that Babs is smart, but to run a computer off her brain? Meh. I want more Cassie stories, but not like this.

Grifter: Poor Jim Lee. One day people will love your boy. One day.

So there you go folks, Part One of my Future State Review. Join me next time for the Superman Family series, which, I have to warn you ahead of time, will not be nearly as glowing, despite having a few bright spots.

Until next time!

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