One of the many problems with Future State is the “Elseworlds” dilemma. We are given a story set in a “possible future” of the DC Universe and are asked to care about it, when we know that it will most likely be gone in 2 months and little, if anything, will ever come of it. Additionally, we get introduced to new characters and find ourselves reading about these strangers in place of the familiar characters we’d rather be reading about it. I planned to skip Future State completely, but the lack of comics on the shelf grabbing my attention forced my hand and I eventually began to try a few comics just to see if any of them weren’t so bad.
Future State: The Next Batman #1 isn’t so bad. The biggest problem is the one outlined above: this is a Batman comic without Batman. There is a guy in a Batman suit, but even he questions if he is the real Batman now, which just further cements in the reader’s mind that this isn’t really Batman. When we see who he is, teased by the story to be Luke Fox the former Batwing but previously spoiled by an overzealous PR department to be Tim Fox the… other… son of Lucious Fox, I guess… it doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the story. The real problem is that Tim Fox has no reason to be Batman whereas Luke spent time as a costumed crimefighter in the Bat-Family. Why did writer John Ridley go with Tim over Luke? No clues are given in this story, other than the fact Luke seems to be unreliable now, so I guess he couldn’t be the one. Real clear, isn’t it?
Future State: The Next Batman #1 isn’t all bad. The story and art has plenty of throwbacks to Batman: Year One, so at least you get the feeling that unlike some other Future State books, this team is familiar with the comic books that came before. The art by Nick Derington has a somewhat simplistic feel, but it does enough to convey the dirtiness of Gotham City and the action of the fights. The colors by Tamara Bonavillain strike a good mood and a feeling of depth that the line art often lacks. The two work well together and I hope they are together on future issues, assuming that those issues also work to invoke the early years of the modern Batman mythos.
Unfortunately, Future State: The Next Batman #1 is presented in DC Comics’ new expanded format, meaning it comes with two back-up stories to add to the page count and raise the cover price to $7.99. The lead Batman story is the new industry standard 22 page length, while each of the back-up stories are 20 pages in length with the only non-DC advertising being on the coverstock pages. Honestly, that’s a lot of story for $8.00, but if you only want the lead story and don’t care for the back-ups, you’ll feel hard done to shell out so much money.
The first back-up story features The Outsiders (Katana, The Signal, and Black Lightning) as they attempt to rescue citizens fleeing from Gotham City and take down a former ally who is now working with The Magistrate (the overlord controlling Gotham City and outlawing all superheroes). The story from Brandon Thomas is straightforward and unremarkable, but the artwork from Sumit Kumar, Raul Fernandez, and Jordie Bellaire is fun and energetic, though it can be occasionally goofy. While it might sound like I’m knocking the story and art, I easily enjoyed this entry more than the feature and found the most joy following the action as laid out by the artists. Honestly, if this was a sampler of upcoming titles, I’d most likely buy only The Outsiders and skip the other two, but as an ongoing $8 series, it wouldn’t be enough to get me to buy this title every month.
The final back-up story is about Astrid Arkham, apparently the current head of Arkham Asylum, and vigilante known as the Arkham Knight. The character has previously been established in comics as someone who has the hearts and minds of the Gotham City underworld, so she’s apparently using her talents to turn the psychologically unstable into a superhero team to fight The Magistrate. The art by Jack Herbert and Gabe Eltaeb is phenomenal and easily stands out as among the best you’ll find on comic racks today, but I just can’t find any way to connect to the story by Paul Jenkins. There’s just not enough happening here to make me care about anything going on with these characters. Additionally, all the former villains are each wearing some sort of armor that resembles that of the Knight, making characters like Humpty Dumpty (yes, a big egg-man) look absolutely ridiculous.
Future State: The Next Batman #1 is not the worst comic book in the Future State line-up, but with only one story that actually seems to succeed with the correct mixture of writer and artists, the $7.99 price tag makes it an expensive experiment. The lack of a “real” Batman in a Batman comic book is the book’s biggest fault. With no real connection to Batman, Bruce Wayne, or the 80 year mythos readers have come to expect, I can’t say that I’ll miss this “possible future” when it goes away in the coming months.