Futures End is a comic about the future, structured in a way that evokes the future, yet it seems unable to escape the past. Part of that is the nature of a story set five years in the future. A surprising amount of it will unavoidably be devoted to what happened between now and five years from now. So much of that is implicit in the storytelling where simply telling the stories of these characters reveals the past. That’s not quite what’s happening here. While this comic is about the future, it’s also about the inescapable past and how the future is not just built on the foundation of the past, it’s continually defined by it.
Futures End is a post-war comic where the characters are all still trying to move past what the war did to them and the world. It’s nothing but trauma, paranoia, anger, frustration, and an overwhelming sense that everything is doomed. These concepts have constantly been sitting under the surface, but, in issues 10 and 11, they seem to boil up even further: Superman’s coldness, Mr. Terrific’s TV alien exposure, Ronnie’s “Fuck you” to the Justice League, Amythyst’s almost eagerness to attack Hawkman, Tim Drake’s continued push away from his former life and inability to resist touching up against it whenever the opportunity presents itself, and the Big Barda reveal at the end of issue 10 as she tries to pass incognito in Vancouver… Almost every plot stems from the war in some way. Even Terry McGinnis is driven by a war. It may be a different one, but it’s no less distant or real to him despite being three decades in the future.
It’s something that superhero comics have never been particularly good at dealing with: the effects these massive struggles and experiences would have on these characters. Nothing seems to sum it up for me better than Mr. Terrific in issue 11 going on television and, with total sincerity, accuses Terry McGinnis of being an alien here to cause damage to the Earth based on two pieces of information: the cyborg he had and his break-in of Terrifitech. That he may be an alien isn’t a far-out theory, but going on TV and accusing him like that with the sincerity of a man stricken with cancer… It’s part tactic to go on TV, part deep fear of what Terry means to him and his view of himself as a superhero. Mr. Terrific is a desperate, paranoid man that covers it up with bluster and arrogance. He’s not lying when he talks about how scared he is: he saw the horrors of war with (I believe) Apokolips and Earth 2, and he is genuinely trying to advance humanity to the point where it won’t be threatened in that way again. He’s delusional and fucked up. But, then, so is everyone else in this comic.
If there doesn’t seem to be a plot to Futures End, it’s because there is no coherent narrative in a post-war world. I keep thinking back to the first World War and the work of TS Eliot. The Waste Land with its fragmentary, pieced together creation is an effort to come to grips with the magnitude of that war and its effects upon the survivors/victims of it. The narrative nature of Futures End means it’s obviously more coherent, but even its construction is one of fragments and threads drawn together by its four writers and the rotating artists. The comic bounces from character to character, plot to plot with no clear direction or point. It’s a meandering work searching for answers and stability, but finds nothing. That’s why new plots and characters are constantly introduced only to be discarded or folded into what’s already there. Everything has been touched by the war, so nothing provides comfort.
There is no future, only what happens after the past.