Warning: This review contains some spoilers for Future State: Batman/Superman #1
When a new street drug with potentially permanent, gene-altering side effects hits the streets of Metropolis, Superman decides to trace it back to the source: Gotham. Unfortunately, the Man of Steel’s investigation yields more questions than answers when Batman reveals the Magistrate’s occupation of the city. With Mayor Nakano’s draconian enforcers monitoring every move, purchase, interaction, and word out of their mouths, the citizens are desperate for the miracle serum that can hide their faces. Now, a new False Face Society armed with this drug has emerged to combat this system of oppression. Will the World’s Finest unmask the False Face Society and reveal the secrets of their serum. Or are things…
“… more convoluted than I expected.”
Gorgeous and captivating, Future State: Batman/Superman #1 is a mystery that will leave you begging for more. With this issue, Gene Luen Yang has crafted an enthralling story centered thematically on the notion of identity. Yang’s excellent work on Superman’s character is on full display in this book, as the writer juxtaposes the Big Blue Boy Scout’s beliefs against those of Batman and the False Face Society. Unfortunately, there are a few issues with dialogue and Batman’s characterization that prevent this issue from achieving perfection. Regardless of the narrative’s strengths, Ben Oliver’s artwork and Arif Prianto’s colors are the true stars of this issue.
One thing is undeniable after opening the cover of Future State: Batman/Superman #1: it is beautiful. Oliver and Prianto’s artwork enthralled me from the opening panels. Batman has a permanent scowl that is so iconic for the character. This look appears to be achieved through blending shades of colors and without heavy black ink. This technique gives this book a sense of realism. It is incredibly excellent when Oliver and Prianto render the False Face Society with their animal disguises, rats growing super-powered eyeballs on their backs, or the dynamic action sequences. However, I find that the team’s work is even more impressive during Superman’s quieter moments, as their work perfectly captures each character’s emotion.
Throughout the issue, Gene Luen Yang provides the reader with new opportunities to glimpse Superman’s exploits. When I consider the Man of Steel’s traditional adventures, I’m reminded of his feats of strength. In some instances, Superman is catching a runaway train that is careening toward a distracted child. In others, he is lifting an entire continent made of kryptonite. Yang chooses to open the mystery with Superman’s rescue of a teenager attempting to commit suicide. However, instead of serving as another exploit in the character’s heroics, Yang expertly uses the moment to propel the narrative forward and show another side of the superhero.
On the following pages, we witness Superman serving as a counselor for the young man. Superman does not scold the young man for his choices, but instead acts as an empathetic listener for his problems. Here we are privy to a moment in which the teenager’s desire to hide clashes with Clark’s choice to make his identity public. It’s a thread that connects the overarching story while also making it relatable to the reader. In this sequence, Oliver and Prianto perfectly capture the teenager’s distress and the Man of Steel’s compassion. It’s a quieter moment that I feel is rare for a Superman comic. However, it will stick with me long after reading Future State: Batman/Superman #1.
“Batman, I didn’t realize how bad things had gotten. Why didn’t you contact me?”
From here, Yang gives us a captivating mystery as Superman and Batman investigate the False Face Society and their serum. As Clark’s new status quo without a secret identity frames the entire conflict, it provides entertaining tension between the two lead characters. Batman’s belief that some heroes do need masks, as well as the False Face Society’s use of the serum to hide their identity to fight oppression, serve as an excellent counterpoint to the Man of Steel. This tension gives the story extra meat to sink your teeth into.
Additionally, the reveal that the Magistrate is working with a certain professor within the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery has me excited for future installments of Future State: Batman/Superman. The foreshadowing of this villain’s inclusion through his use of another identity is subtle and entirely on point for this story’s theme. However, it does make me question the true nature of the False Face Serum and its potentially permanent side effects.
Unfortunately, Yang’s characterization of the Caped Crusader is a relative weakness for the issue. As Batman “hrm’s” his way through the False Face Society investigation, everything feels very one-dimensional. Additionally, for characters who view themselves as friends, and sometimes brothers, Bruce’s internal dialogue feels off. In some instances, he refers to Clark as an ally. As I could see Bruce using this term to distance himself from others during conversation, I always felt his internal monologue would refer to him as a friend. It’s a subtle difference, but something that I think misses the mark.
Ultimately, Future State: Batman/Superman #1 is gorgeous and captivating. With this issue, Gene Luen Yang has crafted an enthralling story centered thematically on the notion of identity. Yang’s excellent work on Superman’s character is on full display in this book. Unfortunately, Bruce’s characterization feels a bit off. Regardless of Yang’s work with characterization, Oliver and Prianto’s artwork are worth the price of admission alone. Additionally, Yang’s reveal that the Magistrate is working with Gotham’s villains has me entirely excited for the next issue.
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