The September-long Futures End one-shots are rolling in. For me, it begins with Grayson and I couldn’t be happier. I enjoyed this comic so much that I immediately had to read it again as soon as I finished. You will have to do the same, so be prepared.

If you’re having doubts about buying this issue, skip down to the “Recommended if:” and “Overall” sections (take note of the score too), because everything past this point could potentially ruin your reading experience. For you scrollers: ***SPOILER ALERT*** follows. If you’ve read the issue or simply don’t care, please continue. Again, SPOILERS follow.

The issue opens with Dick Grayson being hung. Literally, he hangs from a rope until his body goes limp. What a hook! When reading this I thought, “Okay, so this is five years in the future. Maybe I can accept that Dick is dying for real this time because this Futures End thing may very well be a wash and none of these possible futures will matter. But dang, does he have to die? I wanted to see Dick finished with Spyral and doing something new, but here we are I guess.” I was both shocked and slightly disappointed. I wanted to find out what happens next, but too bad for me, the story travels back in time (ironically since this whole month is about traveling forward five years).

As the issue continues, every page or so moves backward using an “Earlier” indication. You ever see the Nolan movie Memento? Yeah, like that except Grayson style with no memory loss. It can be difficult to read if you’re not paying attention. Remembering details such as names and events requires effort when you’re being exposed to them as if you should already be up-to-speed on what’s going on, but that is part of the charm of this type of storytelling. You invest your brain power and as you do so, you give value to what you read. Thankfully this one-shot issue isn’t just a showcase in reverse storytelling, it is an example of a good mystery (Dick is hanging from a rope, why?) soaked in layers of heart.

Symbolism is heavy throughout. The rope, the acid, the code, bloody hands, responsibility, love, death… it’s all very, very good. Let me say this about the second reading: you are only half way done when you come to the last page. Immediately read it from back to front in reverse order. This will read like you’re going forward in time. Cluemaster’s code is hilariously understood, Helena’s speech about her father is paralleled, reasons for responsibility are given, you learn about the acid and understand more about the rope.

There are a couple interesting topics I’ll touch on here. The Russian president Anatoli Knyazev has committed atrocities, killing thousands of people thanks to the assistance of Dick. Dick realizes this and kills the president which clearly goes against his “no kill” rule. He does this and says, “I was responsible…My hands will not be clean!” This echoes so many things in this story. It begins with something said between him and Bruce just after Dick’s parents were killed. Bruce says if you kill a man, you wash your hands and give up your responsibility, a responsibility his dad taught him to never give up. Bruce implies that it is difficult not killing, but like his dad who was a surgeon, he didn’t mind a little blood on his hands. Contrast that to Helena’s speech, who believes it is one’s responsibility to kill. Not killing, in her mind, leaves one’s hands clean. She basically says the fundamentally opposite of Bruce with the same disclaimer: it’s tough having blood on your hands, but it is one’s responsibility.

All this philosophizing about killing is made more interesting when the rubber meets the road. Helena saves Grayson at one point by killing an assailant. Dick sees firsthand Helena’s philosophy in action. “I was responsible. For you, Dick. For you, my hands can’t be clean,” she says. What a powerful statement. It must have affected Dick, for it comes full circle once he sees the evil that the Russian president has done. Dick decides he is responsible and kills the president, uttering essentially what Helena says afterward. Dick’s views on the morality of killing change in the course of this issue and I think challenging those views is terrific, especially in the admittedly odd confines that are these Futures End one-shots. There is much more that could be said about the topic, but I’ll let the comments section handle that. How did you feel about Dick willingly committing murder?

The rope and the acid were fantastic plot devices. I am thrilled that my brain didn’t catch it on my forward pass through the comic because it was a treat to have everything unfold on the way back through to the beginning, which is actually the end. So of course Dick won’t die: the acid is on the rope! The very acid that killed his parents will most certainly save his life. How perfect. The imagery in every instance is excellent.

The only downside I find with this issue is in the artwork, particularly the faces. And it’s hit or miss, too. Some panels, like the one where Dick’s getting a Spyral tattoo, are perfect. I see the emotion on his laughing face and I believe it. Other panels, like when Dick yells about tying up some guy, are simply weird. Of course that may just be me. I thoroughly enjoyed Stephen Mooney’s page layouts though. I thought they were incredible. The opening and closing scenes with the rope, the kissing scene between Dick and Helena, shooting the guy threatening Dick, I really appreciated the layouts. It reminded me of The Killing Joke in a lot of ways. Also, just a small editorial mistake, the aforementioned Spyral tattoo was on Dick’s right arm near his bicep. Later, Dick is doing sit-ups without his shirt and the tattoo isn’t there. These are my only complaints about this issue. There is so much heart, so many layers, and there is fundamental change in the characters. Overwhelmingly, this is a better comic than I expected. Buy it. Read it. Discuss it.

Recommended if:

  • You want to feel like Dick on this cover after reading a comic.
  • You enjoy deeper meanings.
  • You love Helena Bertinelli.

Overall:

If other Futures End one-shots are half as good as this one, we are in for a treat. The depth of the issue is incredible. The technical aspect of storytelling is done beautifully. It is a showcase in quality writing. We see something here that we don’t often see in mainstream comics: change and I can’t recommend this issue enough.

SCORE: 9.5/10