DC’s two-month Future State event kicks off this week. A slate of six debut issues — The Next Batman, The Superman of Metropolis, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Harley Quinn, and Swamp Thing — brings readers to possible futures for some of DC’s most iconic characters.
Three members of the DC Round-Up team — Greg Silber, Zack Quaintance, and Joe Grunenwald — sat down to discuss the first week of Future State titles. Which books worked, and which ones missed the mark?
Joe Grunenwald: The first week of DC’s Future State event is here! After much hype, the event kicks off with six books that span the breadth of the DCU in just about every way imaginable. We’ve talked previously about what we were excited about for Future State, but now that it’s here how is everyone feeling about the event?
Greg Silber: I mostly fell off DC (and monthly comics in general) the past several months, so I was thrilled to have an opportunity to jump back into things with a short event before the big wave of new books coming in March. There’s a lot of talent on these books, but I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that they’re trying to pack too much into a small handful of issues–and the ambitious scope of the “fascist not-too-distant future” exacerbates that.
Zack Quaintance: I’m feeling good about some of the books and a little nonplussed about others. As Greg said, there IS quite a bit packed in, to the point at times I wondered why stories that were gifted an infinite slate immediately bogged themselves down with dense new continuity that will likely never be explored. But! Within that, I found myself enjoying quite a few ideas and stories.
Grunenwald: I agree that this first week of titles is definitely more of a mixed bag than I’d hoped it would be. I agree with Greg that there’s a lot of info packed into these books, which makes a certain sense considering they’re two- or four-issue series. There’s not really a lot of time to fart around here. When they’re executed well, I like books that drop the reader into the middle of things and force them to have to play a little catch-up. A couple of the books here did that exceptionally well, whereas others missed that mark for me (in one case by several miles).
Silber: Yeah don’t get me wrong, there was a lot to enjoy here. Some books may be executing their big ideas better than others, but it’s exciting to see superhero comics dive right into it, throwing wild stuff at the reader and demanding they keep up. It often feels quite Silver Age, in that way.
Quaintance: I’m going to ask you to name names with the book you didn’t like, Joe, even though I’m fairly certain it’s The Flash…
Grunenwald: I strongly disliked The Flash. But I’d rather talk about the books and stories that we think are working first. Which books did you enjoy?
Quaintance: I absolutely loved Swamp Thing. Ram V has been a favorite writer of mine from his indie work for a while, and it’s been a treat to see him thriving at DC, both in this context as well as the work he’s done previously on Justice League Dark and Catwoman. The teaming with Mike Perkins here is a strong one, and as a result, I came way interested not just in the rest of the Future State: Swamp Thing story, but in what this team does when they take on the character in March as part of the Infinite Frontier rebranding.
Silber: The standout for me was definitely Swamp Thing as well. First of all — and I realize how ridiculously granular this must seem — I love that Ram V writes Swamp Thing’s dialogue and captions with lots of ellipses. I’m serious! One of the many things I love about the way Alan Moore wrote Swampy was the way his punctuation created a deliberate pace and rhythm to Swamp Thing’s speech that highlights how grotesque he is. He’s not a human; he’s a mass of plants that physically strains itself to create speech. It’s so important, and unfortunately a lot of writers neglect it. Hopefully this is a sign of what’s to come for V and Perkins’ upcoming ongoing. I agree with Zack, teaming V with Perkins on this is terrific “casting.” Plus, I love the way Perkins draws Swamp Thing’s little swamp family. I love my swamp dad!
Quaintance: Yes! I too love the ellipses. I jotted a note while reading that just says ELLIPSES!
Grunenwald: Swamp Thing was the strongest title in my opinion as well. That’s a book that definitely drops you into the middle of things and then doles out information in bits and pieces for you to put together as things progress. I really love the mood that V, Perkins, and colorist June Chung created in that book from the very first page. I didn’t bump on the ellipses like you guys did, but I did enjoy that aspect of Swamp Thing’s dialogue, especially in contrast to the rest of his sentient plant family.
I also really enjoyed Wonder Woman. That’s another book that I think established a clear mood and sustained it well throughout. Of all of the Future State titles this week, I thought that one was the most fun.
Silber: That was my other favorite too, mostly because it looks STUNNING. Joëlle Jones really has it all. It’s the kind of comic book art that you can show someone who’s never touched a comic and immediately impress them, but she’s got such a strong grasp on visual storytelling fundamentals at the same time.
It’s also notable that as a writer/artist, Jones ensured her Wonder Woman isn’t overwritten like some of the other Future State books are so far. It’s a great example of a comic that can be “read” and enjoyed from the art alone, although her dialogue is certainly fun too. And Jordie Bellaire‘s colors! Wow wow wow.
Quaintance: Yes, with you all there — Wonder Woman was an absolute blast. It probably best met the expectations I brought into this event, which is that these would be vibrant new ideas that at once felt true to core character concepts while also pushing into new territory. It’s always hard (if not outright impossible) to predict the legacy of initiatives like this, but I’ll be fairly surprised if Yara Flor is not a lasting addition to the DC Universe.
Grunenwald: She’s already got a TV show in development, so that’s a pretty safe bet, Zack.
Silber: Oh man, I forgot about that
Grunenwald: The other of this week’s books that I enjoyed quite a bit was Harley Quinn. That’s another one that I thought was just a lot of fun, which I suppose should be expected from a Harley book. I like Harley in the role in which she’s placed in this issue, though. It’s nice to get a reminder every now and then that she’s not just zany and funny, she’s also really smart. Stephanie Phillips has had an absolutely monster couple of years, and this is a great way to kick off her tenure on Harley.
Quaintance: That was definitely one of the creative teams that caught my eye coming into this, Phillips teaming with Simone DiMeo and Tamra Bonvillain, and the book read and looked great. I have absolutely no idea how putting Riley Rossmo in the mix for the ongoing proper will change things, and I kind of love that.
Silber: Harley is another one that impressed me art-wise. I don’t think I’ve seen anything from DiMeo before, but it’s a much different look than I’d expect from a Harley book — slicker, but with enough zippy energy to match the character. Tamra Bonvillain gives it a cooler palette than I’d expect too. And with the return of the always-creepy Professor Pyg as a villain, I think this bodes well for Phillips’ ongoing tenure.
Grunenwald: I also think Harley utilized the Magistrate status quo really well, offering more of a look at what that looks like in practice beyond the somewhat generic ‘police state that hates masks’ we get in the other Gotham-set book this week.
Quaintance: Speaking of which, should we talk at all about some of the more obscure books in the line? Lesser-known titles like The Next Batman could maybe use some exposure…
Grunenwald: Yeah, that’s as good a segue as any. Two of the titles this week were anthologies — The Next Batman and Superman of Metropolis. What’d you guys think of those books?
Silber: Bat…man? Who’s that? Seriously though, I’m excited to see where John Ridley and company go with the Tim Fox version of Batman. There were some storytelling choices I’m not crazy about–mostly how that opening with the rapist felt a bit too 2006 Mark Millar edgelord for comfort–but Nick Derington and Tamra Bonvillain make it all look fantastic, with some clever Batman: Year One riffs too. I look forward to seeing where it goes.
Quaintance: The Next Batman was a really well-done comic, and it’s super exciting to have Tim Fox under the cowl for a number of reasons, ranging from representation to having a totally new voice brooding over a new sort of troubled Gotham. The artwork by Derington and Bonvillain was also unsurprisingly fantastic, and some of Ridley’s ideas (the masked Bane gang, for one) make me wish he was getting a longer stint with the character. Really, not yet knowing the longevity of some of this felt like a bit of a tease, but I was glad that one of my favorite things about the book will be carried over to Infinite Frontier — the anthology format. In both The Next Batman and Superman of Metropolis, I found myself almost pleasantly surprised when the main stories ended and the transitions to other characters began. The two stories at the end of the Superman comic — one of which featured a new Mister Miracle and the other a new Guardian — especially stood out.
Silber: Can we just acknowledge how amazing that line in the Katana backup is when the guy’s like “why is the lightning…black?”
Grunenwald: I really loved the main story in The Next Batman. I’m never going to say no to new Derington & Bonvillain artwork, and Ridley’s story was solid. I also like the mystery of who the new Batman is, and I kind of wish we didn’t already know who it is. I think I might’ve enjoyed the story even more with that fact hidden, or with a misdirect of it being Luke Fox rather than Tim. But I agree on all counts with what you said, Zack, especially when it comes to the Bane-litos.
Once that story was over, though, I have to say that neither of the back-up stories did anything for me at all. Outsiders was fine (I actually hated that line from Katana, Greg), if a little generic to me in its execution, and Arkham Knights felt like a weird Suicide Squad rip-off.
Quaintance: I definitely enjoyed the back-up stories in the Superman book more. I don’t have strong feelings about that line, and the whole Arkham Knights thing was just a lot that I couldn’t get myself to really care about either. But the Superman back-ups! They both just looked so good. So yeah, not all the backups were for me, but I do like the format, so much so I’m newly curious to see how it will look as part of the main line long term, which clearly seems like the intent.
Silber: I loved it in a cheesy “lol, comics” way, but yeah, the backups in Superman were probably stronger overall
Grunenwald: The Superman of Metropolis back-ups easily eclipsed the main story in that book, which was really an unfortunate mess.
Silber: The main story in Superman was the most glaring example of that problem I brought up in the beginning, which is that there’s way too much going on here for such a short story. Too much exposition for me to be interested in, and if I wanted to read big chunks of text like that I’d rather read a prose novel.
Grunenwald: I didn’t have a problem with how the information was presented so much as none of it made a lick of sense. So maybe I did have a problem with how it was presented in that it could’ve been done more clearly. The reader is definitely dropped into the middle of things here, but there’s really no way to put together how these characters ended up in this situation based on what’s presented. I want to at least be able to parse things. And on top of that, the situation they’re in is…boring?
Silber: I wouldn’t call the plot boring, because that would suggest I understood it.
Quaintance: I was also pretty bewildered by the whole thing, and the parts I did get, I wasn’t super into. I think some of the issue is that creators on the whole have mostly failed to give Jon Kent a distinct personality past kid, so Jon Kent being at the center here sort of means that the new Superman is also just a blank as an adult hero.
Grunenwald: That is an excellent point. We get no sense of what Jon Kent is like at all in this story, other than maybe he’s impulsive? But that may also just be because what he does doesn’t make a ton of sense. The idea of temporarily bottling Metropolis to save it is a great one that could be really entertaining, but it’s not clear once the bottling is completed what Jon’s next steps are, and then he’s too busy fighting Supergirl (oh great, brainwashed Supergirl again) and the military to tell anyone what his plan is? Things just happen in this story and I don’t know why and it was very frustrating.
Silber: It’s hard to read this particular characterization as much more than “Superman’s son Jon has all his dad’s powers, except he’s bad at his job”
Quaintance: I mean, the standard for a few years now has been “Superman’s son Jon has all his dad’s powers, except is just a kid”, so that tracks. But I’ll get off of that!
Grunenwald: But the back-up stories featuring Mister Miracle and The Manhattan Metropolis Guardian, set within the Bottle City of Metropolis, were really fantastic. I’m apparently much more interested in what’s going on on the ground of the city than in what’s going on outside of the bottle. I also think it helps that those stories have clear concepts in ‘This is what happens now that Metropolis has been put into a bottle.’ Whereas the concept of the main story is, like you said, ‘Jon is bad at being Superman I guess.’
Silber: I mean, “what if Metropolis experienced the plot of The Simpsons Movie” is a pretty solid premise no matter how you cut it.
Grunenwald: Again, there’s not time to fart around in these books and it feels like the Superman story is one big gaseous cloud.
Quaintance: It took a while, but we made it to a fart joke! Should we start to wind down now by asking long-time Flash superfan Joe to share just a thought or two about Future State: The Flash?
Silber: <evil laugh>
Grunenwald: Oh, speaking of farts.
Quaintance: Look, farting aside (we only do smart critiques here at The Beat!), I wasn’t a big fan of that one either.
Grunenwald: The Flash book is real bad. Just on every level. The writing is painful and overwrought. The artwork is stiff and static, which is definitely what you want in a book about characters whose main abilities are movement-based. And tonally it was antithetical to what I want from a Flash comic. Characters die left and right, and Wally is a murderer yet again only this time it’s worse because he’s also irredeemably possessed by I Don’t Even Know What. There’s more authoritarianism as the Central City police throw tear gas at peaceful protestors, which Barry responds to by…riding away on his moped. Just…WOOF this was rough.
Quaintance: Barry needing to ride a moped should have been the point where someone stepped in and said, “Hey everyone, we seem to have gone done a weird path — what are we doing here?” So, to recap, they essentially de-powered the entire Flash family, killed Bart in like the first five pages, and made Wally a corrupted villain…it’s almost impressive how many ideas that are antithetical to the core of fast-guy-with-cool-friends-fights-crime they got into one comic.
Grunenwald: We also don’t know why the Flash Family has lost their speed. That’s a total mystery. And not one that it seems like anyone is interested in addressing?
Silber: Ok, so here comes the friendship-ruining drama Beat readers live for in these discussion pieces… I didn’t hate this.
Grunenwald: Say your piece, Gregory.
Silber: Don’t get it twisted, this Flash book has a LOT of problems. The art isn’t as dynamic as it needs to be, and the plot descends into needlessly miserable grimdark territory that I thought—well, hoped—Big 2 comics got over at least half a decade ago. But there’s a fun, Silver Age-y comic here just begging to get out. Yes, the de-powering of the Flash family absolutely should’ve been explained, but the idea of them temporarily relying on the Rogues’ gadgets is an interesting one—even if I NEVER want to see the Flash using anything resembling a gun. And when they all put on their “thinking caps” to connect with Wally? If this were a slightly better story we’d all love it. I also have to defend Dale Eaglesham‘s art. He’s not a good fit for the Flash, but his old-fashioned sensibilities work for the quieter family scenes.
Quaintance: That’s fair. I agree with all or most of that…yet still don’t like this comic much at all. The descent into the mucky grimdarkness is the bit that I just can’t forgive.
Silber: I’m with you, I don’t understand the impulse (no pun intended) to make one of DC’s most joyful franchises a bloodbath.
Grunenwald: The thinking cap sequence did almost work for me. Almost. But overall this is not at all the tone I want from a Flash comic.
With that put aside, what do you all want to see from the rest of the Future State event? I know I personally would like a little less authoritarianism and a little more fun. (Which is frankly also what I want out of 2021 as a whole.)
Quaintance: It’s really nice to see some of these exciting new creators getting a crack at big DC characters, and I’m excited to get more of that moving forward. I mean, we still have stories here coming from artists like Dan Mora and writers like Mariko Tamaki. Those are folks who have been making great comics for a good while, and next week they’re coming to Gotham.
Silber: I think a big reason why Swamp Thing and Wonder Woman work is they aren’t too preoccupied with the linewide Magistrate thread. So I’d like to see more books coloring outside the lines in that respect. And I agree with Joe, let’s have fun! Yes these are mostly stories about dark day-after-tomorrow sci-fi scenarios, but we shouldn’t lose sight of how much superhero comics thrive on hopefulness. And other books focus on the all-too-real theme of fascism, I hope they engage with it thoughtfully.
Quaintance: I haven’t had fun in years. Years. Or feels like that, anyway.
Grunenwald: More books like Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman, and Harley Quinn are definitely what I’m hoping for. I expected Future State, like pretty much anything, to be a mixed bag, and this week’s books were certainly that, but I’m pleased that I enjoyed more of them than I disliked, and I still feel pretty positive about Future State as a whole event. I’m also excited to see Gene Luen Yang tackle the Jon Kent Superman in the pages of Batman/Superman. Maybe with a different writer guiding him he’ll connect a bit more. Gentlemen, thank you for the lively discussion!
Silber: Joe are we still friends
Grunenwald: Were we ever really friends, Greg?
Silber: Have a great week folks!
Quaintance: See you all in the future!
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