Review: Future State: Gotham Vol. 2: The Next Joker trade paperback (DC Comics)

Story-wise, Future State: Gotham Vol. 2: The Next Joker is hardly the most complicated book DC Comics is putting out; indeed Next Joker fails in delivering the very thing it promises. But no question that as a manga-influenced black-and-white comic, Future State: Gotham is perhaps the most ambitious title in DC’s line right now, the one most unlike anything else they’re offering. And while Dennis Culver’s story is not particularly complex, he gets the characters' voices pretty well, and there’s a mix of unexpected cameos and character updates and Future State world-building that I adore.

I estimate Future State: Gotham’s only got one more volume to go, but I’m very glad DC took a chance on this.

[Review contains spoilers]

Over the course of Next Joker, the book includes Grifter, Punchline, and Hunter Panic (offshoot of Young Animal’s Mother Panic), plus Frankie “Operator” Charles (whom I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen at least since the start of DC Rebirth), the Court of Owls, Tobias Whale, and a nod to Wild Dog. That’s a significant number of characters from across DC continuity and eras, all together without much fuss under the guise of “Future State.”

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

This was great when random characters showed up throughout the original Future State miniseries and it’s great here; it’s not as though DC hasn’t done alt-futures a couple different times already (including Futures End), but I’d venture this feels like one of the best realized. I am hopeful Culver can venture out to Metropolis or other areas of the Future State DCU before all is said and done.

Again, where Next Joker falters is right on the label. It’s a heady thing to lay claim to the “next” Joker, just the same as it is to call someone the Next Batman (whom I like, though the jury’s still a bit out), and I don’t think Culver lands something definitive. Yes, this crazed snaggletoothed thing chomping Grifter’s head off is effective, but after that the Next Joker just becomes a rampaging behemoth (especially when flanked by giant robots) without any more nuance or scare value.

And especially when he’s defeated in the span of a panel at the end of the book, and also given that the very front matter images of this book spoil the actual Joker’s return in the end. There’s a lot of running to one place, fighting, running to another place fighting, and so on, that reduces something as momentous as “Next Joker” to a mere action title.

I’ve written off books for less, but ultimately what keeps Next Joker going is the strength of its art and the palpable fun that Culver and team seem to be having. Giannis Milonogiannis, Nikola Cizmesija, and Geoffo all do relatively good impressions of one another, and for a book that’s primarily fight scenes, at least we get the grayscale, action lines goodness of this book’s unique aesthetic. Culver writes a fine Jason Todd, as nuanced an anti-hero as you might like, and I continue to enjoy Jason’s friendship with Next Batman Jace Fox and also his grudging mentorship of Hunter Panic Jodi Edwards.

Nightwing purists might maybe not be thrilled by the fact that Dick Grayson is hooked on a Venom derivative here. It doesn’t seem particularly in-character to me (we might even say that while Culver’s Jason Todd is good, his mostly background Bat-family reads thin), and psychic powers seems an easy device to move the plot along artificially. That said, however long this sole color sequence was in plan to illustrate Nightwing’s vision, it floored me (worth all of the above), a fine demonstration of restraint leading to strong payoff.

Next Joker ends with a Batgirl Cassandra Cain story from Batman: Urban Legends #7. Again, I wouldn’t complain too much about a manga-style Cassandra Cain story (arguably the style in which all Cassandra Cain stories should be told) written and drawn by Guillaume Singelin. At the same time, this is a Future State story really just in proximity only — it mentions the Magistrate, but Batman’s presence doesn’t make sense; it’s not seemingly Jace, but nor should it be Bruce. There is a distressing lot of DC short story material not being collected right now (for instance, the present-set Next Batman story from Future State: Gotham #2), so I’m glad “Hunter … or Hunted” appears anywhere at all, but I wish it had more actual relevance to the rest of the book. (Again, how is an uninitiated reader supposed to make sense of these contradictions?)



There’s a bit coming up for me with Dennis Culver’s name on it, particularly Justice League Incarnate and some Dark Crisis tie-ins. As I mentioned at the top, given Future State: Gotham Vol. 2: The Next Joker and others, I’m not sure I’ve seen a lot of depth in his writing yet, but it’s certainly bouncy and enjoyable, which goes a long way. And I have a lot of respect for Culver pitching in on this unusual book in DC’s line. I wish the series were lasting longer, but I’m certainly in for the finale.

[Includes original and variant covers]


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