September marches on, Wednesday by Wednesday, which means so too does DC Comics' theme month. This year the publisher has suspended publication of its New 52 titles, replaced them with Futures End one-shots, and slapped new and improved (i.e. smaller) lenticular 3D covers on them, each bearing a "#1."
One could certainly question the logic in tying all of the New 52 books, even the extremely popular ones like Batman, to a middling weekly series set in a possible future that will never come to pass and that seems to be a fairly reliable mid-list seller. But this week's crop of one-shots demonstrates that, despite the fact that each book has the words "Futures End" in the title, many of them have somewhere between nothing and very little to do with the actual plot of the event series.
In the previous two installments of our weekly look at these specials, I recapped the basic plot of Futures End. But this time, I see I need not even bother. DC shipped 11 of the books this week, but I only read five -- and the only thing those issues shared in common is that they're set five years in the future (not that they had much of anything at all to do with Futures End).
Justice League: Futures End #1Written by Jeff Lemire, drawn by Jed Dougherty and colored by Gabe Eltaedb
I hope you weren't expecting this one-shot, with its #1 on the cover, to be a standalone story. If so, you may be sorely disappointed that this is actually "Home World: Part 2 of 2," the second half of a story that began last week in Justice League United: Futures End #1, by the same creative team.
If you read that one, or even just my review of it, then you know that five years from now the Justice League has established a Martian gulag for its worst villains, and made Martian Manhunter its warden. Most of the team — or at least the ones who don't have their own specials to star in this month — head to Mars to stop a supervillain break-out and its ultimate mastermind, Captain Atom (as the star of one of the first New 52 books to be canceled, it's actually kinda weird he hasn't had a role in the Futures End weekly).
In this issue? Fighting. Just fighting.
Cyborg, The Flash, Equinox, Stormguard, Dawnstar, Vostok, Martian Manhunter and special guest star Wildfire fight Gorilla Grodd, giant-sized Captain Atom and sundry villains. And the good guys win. And that's it!
What started out as a fairly generic, unambitious superhero story ends in the same fashion with no apparent bearing on Futures End. Which is rather too bad, as it's penned by Futures End co-writer Jeff Lemire, and the Justice League of five years from now has some pretty dramatic secrets, and all of its members are veterans of a war that decimated an alternate Earth and culled their world's ranks of heroes.
Lemire does seem to set up a hint or two for his next Justice League United story arc, however, with the inclusion of the Legionnaires.
Jed Dougherty's art is, as it was last week in the JLU special, the highlight, and it's somewhat unfortunate he doesn't get much of interest to draw. The heroes and villains all wear exactly what they do in the present, so he doesn't even get to design new costumes.
Wonder Woman:Futures End #1Written by Charles Soule, drawn by Rags Morales, Jose Marzan Jr. and Batt, and colored by Andrew Dalhouse and Tony Avina
We've seen Wonder Woman rather briefly a few times in the pages of Futures End, but for the purposes of this story — it's actually a two-parter that concludes in Superman/Wonder Woman: Futures End #1 — writer Charles Soule has largely removed the character from the events of the dystopian future. Rather, he's given her a dystopian future of her own to keep her busy.
"Five years from now," on "The Fields of Korondor," Wonder Woman has traded in her New 52 get-up for a red tank top, blue pants and a weapons belt with a big-ass knife and grenades as she leads a ragtag group of dead soldiers from throughout history against the forces of Nemesis. This evil army looks to be made up of Lord of the Rings movie orcs, only coated in a star field, as if they were dipped in liquid night sky. It's a striking look.
Wonder Woman and her war council — it includes Orion, Napoleon Bonaparte and her uncle Hades/Hell — discuss their dire circumstances, until she decides to channel her powers as the goddess of war (see current issues of Wonder Woman for that storyline) and crush the forces of Nemesis all by herself. And then Superman, neither the masked nor the shirtless versions from Futures End, appears, the blue of his costume covered in a star field.
The fact that this is a two-parter means it's not quite a standalone comic, but it doesn't tie into Futures End really either, so, when coupled with the Superman/Wonder Woman special, it at least serves as half of a standalone, possible future story for Wonder Woman.
And speaking of Superman/Wonder Woman ...
Superman/Wonder Woman: Futures End #1Written by Charles Soule, drawn by Bart Sears and colored by Blond
Hey! Bart Sears! That's a name I haven't seen, certainly not in the credits of a DC book, for quite a while. For those who may remember his work, fondly or otherwise, from the old Justice League Europe days, this issue is something of a treat, if only in a "What's Bart Sears' art look like these days?" sort of way.
Superman manages to shake Wonder Woman out of what turns out to be a kinda-sorta dream sequence, and rescues her from where Nemesis imprisoned her in Tartarus. Why this Superman doesn't look like either of the Futures End Supermen is explained by time travel; this is the Superman from just one year in the future, who traveled to five years in the future to help her. Because he loves her.
Back on Earth, Wonder Woman gets another new costume, now with black full-length tights tucked into thigh-high boots, and she, Superman and the Amazons make a desperate last stand against the real forces of Nemesis, with Wonder Woman eventually winning the day by trading in her role as goddess of war for one of goddess of peace (gaining another new costume in the process!).
As a possible ending for the story of the New 52 version of Wonder Woman, it works pretty well.
Batwoman: Futures End #1Written by Marc Andreyko, drawn by Jason Masters and colored by Guy Major
Five years from now, Batwoman is a vampire, because, sure, why not? Interestingly, she doesn't really look any different than she does when she wasn't a vampire, as she's always had a ghostly white pallor. Now she just has fangs, and red bat wings on her back instead of a red cape shaped like bat wings.
I imagine this possible future story of the death of the undead Batwoman has something to do with the goings-on of her regular title (which I haven't read for about a year or so), as it features a few characters who have popped up in the solicitations for Batwoman issues. In that sense, while this might have nothing at all to do with Futures End, it does seem to at least echo writer Marc Andreyko's plans for the regular monthly.
And hey, not tying into the event series in the subtitle is at least preferable to directly contradicting it, like some of the worse of these one-shots have done.
In this issue, Batwoman's sister Alice teams up with Ragman, Clayface and Jason Blood to try to kill her — they do so, but at the cost of most of their own lives. Oh, and vampire Batwoman breathes fires. Is that weird? That seems kind of weird to me.
Andreyko writes a decent enough 20-page fight scene, even if it's a little sparse on palpable action, and some of the guest stars barely appear — a Ragman vs. Vampire Batwoman should at least be interesting enough to merit more than two panels, shouldn't it?
The art is fine, and the storytelling clear enough, but it suffers in the same way almost all artwork on a Batwoman comic does: It's not that of J.H. Williams III, nor is it as ornate, baroque or excessively, obsessively designed as his work on the series was.
Batman and Robin: Futures End #1By Ray Fawkes, penciled by Dustin Nguyen, inked by Derek Fridolfs and colored by John Kalisz
Five years from now, Batman will have a black Robin, his name will be Duke and his costume will really, really suck; think visor-less RoboCop armor, painted red, yellow and green.
This issue, written by Ray Fawkes, fits in perfectly well with last week's Batman special, which he co-wrote. It lines up with Batman about as well Batman failed to line up very well with the week before that's Detective Comics issue.
Old, armored, 35-ish Batman — whom Nguyen draws with little ears and a big, blocky build suggestive of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns -- and old, wildly goateed "Penny-One" are fighting crime in Gotham, same as they ever did. Batman is face to face with The Heretic, the horrifying villain that killed Damian, and he's intent on not only defeating him, but also determining if he's a Damian clone or ... what exactly.
To keep Robin out of the fight, Batman has Alfred send him from one crime scene to another, until Alfred and Robin simultaneously decide "Screw Batman" and Duke joins the fight.
Thanks to Nguyen and Fridlofs, it's by far the best-looking of the Futures End books to see release this week (I only read these ones, but I did flip through 'em all at the shop this time around), and while, again, there's not much to it, it's a decent enough riff on one of the more frequently told Batman stories. The Dark Knight is stubborn, and would rather get beaten within an inch of his life than risk anyone else, but his lieutenants force their help on him anyway, and he learns the error of his ways ... until next time.
And while this is just a possible future story, it's nice to see a black Robin for longer than a single panel. Although if Batman doesn't resurrect Damian at the end of the current arc in Batman and Robin, he will be in the market for a new sidekick (December's solicitation for Robin Rises: Alpha #1 even includes the words, "And who is the new Robin?" ), so maybe we can add Duke to the list of suspects along with Harper Row, Stephanie Brown, Tim Drake, Julia Pennyworth and back-from-the-dead Damian.
I'm hoping it will be Alfred with a little domino mask and yellow cape over the back of his tuxedo, after he points out to Bruce that "Penny-One" is a pretty easy codename to crack, as it's only one syllable away from his actual last name.