With approximately 1,427 events across comics publishers every year (not a terrible exaggeration, yeah?), it’s easy to feel jaded or just plain overwhelmed. But with Future State, DC Comics accomplished something all events should but so many never do: present something of actual value. Which is to say, they gave the spotlight to new and diverse creators, introduced new characters, played around with the canon and context of our most beloved heroes, and generally told some great stories.
Was it a totally perfect event? No, especially because as much as this event promised real stakes, it basically boiled down to an extended what-if tale. But that doesn’t mean the last couple months haven’t generated some really great moments in comics. So, our staff put their heads together and selected some highlights. If this kind of storytelling is what comes next for DC, then the future really does look bright after all.
The clear breakout creator of Future State for me was Brandon Thomas. He wrote two of the most engrossing stories in the whole event, which were both able to evolve worlds that readers were already in love with while keeping them grounded in the things that make them who they already are.
Future State: Aquaman might’ve been my favorite title of the bunch because of Thomas’s nuanced characterization of both Andy Curry and Jackson Hyde. Their not oft-seen brother/sister dynamic allowed the issues to be crafted around a more unique mentor/mentee relationship than readers are used to seeing. Plus, the two issues are plotted to perfection with big moments hitting at exactly the right time to make readers’ jaws drop.
Concurrently, Thomas was also writing Future State: Outsiders. Here, he effectively leveraged the historic relationships like those between Black Lightning and Katana in a way that made interesting new situations into fascinating, unmissable ones. And he wraps this character drama in the most balls-to-the-wall fun comic book choices, like Katana’s mech suit and Black Lightning’s new form.
Phillip Kennedy Johnson
Phillip Kennedy Johnson has burst onto the stage as a Superman creator with a sonic boom. Fresh off his critically acclaimed work on The Last God, Johnson crafts a Superman work in Superman: Worlds at War which reaffirms the hope and faith in the human spirit which Clark Kent impresses on readers. The book reads like a mission statement, and an affirmation that Johnson understands what makes Superman special, and what his stories should look like.
The truly star-making performance, though, is when he somehow manages to instill those same values into a story which seems antithetical to Superman. In Superman: House of El, we see a dynasty of warriors that have persisted throughout time, a concept which seems militaristic, cold, and far from the normal human that is Clark Kent. Yet even here, Johnson turns those concepts on their heads to reaffirm who Clark Kent is at his core. He uses this very distance from who Superman is to cause Theand’r to doubt, and then literally has Clark come and reaffirm her.
It’s an absolute master stroke by DC having Johnson take over as writer of both Superman and Action Comics after this. The only thing left to do is see if he can salvage what’s left of Jon Kent’s character.
No one has gotten more positive attention over the course of the event than Future State: Wonder Woman creator Joëlle Jones. While this could be attributed to her fun and energetic writing, or her vibrant artwork which stands nearly head and shoulder above everyone else, it’s really about her creation of Yara Flor.
From the moment Flor was first show in DC’s Future State teaser, readers gravitated toward her. Whether it was her unique, topical background, or her ornate, heroic design, everyone was talking about Flor. This was only compounded by the announcement of a Wondergirl series at the CW, proving DC’s commitment to the character.
But it’s truly Jones who defines Flor, gifting her a spunky sense of humor and a commitment to justice which never wavers. It’s obvious Jones has her pulse on the kind of hero we need today, and she’s gifted us with Flor because of it.
Ram V. is already something of an established name in comics, thanks to his work on genuinely great titles like These Savage Shores and Paradiso. But he really got the chance to step up with Future State, and his work on both Catwoman and Swamp Thing were pillars of the entire event.
The former was a really great way to flesh out Catwoman’s eternal battle between thievery and heroism and set it in the space of a really great, ’70s-style action thriller. The latter, meanwhile, was a huge shot in the arm to a somewhat stagnant concept, and it reframed Swamp Thing in a new, more essential way as we continue to grapple with environmentalism, our endless ignorance, and climate change. And as dynamic as they were, feeling like novel changes for both characters, they retained some core essence.
In that way, Ram V. nailed the whole event’s larger premise: showing us what could be with these characters in a way that felt all too real. The fact that he’s now helming a 10-part series for Swamp Thing only proves that his work rang deeply true. Let’s hope this is the event that really springboards Ram V. onto everyone’s future pull list.
“Titans Together… One last time”
In the midst of the Apocalypse, knock-off four horsemen and all, a ragtag group of leftover Titans, led by Starfire, Dick Grayson and Teen Titans cartoon character Red X, attempt to snatch survival from the jaws of oblivion. In a last ditch effort, Red X uses a modified H-Dial to revive a slew of deceased Titans for one final battle. Tim Sheridan could’ve easily slotted into a breakout creator slot because of this prime storytelling.
The deliberate way in which he sets up the threads of the H-Dial, the now deceased Titans, and the questionable trustworthiness of Red X all crescendo into this beautiful and exciting moment with the aplomb of a seasoned writer in a signature run. He does it in a two-part story for a what-if event.
Seeing a legion of classic Titans return, led by a smiling Wally West and Donna Troy, flanking Red X of all characters, injects a burst of joy into what was an otherwise morbid story. It’s the kind of moment that reminds you that superheroes are about hope in our darkest moments, and no matter how many books try to explore how dark they can be, they’re still used best like this.
An Anatomy Lesson
Forget the fact that the event itself is a reflection of our own world — Swamp Thing takes the cake for best horror moment in the event. What Ram V. and Mike Perkins came up with in regards to how Swamp Thing functions takes the cake, possibly in all comics for the month surrounding this issue. In Future State: Swamp Thing #1, we get a closer look at how Swamp Thing used plants to become more humanoid. We get an explanation and a creepy closer look at how it works thanks to Perkins’ dynamic pencils.
Seeing how Swamp Thing created vocal cords is actually the first thing we see in the series. It’s an unnerving image. It’s also quite fascinating to see creators try to make sense of a plant-based organism mimicking humans. Later in the same issue, we get a look at how Swamp Thing also created muscular function. It’s almost like a police procedural when they cut open a person these scenes, adding a realism to Swamp Thing you can practically feel.
Dynamic Duo it is, then
In a major role reversal, it was interesting to get to see the Next Batman team up with Nightwing. Issue #1 of Future State: Nightwing sets the two up as an odd couple as we see the Next Batman break into Nightwing’s headquarters, but in the end, Dick is impressed with the way Batman handles himself. (Dick didn’t peek under the cowl as he could verify via movement-matching.) Now, Dick is going for a last play against the Magistrate so he has enough time to cover Batman’s escape; it’s refreshing that Batman isn’t letting him just go it alone.
This is the last play and there is a high chance no one could make it out, but these two men are going to stand as heroes together. That was great to see because comics tend to have the trick of one finding a way to prevent the other from going or doing anyhting; think of the old handcuff or knock out gas usage, for instance. While the two are stating their reasons for doing this, it was also great to see how they both hold each other in such high regard. Nightwing is the leader of the resistance for Gotham, but Batman is what is needed to continue perpetuating that sense of resistance and hope.
Then, it just simply comes down to them understanding and admiring each other. The Dynamic Duo is back, and this time it isn’t a knight and his squire — it’s two warriors.
Things To Keep Post-Future State
Yara Flor is without a doubt one of the most exciting developments in all of Future State. While the CW adaptation is not moving forward, that doesn’t mean DC Comics should stop writing the character. In fact, I think they should double down and give this character two books! The fact is, Joëlle Jones has crafted a character with a truly unique attitude for a superhero.
Dan Watters put it best when he spoke to Polygon and said, “I think the real difference between her and Diana is that she’s not a princess or a queen… She hangs out in weird bars with Amazon gods and she’s running around the streets of Brazil and helping people where she finds them.” This is a character that has potential to tell a different kind of superhero story. Luckily, we’re getting more Yara Flor in the new Wonder Girl series, which I hope develops into a Wonder Woman series eventually.
Gone, gone Simian, rise the Demon, Etrigan
In Ram V. and Marcio Takara’s Future State: Justice League Dark, The Demon Etrigan has found himself paired with the Sword of Night-wielding Detective Chimp, instead of his decades-long companion Jason Blood. This has opened up fresh new avenues of storytelling and character growth for The Demon which were not previously available.
In the two-part story here, Etrigan is learning how to make decisions in a story about growing past your mistakes and learning to trust your own judgement. It’s a topical and poignant story which makes The Demon a must-read character in this state.
It also helps fully realize Detective Chimp’s battle with his own demons. Following the death of his friend the Nightmaster, Bobo has had trouble coping, and having this imposing figure to represent that struggle just deepens the ways in which writers can further tell Bobo’s story.
Comics events can be unwieldy. With tons of tie-ins, one-shots, and new miniseries, it can be a lot to digest — and not to mention it’s a burden on the wallet. DC’s Future State is different. Stories, for the most part, are contained to each title and there is no main Future State book to pick up. It isn’t too different from the regular single issues readers would get on any given Wednesday. Instead, the crossover aspects of the event are relegated to the setting, the details in the dialogue and art, and the overarching themes.
For example, the Magistrate has taken hold of Gotham, vigilantism is outlawed, and we never even see it happen. What we do see is how heroes and villains react to the new status quo. “Batman Lives” has been tagged on various buildings throughout the city, Nightwing and Robin both deal with Cybers, and Catwoman and Bruce Wayne have run-ins with the Peacekeepers. No vigilantes means there’s a power vacuum in Gotham, and new gangs pop up in the pages of The Next Batman, Harley Quinn, and Grifters.
To borrow some of the vernacular from Magic: The Gathering, Future State offers readers a ton of “flavor text.” These details are not essential to understanding the plot, but instead they act as dots for the more avid readers to connect without blatantly alienating readers who may only want to pick up one or two books.
As we return to the present-day DC Universe, I’m hoping this kind of initiative can continue and flourish. It’ll take a lot of effort on behalf of the editors and creative teams but I believe that the hard work pays off when you can have richly detailed, but still accessible, worlds for readers to dive into.
Future State isn’t meant to be the definitive next phase for our heroes, and only one of many possible scenarios. But if there’s one future I wanted more than most, it was that of an immortal Tim Drake as depicted in Robin Eternal. Never mind what happened in the actual two-issue story, but the premise alone is amazing. Drake dies, is resurrected by the Lazarus Resin, and becomes a moderately empowered tough guy. I’d love to see an entire series that follows Drake through the ages, still as tough and spry as ever, battling all sorts of aliens or robots or other unseen, futuristic scourges. But if nothing else, it’s just an excuse to keep writer Meghan Fitzmartin on the book; her take on the third best Robin was really fresh and interesting, and gave Drake a greater sense of focus and purpose. Seriously, DC, think Highlander meets 1970s Incredible Hulk, please.
I LOLed At…
Future State: Justice League Trading Cards
I got a kick out of one of the first pages in Justice League #1. Across a villain’s desk, we see all the toys, cereals, and products made in the likeness of the Justice League team. They even get a comic book! Possibly the funniest element is the “Galactic Flakes” but you got to love the trading cards for each character.
Now if we could just flip them over to see their power levels… Josh Williamson and Robson Rocha did a great job with this double page splash.
Nightwing’s Face Mask
In any series that explores the future, there’s always some, how you say, strange fashion choices. And as a rule, the only real WTF choice across Future State was Nightwing’s rather bizarre face mask. At first glance, it looks like a tactical set of head gear, as if he finally decided to correct a nasty overbite. It certainly doesn’t offer any added protection, and any benefits it might have (night vision, communications, etc.) were likely still available in his older, sleeker mask. I get that Nightwing’s whole vibe was as some urban commando, but it was such a weird choice that it almost nearly took away from what was a great story and an intriguing evolution of the character. At least he kept his escrimas, though.
Best “New” Hero
Theand’r of the House of El
If we’re being completely honest, it’s the whole House of El that in many ways deserves this spot. In short order they were able to redefine and yet simultaneously affirm the meaning of the Superman crest behind a cross-generational epic which begets the reader to hope.
Theand’r, in many ways, is the face of that very idea. But, what makes her special is the time she spends contradicting her namesake. She wonders, and she doubts, and maybe for the first time readers can solidly see themselves in the family of Superman.
It’s a moment that solidifies that, even in the far-flung future, what it means to carry the crest of Superman isn’t anything to do with being super or alien. It stands the test of time because of its humanity. Theand’r is the new standard bearer for this essential element of the character, which made generations of readers, across a century, fall in love with Superman.
It doesn’t hurt that she also looks really cool!
The Dark Detective
“But Chris,” you begin to type, “Batman’s already an established character.” And, sure, you’re 1,000% correct, but I’d argue that this is a Batman like we’ve never seen him before. He’s on the run, and presumed dead, having to work without his usual ample resources, fighting against a threat that’s more than capable of taking him down. And if that weren’t enough, Wayne’s also feeling both his sense of age and a not insignificant level of jadedness given his current situation. Sure, some of these elements and ideas have been tossed into the mix before, but Dark Detective really was a way to test Batman on all levels in some new and intriguing ways. And that alone makes this a version of Wayne we haven’t seen, having to use new skills, maneuver through new places, and experience emotions that often just exist at his boundaries.
The whole story wasn’t just about getting back to something essential about Wayne but putting him into a position to express himself and understand his limitations like few other stories have previously provided. On the one hand, perhaps Dark Detective isn’t as “shiny” as some other tales that attempted to test the Bat. (See all of Tom King’s run). It did, however, let us understand the Dark Knight and the man behind the cowl with a heretofore unseen level of intimacy. It’s that new light that will forever color some of Batman’s stories.
Because I’d lose my credibility if I didn’t mention it, Red X totes existed before Future State. He was a major storyline in the excellent Teen Titans cartoon, a costume/identity used in Robin’s battle with Slade. But in Future State, he joined forces with Nightwing to form a badass duo and later hooked up with the full Teen Titans to fight off the end-times.
In a way, he felt like another member of the Bat family: capable, mysterious, and plenty edgy. But add in the fact that we never found out his identity before he sacrificed himself, and Red X takes on new life entirely. Because that decision doesn’t just mess with fans’ emotions, it says something important about Red X himself. He felt less like a ploy or a gimmick but an essential hero, willing to die for the cause, and in the context of this specific story and the Titans in general, it felt especially fitting.
Could X actually be an older Damian Wayne? Yeah, sure, that theory’s as good as any. But even if he’s not, Red X didn’t just die to raise the stakes and create some drama and tension. He existed in a way to speak about the value of the Titans and the dedication of a real hero. We’ll miss you, X — until you return in some other title and/or event.
Best Story (Titular or Backup)
Future State: Green Lantern
With big stories involving Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, it’s easy to see why a Green Lantern story might get swept under the rug. But this tale starring John Stewart was a massively important part of the entire event — not to mention it’s just so damn compelling. Writer Geoffrey Thorne is clearly a huge Stewart fan, and he does a lot to give him the spotlight in a major way. Without spoiling too much, Stewart and a team of Lanterns are stuck on a planet after the destruction of the central core. And so this quickly becomes a tale of warriors fighting with little beyond their wits and commitment to protecting the innocence.
At the end of the story, Stewart finds a new purpose (I won’t say what, but it does involve Orion, the god of warriors) and sets forth on a different path as a savior of good. It’s a slightly pulp-y, old-school exploration of superheroism, a spotlight on what happens when we get to the core of these characters and their commitment to fighting villainy and doing the right thing when everything else would be much easier. It wasn’t the most exciting or dynamic tale, but it felt the most human, a profound exploration of morality in an immoral universe.
In that way, it showed us some real stakes, and made it feel like we were actually fighting for the future and not just looking at some what-if scenarios. Green Lantern didn’t have to be huge or bombastic; it’s a deeper, more poignant metaphor about how we’re all capable of making tomorrow a little brighter.
Future State: Nightwing
The Gotham of Future State looks bleak, horrible, and hopeless; what’s new, right? This time, though, we know for sure that Bruce Wayne isn’t necessarily playing the role of Batman, and the Magistrate and its Peacekeepers have turned the city into a police state. Even the news looks bleak; then again, it is JAK-L news, so there might be some trust issues there. Now, not all is lost as we have our general of the resistance in Nightwing, and he is savvy enough with his “save” in the opening pages, even knowing they were agents to bust him.
This version of Nightwing at first just seems shell-shocked, which was exciting to see (I can’t lie: after a long time of Ric Grayson, it’s nice to see a different Nightwing who still makes sure his hits last). So that bite on him cool enough but we also see that he is a couple of moves ahead. He manages to outwit the Next Batman and the Magistrate for a big set up in issue #2.
When issue #2 does arrive, it was great to actually see the heroes standing on their own. Batman and Nightwing share a great moment and establish a future take on a great tradition, the heroes of Gotham rising to the challenge as a team. Not to mention, the move just generates hope for the whole city. Oracle in costume just makes me super happy because she is the best of all of Barbara’s characteristics, and I hope that becomes something we see in modern Infinite Frontier issues of Nightwing.
The way Nightwing and Batman beat the Magistrate was perfect too; in a tech-heavy future world like this, it’ll be very hard for the Magistrate to walk back those words on film. So if you want to see win for hope in a future police state, plus heroes rising together and the bad guys getting served, then go get these two issues.
Future State: The Next Batman
As a rule, Future State wasn’t really meant to generate controversy. It’s a massive what-if, and given that it’s all about possibilities and taking a “playful” approach to canon, DC had an instant ripcord back to the status quo. But what happened with The Next Batman is that the publisher messed with Batman, and that got plenty of folks feeling some type of way. Luckily, it ended up being an amazing choice for a wide array of reasons. For one, Tim Fox was a great choice for some new level of representation, and his inclusion still felt organic to the Bat family’s dense history.
Yet more than that, The Next Batman felt like an essential Batman story, with writer John Ridley focusing on a more deliberate story of great detective work amid a futuristic police state. The story showed us a different side of Gotham, with the Bane gang in full control, and yet criminals remained a cowardly and superstitious lot. The story’s ending, without spoiling too much, felt essential to the larger focus of Future State but it also emphasized Batman’s role as the savior of Gotham and guardian of its people. Things changed in a huge and scary ways, but Next Batman proved that a great Bat story spans heroes, timelines, aesthetics, narrative goals, etc.
It’s a tale that celebrates its past and embraces its future (which explains why this might be a great springboard for what comes next). It felt like the perfect story to tell in this setting, and showed even the most hesitant of fan that real change can be a good thing. Even if some of us have to be dragged kicking and screaming into a powerful new future.
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