Future State: The Next Batman
Written by: John Ridley
Art: Nick Derington
Color: Tamra Bonvillain
Publisher: DC Comics
As previously addressed in my article “The Black Knight Rises”, there have been a few Black men (and just recently one woman for Batwoman) who have held the auspicious mantle of the iconic caped crusader. But for a fictional character over 80 years old, it most certainly is a daunting task to “replace” Bruce Wayne under the coveted pointed cowl and cape for any significant length of time. Award-winning screenwriter and novelist John Ridley (American Crime; 12 Years a Slave; Batman: The Joker War Zone; The Other History of the DC Universe) thus gave himself an uphill battle of creating a new character of color to take on the role, especially when there are apt in-universe candidates such as Duke Thomas/Signal, Luke Fox/Batwing and Michael Lane/Azrael who would have sufficed. This made it a bit disappointing when it was revealed last month by DC Comics that the “Next” Batman would be Luke’s older, estranged brother Tim (Jace) Fox. While Tim himself was teased months prior during Ridley’s own “Joker Wars” event, the premature reveal of him as the Next Batman certainly robs the issue of mystery and surprise.
Spoilers aside, issue #1 opens up pretty much like Tim Burton’s acclaimed “Batman” (1989). We are thrust into a world where Batman simply exists. The futuristic Gotham presented is not far off from the one seen in Batman Beyond (1999-2001), but one in which there is a fascist, anti-vigilante police state akin to the one in “V for Vendetta”; with the nebulous Norsefire Party substituted for the Magistrate.
We are very briefly introduced to the family dynamic of the Fox family; but Ridley’s incessancy on implicit dialog leave the reader to thread the loose reference together that led to the family’s current dysfunctional (future) state. As such, it is hard to get a feel of who Tim is outside of the mask, and his motivations and drive to be Batman remain ambiguous.
The crux of the issue comes from two siblings who want to join a “Bane-themed” gang, which sadly had real potential for a grounded human story, but fumbles by the end. Batman’s role it seems is the protection of these deviants from the overly zealous trigger-happy police rather than thwarting traditional crime (he unmasks a rapist so he isn’t shot on sight rather than apprehend him). This Batman is also averse to confronting police or taking a proactive stance again the oppressive regime.
In terms of Nick’s art, the Gotham that is illustrated is reminiscent of the cityscape in the Bruce Timm universe. For such a high-profile breakout title, Nick’s art, especially with character design and facial expressions, does not seem to do the book any favors as most of his panels lack a lot of detail, definition and finish. I suppose it helps than most people in the issue wear masks or helmets of some kind.
Tamra’s coloring on the other hand compensates for this a little with a wide palette of colorful hues, that is complemented by the thick inking and shadows throughout. A stark and appreciated difference to the often gloomy, muted or even monochromatic Gotham we’ve been accustomed to seeing.
Dishearteningly, when I reach the last page, I’m left disapprovingly wondering why is Tim Batman. Batman/Tim Fox (whichever you prefer) feels generic. I’m given flashbacks of “the Protagonist” in the movie Tenet (2020), where the main character is an entity rather than a person.
Future State: Outsiders
Writer: Brandon Thomas
Penciller: Sumit Kumar
Inking: Sumit Kumar & Raul Fernadez
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
The second story in this 60+ page issue focuses on the remnants of the “Outsiders” who ironically operate “outside” neo-fascist Gotham. The story primarily follows Katana/Tatsuo Yamashiro. While we get a brief cameo of Duke Thomas/Signal, who smuggles political dissidents out of Gotham, this is one hundred percent a Katana story. Leaning heavily into the lone samurai on a “final crucible” motif, “Future State: Outsiders” invokes the kind of pathos you would expect from an old samurai movie, or even some of the more somber episodes of “Samurai Jack”.
Almost non-stop action from the first page to the last, there is hardly a moment where Tatsuo isn’t a B.A.M.F. There is even one page in the book where she’s tearing through a layer to her objectives like a 2D rendition of the iconic elongated hallway fight from Netflix “Daredevil” or that staircase moment in the Thai martial arts film “The Protector”.
As cliché as the final boss battle was, with a dark and stormy night scenario and a just barely unbeatable antagonist, it ends with a surprising arrival of another Outsider member in a new form who has a foreboding message for our stoic heroine.
As a one-shot, this was an enjoyable read. It’s action-packed, simple, short and enjoyable. It’s superficial fun, with a nice cliffhanger for the next installment in issue #3. Moreover, Sumit’s sketchy penciling and dynamic framing are worth mentioning here as well.
Future State: Arkham Knights
Writer: Paul Jenkins
Artist: Gabe Eltaeb
Colorist: Rob Leigh
Originally a red herring character in the Rocksteady game Batman: Arkham Knight (2015/ revealed to just be Jason Todd), the character and motif of the titular “Arkham Knight” was transplanted to the comics back in May 2019. Astrid Arkham, descendent of the infamous Arkham family, is a Gotham villain sympathizer and her own “anti-Batman” zealot. I say all this as the story is narrated primarily from her perspective.
Here, this relatively new character makes her return, leading a crusade against the Magistrate’s forces, waging a war on the very streets of Gotham. While comprised of a mish-mash of low/bottom-tier Arkham inmates (most notable ones are Two-Face, Clayface and Victor Zsasz), the Arkham Knights operate as guerilla freedom fighters or domestic terrorists, depending on your perspective. The summary of this introductory issue is a “simple” recruitment drive ending in another battle with the elite “peacekeepers”; one skirmish in a larger war and bigger game.
While I have tangential knowledge of Astrid Arkham prior reading this issue, I felt she was a very fleshed out and complex character; accentuated by her interactions with her fellow soldiers and her inner monologue and expositions throughout. Sad to say I had a better feel of Astrid, empathizing with her motives and cause by the end of the book than I did with Tim and his ventures as Batman. Astrid seemed to be a better, more proactive “Batman” overall, in no small part helped by her “Bat-esque” armor.
Highly detailed, bombastic and colorful, Gabe and Rob do a phenomenal job with art and coloring respectively; making this story feel like a pedigree Batman book. They are even able to beautifully convey the quieter, somber moments in the book as well.
In totality, the overall quality of the stories in “Future State: The Next Batman” improves with every subsequent tale. This is a shame as the tent pole title “The Next Batman” should garner the lion’s share for attention and praise. While I think the other two artists would have been a better pick than Nick’s art style, Ridley’s script lacks that je ne sais quoi to make it an easy recommendation out of the gate. Instead, I’m left with reservations. While things may pick up in following issues, “The Next Batman” does not offer a compelling first impression.
For more on this futuristic dystopian Gotham, check out the concurrent titles Future State: Harley Quinn, Dark Detective, Catwoman, Nightwing and Robin Eternal.
Hailing from the eastern-most Caribbean island of Barbados, Fabian Wood has long since been fascinated by the power of storytelling to inspire and invoke emotions – whether in film, comics, or videogames. No longer content to be just an avid comic book reader and videogamer, he’s eager to exercise his literary acumen as an aspiring writer and reviewer.