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.