In this final issue of Future State: Dark Detective, Bruce Wayne takes on the Magistrate at its headquarters while in Red Hood, Jason Todd goes from hunter to hunted. Let’s talk about some great comics:
At one point in this fourth issue of Dark Detective, Bruce Wayne muses about the nature of endings. “What I know,” he says. “There is no end. Only endings.”
In Dark Detective #4, writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Dan Mora provide an ending that, like most final issues in superhero comics, really serves as a beginning. With the Magistrate zeroing in on Bruce and his off-the-grid hideout, he has limited time to escape and confront the Magistrate’s leader, Peacekeeper-01.
The Magistrate’s all-encompassing surveillance creates a built-in constraint across the Future State Gotham books of time closing in on our heroes. No one is free to fight the Magistrate for long because, within seconds, the group’s cyborg army will descend on you. The constraint might be a bit generic, but it works well for a miniseries set in an alternate timeline. (The most compelling Future State stories, including Batgirls and Catwoman, use a similar framing device.) The logic makes sense within the narrative but also from a creative perspective: if we’re only going to spend a few issues in this alternate future, there isn’t much time to sit around and enjoy the scenery.
That might be true for Bruce and the other characters, but for us readers, Dark Detective succeeds precisely because of the scenery and setting evoked by artist Dan Mora and colorist Jordie Bellaire. Mora nails the cyberpunk aesthetic of Future State Gotham and skillfully ramps up the action in this issue without losing sight of the smaller, character-driven moments between Bruce and Hannah, a Magistrate employee who becomes a whistleblower.
Bellaire, who wins my vote for MVP of Future State, has colored nearly every Gotham book (and other Future State highlights like Wonder Woman) while seeming to never repeat herself or ape some familiar style. Like any great colorist, she suits her style to the particular artist, which in this case means having to navigate some brilliant two-page spreads, full of jagged panels and no shortage of explosions. (Putting Bellaire’s work here side-by-side with what she accomplishes in Red Hood, while working from a completely different art style, is breathtaking.)
If I had to quibble with one thing about Dark Detective, it would be a plot element in this issue that involves a character secretly recording the Magistrate’s leaders. I love the poetic justice of having these masters of surveillance be undone by someone surveilling them, but it’s a near-identical beat to something that plays out in Future State: Nightwing. I actually think the twist works better in Dark Detective, where Tamaki has made the Magistrate’s intrusive surveillance program a more central part of the plot, but readers of both series might find the parallels a bit redundant.
For all its success in telling a self-contained story, Dark Detective is also a tantalizing preview of Tamaki and Mora’s ongoing Batman story, which is set to begin next month in Detective Comics. This pair has been hyped for months and not without good reason. Mora is one of the best artists in comics doing some of his first major work for the Big Two. Tamaki, who will become only the second woman in history to write a main Batman title, is an industry star and easily among comics’ most versatile writers. (Go read Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me or Spider-Man & Venom: Double Trouble if you need proof.)
Even if this four-issue story was the duo’s final word on Batman, it would be a worthy addition to the character’s decades-long history. Lucky for us, it’s not the end at all—just an ending.
Jason Todd is not a character I often associate with the feeling of “delight,” but Red Hood, the two-part Jason story by writer Joshua Williamson and artist Giannis Milonogiannis, is a delightful addition to Future State. It is very much a “show, don’t tell” book befitting a character who is far from verbose.
With Jason not inclined to speak much—and, for a large part of this issue, unable to speak—Williamson focuses the plot around the characters in Jason’s orbit, including Rose Wilson, or Ravager, and the criminal White Rabbit. Milonogiannis gives them all space to breathe, never filling panels with more than two characters at once.
Jason, who began Future State as a bounty hunter on the Magistrate’s payroll, is now a wanted man for reasons he cannot figure out. In Williamson’s hands, the Magistrate is as Kafkaesque as it is all-knowing—no matter how deep its surveillance goes, no one seems to know what the group wants or when its instructions are to be believed.
I’ve been critical of some Future State comics for treating the Magistrate as a faceless entity, whose cyborg agents serve as little more than punching bags for Gotham’s heroes, but Williamson plays with that idea in an ingenious way here. The Magistrate’s layers of bureaucracy serve as a purposeful sleight-of-hand, keeping bounty hunters like Jason and Rose on edge and unable to grasp the mercenary group’s ultimate plan.
With Jason and Rose on the run for most of this issue, we get plenty of cityscapes that reflect Milonogiannis’ unique artistic style, which features far more shading and “feathering” than I’ve seen in most mainstream superhero comics. Bellaire uses color sparingly, only showing the red of Jason’s costume or the pink of White Rabbit’s, without letting it overwhelm Milonogiannis’ more minimalist style. Most panel backgrounds are white—a change from the darkness of most Gotham books—which lends the book a lighter tone, even as Jason is not exactly a light character.
Williamson is a writer who I’ve long admired for his work with some of DC’s more optimistic characters—particularly, the Flash, and elsewhere in Future State, the Justice League. One of the joys of DC’s post-Future State lineup will be seeing how Williamson deals with the darker characters from Gotham, including Damian Wayne and Jason, whose adventures will continue as part of the Future State: Gotham anthology. If Red Hood is any indication, he is more than up for the task.
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