Review: Future State: The Next Batman trade paperback (DC Comics)

March 6, 2022

 ·  6 comments

As my first foray into “Future State,” the collection Future State: The Next Batman is pretty good. I can’t promise high art here, and the adage applies that if it’s not great, at least there’s a lot of it.

In this way, purposefully, The Next Batman collection follows the pattern of certain latter Dark Nights: Death Metal collections before it: an anthology of stories, often starring fan-favorite characters, but created by newer or less-often-seen writers and artists among the DC Comics set. Entirely speculation on my part, but I’d guess for DC this accomplishes keeping certain characters in play and/or giving concepts “tryouts” for full series pickup (Next Batman’s “Batgirls,” for instance), while maybe not having to pay as much as for a dedicated endeavor by their Tynion or Williamson tier?

Anyway, it works for me — mildly interconnected stories, a quasi-future setting with shades of Armageddon 2001 or Futures' End, and enough sense that none of this is meant to be the be-all and end-all that even if Spoiler or Poison Ivy seem slightly off character, at least it’s there’s a story with Spoiler or Poison Ivy. Another good comparison, in that vein, is the Tangent series of books (which were devoutly “Elseworlds”) — enough similarity to enjoy your favorite heroes, enough difference to satisfactorily take the good and leave the bad.

[Review contains spoilers]

The showpiece, as the name implies, is John Ridley’s four-part “Next Batman” story. This is quite fine, with an interesting conflict in that new Batman Tim “Jace” Fox is not so much trying to stop bad guys as to protect both the good and bad from Gotham’s totalitarian police force the Magistrate, who targets anyone in a mask. In the end, this sees Batman ferrying a couple masked “criminals” (really parents who killed their child’s murderer) over to the actual Gotham PD through a Magistrate gauntlet. There’s shades and gradations of “good” and “bad” throughout that Ridley layers well and that I’m eager to see continue into his further Next Batman work.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Perhaps knowing he’d have room to tell more Next Batman stories, Ridley is surprisingly light on details here in terms of how Jace became Batman, where he gets his wonderful toys, and so on. The conclusion — after Jace-as-Batman has to throw a Batarang at his own mother — comes swiftly, and even origins aside, in-story plotlines that you might think would be resolved aren’t, like the question of whether Jace killed someone with his car or who the Gotham vigilante is that’s helping other people commit crimes. I’m not totally sure of the logistics, but any other Next Batman stories that Ridley tells would likely be set before or outside the continuity of this story, so whether Ridley can follow up with, for instance, former officer Whitaker’s involvement remains to be seen.

The seven stories within this book are semi-related, in that they all involve Gotham’s heroes and villains rebelling against the Magistrate, and there are some cross-story appearances (most notable probably is Next Batman appearing in Andrew Constant’s Future State: Nightwing). What notes the writers were given story to story or how well these were understood is yet another matter — it seems to vary sometimes in different characters' dialogue whether the Magistrate is a team or one individual, whether Peacekeeper-01 answers to someone or if others answer to him.

Police commissioner Renee Montoya is in charge in “Next Batman” but seemingly deposed behind the scenes in “Nightwing,” and I’m not sure if that’s a story to be told or a detail that slipped through the cracks. My copy of this book, at least (I’ve heard varying reports), is organized with those two main series in the front and the backups in the back, and so sometimes the sequence of events is off — Barbara Gordon fights with the resistance in “Nightwing,” but has to be rescued from a Magistrate prison in “Batgirls.” Killer Croc ends up with the resistance in “Batgirls” but is off on his own in the later “Arkham Knights.” And there’s a surprising heel turn from Batwing Luke Fox in “Grifters” that seems incongruent with “Next Batman,” not to mention that often in “Grifters” it sounds like Lucius Fox is dead when in “Next Batman” he’s alive.

Among pleasant surprises in Next Batman is Brandon Thomas' “Outsiders” story, which unexpectedly leans heavily on Bryan Hill’s not-particularly-notable Outsiders run (one might have thought they’d go for a Mike Barr iteration instead). It’s hard to take the talks-to-her-sword iteration of Katana seriously after Ridley’s own Other History of the DC Universe, but Hill’s Outsiders character Kaliber makes an appearance, and who ever thought they’d see him again?

Similarly, though Paul Jenkins' operatic narration in “Arkham Knights” grates after a while, also who ever thought we’d see Astrid Arkham again, Peter Tomasi’s much-ballyhooed Detective Comics #1000 era character who disappeared as quickly as she arrived. The “Gotham City Sirens” story is not particularly strong, but it reunites Catwoman Selina Kyle with Slam Bradley! In these ways, we see what giving lots of creators lots of pages can unearth. Art highlights include Nick Derington on the first part of “Next Batman” and Aneke on “Batgirls.” Carmine Di Giandomenico significantly buoys Matthew Rosenberg’s “Grifters” with exceptional splash pages of various explosions.

2.5

Rating

Again, I don’t necessarily think it’s the worst thing that Future State: The Next Batman at times shows its seams. As a reviewer of comics, sometimes the more interesting read is to notice when a rope that a character needs just happens to appear on the ground or when an innocent bystander appears in the middle of the road in one panel and then just vanishes in the next. This is not DC Comics' A-team, by and large, but neither does it have to be; one volume of “Future State” down and I’m enjoying the experimental tone and watching these creators grow.

[Includes original covers, character sketches]

Comments ( 6 )

  1. "Perhaps knowing he’d have room to tell more Next Batman stories, Ridley is surprisingly light on details here in terms of how Jace became Batman, where he gets his wonderful toys, and so on."

    Yeah, that happened on many of the Future State books where the the creative teams knew they'd be staying on their books going into the Infinite Frontier relaunch.

    Books like Robbie Thompson's Suicide Squad, Joelle Jones' Wonder Woman, and Joshua Williamson's Justice League in media res with only bare broad strokes and hints. That left them with narrative fuel to explore how we got there.

    It's actually not unlike the teases some of the Futures Ends tie-in issues did back in 2014.

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    1. I'll be curious to see how that manifests. Plenty of cliffhangers in Dark Detective, too.

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  2. The timeline in Future State varies. It probably would’ve been helpful for DC to spell that out more clearly, although across the slate it becomes easier to see. Bruce Wayne’s appearances in the Batman titles make it clear, too, although that’s probably evident in the other volume as opposed to this one.

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    1. Conclusion I came to after reading Dark Detective was that these stories could all be related to one another but it takes a bit of headcanon to get there. Could Spoiler exit Robin Eternal and end up in Batgirls? Sure, but the reason she is where she in Batgirls doesn't line up with where she exits Eternals. So does it work? Sure. Is it sensible (or seamless)? Eh.

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    2. Re: Making sense of the Timeline issues...

      Times like this is when I employ what I call the 'Tao of Basil Exposition':

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SPk3NjYfmQ

      And as, I said, the Future State stories do at least work as Futures End 2.0 for better and worse.

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    3. Totally. I find things like these interesting, not integral. Wasn't it Grant Morrison who said something like, how can we overlook the giant dinosaur in the Batcave but not minor continuity issues? (Or something. I've totally messed up the quote, I know.)

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