Comparing Futures End and “Time Runs Out” seems natural. It’s a bit difficult after 20 issues (and numerous one-shots) of the former and only one issue of the latter. You would think, under those circumstances, the future of Futures End would feel more fleshed out and compelling than the brief glimpse we get of Marvel eight months from now. I didn’t find that to be true. Avengers #35 was far more engrossing in the future it presents, how it relates to the ‘present,’ and how well it defines the changes that have happened. It genuinely feels different and new, like the future is supposed to feel. Has Futures End ever felt that way?
The different approaches that each work takes to telling stories in the future seems like the crucial difference. Each month, we get closer to “Time Runs Out” being the present; Futures End will, most likely, never be the true future of the Nu52DCU. One approach is vital and matters, while the other is not and does not. I hate to place such emphasis on the word ‘matters,’ because so much of what both Marvel and DC do is determined by that concept. However, it’s hard to ignore that knowing “Time Runs Out” is the future of Marvel in eight months makes it seem more exciting than Futures End, which is all but guaranteed to be another superhero comic book future that exists all by itself, never truly part of continuity.
After all, as much as I enjoyed Avengers #35, it is mostly an issue of innuendo, allusion, and “See what’s changed in eight months!” It’s an introduction to the story. There’s a lot of tasty tidbits, but not really a lot of meat to sink into. But, it did do something that Futures End has struggled with: it felt like everything was tied together and moving in one direction. Even as the Brainiac and Brother Eye stories pull more and more of the different plot threads together, Futures End still doesn’t feel like it is telling anything close to a cohesive story with a clear purpose and end point in mind. It’s still very much a bunch of disparate threads that seem almost randomly thrown out every week. Why include the 35 years from now Mr. Terrific in this issue? Why not last issue or next issue? I couldn’t tell you. I would say that this was a unified Mr Terrific/Brother Eye issue except for all of the Tim Drake stuff also thrown in. The various Futures End one-shots released this month haven’t helped the future in five years seem any more coherent or purposeful. The weekly series has four writers, while “Time Runs Out” has one. It is a singular vision that will be running three weeks a month starting in October (according to the solicitations), so it will be nearly weekly soon.
I also wonder if the decision to focus on more tertiary characters in Futures End hurts it. It doesn’t feel vital, because it barely has anything to do with most of the ‘main’ characters of the current Nu52DCU. Only Superman has played a larger part in Futures End and that hasn’t really been Superman. Jonathan Hickman’s future story is using the central Marvel characters (despite the opening issue of the story mostly focusing on tertiary-level characters!) aka the ones that people want to read about. While I’m sure there are many Deathstroke fans out there, how many people are superexcited to read about his adventures of Cadmus Island with Grifter and Fifty Sue every issue? By following the example of 52, Futures End has ignored the characters that people want to read about (and do read about, because they actually have their own titles). That the one-shots featuring those characters have had little to do with the weekly series shows how insular it is. How can it really be the story of DC in five years if the top characters barely have anything to do with it? Given how far in the future it takes place, concern over how it relates to the current series should be minimal, after all.
The message sent by that decision isn’t just that Futures End doesn’t ‘matter’ in the sense that its events will directly impact a large swath of the titles people read, it also makes it seem like the series doesn’t matter to DC. It’s a weekly series that they just happen to put out, but isn’t a high priority. After all, when you do a month-long event tied to said weekly and most of the comics have nothing to do with it, isn’t the message that the weekly series isn’t worth their effort, so why is it worth yours?
It may be only one issue in, but “Time Runs Out” has already shown more care and effort to seem vital, engaging, and well crafted than Futures End. That boggles my mind.