Jace Fox’s turn as the Batman of Future State comes to a close. Batgirls raises the bar for DC’s Gotham line. And Gotham City Sirens finds Poison Ivy with Catwoman, an android and….a dragon? Here’s what you need to know about the fourth and final issue of Future State: The Next Batman.
The Next Batman
When The Next Batman was first announced as part of DC’s Future State event, I was skeptical that a four-issue story would be enough to capture whatever plans writer John Ridley had for the character of Jace Fox. Would it be possible to introduce this little-known character, situate him in a new world, and make readers care? All in four issues?
The answer: not quite. The Next Batman sets up several intriguing threads about Jace’s past and his complicated relationship to the Fox family, but resolves almost none of them. We know that Jace’s parents are key cogs in the neo-fascist Magistrate’s rule over Gotham, but Jace seems to either not realize or grapple with this problem. While in costume, he confronts his mother, but the scene fails to communicate anything new about their relationship because we have still not seen an unmasked Jace ever interact with her. A later scene with the wider Fox family replays many of the same emotional beats we’ve seen before: an injured Fox family member in the hospital and Luke lashing out at Jace.
Ridley spends much more time drawing out Jace’s interior life as Batman, but even then there are gaps. We saw Jace communicate in the second issue with Vol, an Alfred-like figure who knows his secret identity and helps him escape the Magistrate’s agents. We haven’t heard again from this character, even as Jace has found himself in increasingly fraught situations where he could certainly use help.
The most haunting of these moments occurs at the start of this issue when Jace is hiding out at a church with Eric and Sara, a couple whose revenge-slaying of their daughter’s killer leads them into conflict with Jace. The artwork throughout this series from Laura Braga, Nick Derington, and colorist Arif Prianto has been of a piece with Ridley’s idea for Jace Fox as Batman: more “analog” than digital. The style fits Jace’s story well, but feels somewhat discordant when paired with the other Future State Gotham books, which portray a neon-flushed, cyberpunk world.
In this grimy church, the flashiest colors come from the stained glass, which makes for a haunting backdrop once Eric turns on Jace and begins strangling him. That moment ended the third issue and gets revisited in horrifying detail as the opening splash page to this issue. Seeing Jace betrayed like this—and in a brutal manner that visually evokes the racist violence historically inflicted on Black Americans— is incredibly disturbing. Instead of permitting Jace a moment of (deserved) revenge, Ridley uses the moment to reiterate Jace’s nascent—but strikingly resolute—heroism. “They’re scared. They’re desperate,” Jace thinks. “Desperate people do stupid things.”
Jace is not a character that feels fully-realized yet, but moments like that are key to affirming why he is Batman. When an inevitable fight with the Magistrate breaks out later, he makes clear to Sara and Eric that as long as they fight humans, not robots, he has “to hold back.” He might not be Bruce Wayne, but his predecessor’s mandate still applies: Batman doesn’t kill.
For as frustrated as I’ve been at times with the pacing of The Next Batman, I expect the story to read better as a prologue to Ridley’s ongoing work with the character. The good news? We won’t have to wait long to see what that story looks like. Next week, DC releases the first chapter of The Next Batman: Second Son, a digital-first series that answers “the questions behind Tim’s estrangement from Lucius Fox and the rest of the Fox family.”
Batgirls is a delightful comic, rich with compelling character beats and allusions to the broader Future State line. The only question I had after writer Vita Ayala and artist Aneke’s first story was: can they stick the landing? Well, let there be no doubt about that.
While the first Batgirls story explored the detention complex and sketched out Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain’s complicated role in the vigilante Resistance movement, this concluding issue brings Barbara Gordon to the fore. It’s difficult to imagine a Batgirls story without Babs and Ayala knows to not keep us waiting too long for her to join the fun.
Instead of using Barbara’s rescue as strictly a plot device, Ayala wisely shifts the focus of the story to account for Barbara’s presence and her unique skillset as Oracle. A terrific scene near the end of the issue, when Babs confronts a Magistrate guard as Oracle, is a rousing sequence that only works because Ayala has given Barbara space—in such a short amount of time—to remind us what kind of hero she is and what values she holds.
Heroism in superhero comics is often draped in uneasy connections to myth. I can’t say I fully buy the idea of superheroes being our modern-day Greek pantheon, but Ayala’s allusions to the Odyssey work for me here because of their relevance to the plot. It is only when Steph quotes the Odyssey that Cass realizes her longtime friend is on her side. The poem is something of a secret handshake for the Resistance and a rallying cry.
There’s plenty of action in this book and Aneke—with colorist Trish Mulvihill—makes the most of some gorgeous double-page spreads. Drawing the same orange jumpsuits and crowded prison shots can get repetitive, I imagine, so Aneke frequently plays around with panel layouts and backgrounds. One especially great page shows an aerial shot of Cass and the guards pursuing her against a plain, blue diagram of the prison layout. The rigid borders of a comics page can itself be somewhat claustrophobic and that sense of space enclosing on itself is a perfect beat for a story set inside a prison.
As much as I enjoyed the thematic work being done here, Ayala’s superpower remains their ability to mine continuity for the best little moments of dialogue. Cass and Steph’s banter oozes with the weight of their friendship and their deep, abiding respect for one another, despite considerable personal differences. How Dick Grayson, who we know from Future State: Nightwing is leading the Resistance, interacts with Barbara is one of the many indelible moments that will make this issue resonate for me far beyond this two-month event.
Ayala’s story is building upon decades of stories that bear out these characters’ complex relationships over time, but at its heart is a core truth that belies that complexity. In a way, it all comes back to Odysseus. When he arrived home, all of his men were left behind. Steph and Cass do not make that same mistake.
Gotham City Sirens
If there is one theme permeating across the Future State Gotham books, it is this sense that the city’s elite signed a devil’s bargain with the Magistrate. Gotham money funded the group, helped arm them, but ultimately couldn’t control them. Gotham City Sirens won me over in the first issue of its two-part story by exploring the ugly underside of this transaction. With the Magistrate’s Peacekeepers now ascendant, so too are their manufacturers: people like Dax Dilton, a cartoonish tech bro whose company produces a range of dystopian products, including a slate of android domestic servants.
Dee-Dee, a sentient android who escaped from Dilton’s captivity, is the lead character here, but her story stagnates a bit with this issue now that Poison Ivy and Catwoman have fulfilled their promise to treat her to a girl’s night out. Last story’s cliffhanger is dealt with swiftly and our main trio get to relax in a pool before Dee-Dee confronts Dilton in a showdown that works well even if it is overly predictable.
Dilton and his ties to the Magistrate are thematically interesting, but by this late stage of Future State, we’ve seen enough scenes of Peacekeeper-01 issuing threats and the Magistrate’s agents clashing with Gotham’s heroes. Writer Paula Sevenbergen wisely sidelines the villains for most of the story, keeping the dialogue as lively as ever by focusing on the core trio. (There’s not another book on the stands, I’d wager, that manages to fit “Bruce Wayne” and an eggplant emoji into the same sentence.) I only wish we could have spent more time at Slam Bradley’s superhero speakeasy, which was a highlight of the first issue and one of my favorite set pieces from across Future State.
The best set piece in this story involves Rover, Ivy’s plant pet (pet plant?) who gets—shall we say?—a bit of a glow-up, courtesy of artist Emanuela Lupacchino. Scenes like this are what I love most about superhero comics. Sure, it would be cool to understand how the Magistrate is funded. But this is a visual medium and if there’s ever a chance to draw a plant dragon, you got to take it.
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