Midway through Future State, the Batman books have come more into focus and Dark Detective, a tale I imagined to be a quirky side adventure, has shown itself to be vital to understanding what brave new world Gotham has found itself in during this two-month event.
Bruce Wayne is dead. No, really. OK, not really. He barely survived an encounter with the Magistrate’s deadly Peacekeeper-01, and now lives disguised in the basement of a conspiracy theorist’s apartment. While a younger generation of heroes leads the Resistance to the Magistrate, Bruce hunts for clues behind the mercenary group’s advanced technology.
Writer Mariko Tamaki (Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me) draws out more of the conspiracy plot in this issue while still setting up some incredible moments for artist Dan Mora (Once & Future) and colorist Jordie Bellaire (Pretty Deadly, The Vision). The way Bellaire colors Gotham in Future State might be my favorite thing about this book. It has the futuristic look of Neo-Gotham in Batman Beyond while retaining the colorful signage of a place like Times Square. Every panel with Gotham in the background looks gorgeous.
Mora has some bravura sequences—especially at the start of the issue, when we see how Bruce faked his death—but some of my favorite pages are when he’s able to sketch out the interior of Bruce’s apartment and show his wacky roommate’s conspiratorial signs littering the walls. That attention to detail is key when situating us in this near-future world that is reminiscent of present-day Gotham while being substantially different in other ways. One of those differences is the omnipresence of phones and other forms of surveillance, which leads to a funny moment where the daughter of Bruce’s roommate brushes aside a nosy onlooker. Letterer Aditya Bidikar has her dialogue triple in size as she urges the interloper to not get on her “LAST NERVE.”
Coming out of City of Bane and Joker War, I was not initially sold on the idea of plunging Gotham into another neo-fascist future. What has helped make the Magistrate compelling for me is the way Tamaki takes time to sketch out the cultural and political roots of this mysterious group of mercenaries. Gotham’s mayor invited the Magistrate to lead the city’s law enforcement for reasons that are still not clear. Even the identity of its leader, Peacekeeper-01, is still shrouded in mystery. What we do know is that Gotham’s elite are profiting off of the Magistrate.
Bruce, a child of old Gotham money himself, necessarily has thoughts about that. His discovery that Wayne Enterprises produced some of the Magistrate’s tech is striking, even if readers already learned that fact from Future State: The Next Batman #2. Tamaki is clearly setting up a confrontation between the two Batmen. Bruce and Tim Fox will have much to discuss as they each grapple with the complicity of Wayne Enterprises—a company founded by Bruce’s family that Tim’s father now runs— in arming Gotham’s overlords.
There’s only one backup story in this issue and it’s a good one. Writer Joshua Williamson (The Flash) has a big Red Hood story planned for after Future State and we get a good taste of it here in a story that shows Jason working for the Magistrate—at least at first. His job as essentially a state sponsored bounty hunter has him cross paths with Rose Wilson, who is doing the same job, and all kinds of classic Red Hood mayhem ensue.
It’s been cool to see how these Future State anthology books share similar themes and visual styles across stories. Bellaire’s colors are the key throughline here. So many of Mora’s panels were bathed in light and neon color, but Bellaire opts to take a more minimalist approach with artist Giannis Milonogiannis (Old City Blues), whose backgrounds are lightly inked and sometimes not colored at all. This style lends a noir vibe to the story and keeps the spotlight on Jason, whose red costume dominates most panels. An early double-page spread shows Jason in pursuit of a vigilante with the motion of his red motorcycle being one of the only colored parts of the page.
Williamson only has two issues to tell this story, so the pace quickens without much delay. Rose is a great counterpart to Jason and their banter reminds me of what we often see in a Star Wars story: two bounty hunters on the chase with a knotty personal history and less certain business future. In this moment, Jason has the moral high ground. He leaves his bounties alive; she doesn’t. Something seems to be motivating him beyond the Magistrate’s money and the appeal of staying out of their detention facilities.
What exactly is he searching for and how will it affect the broader Resistance movement that is playing out in the other Gotham books? We’ll know soon enough with only a month left of Future State.
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