It’s a double feature! In this issue we have two full-length stories, one about Bruce and another about Grifter. That’s bang for your buck, although it also means that it’s going to be a little bit more expensive than monthlies usually are. So is the content worth the money? Let’s have a look.
DARK DETECTIVE – CHAPTER 1
I’ve heard both positive and negative things about Tamaki’s work, but I have to admit that I’m not all that familiar with her comics myself, aside from her story in Detective Comics #1027. Mora, on the other hand, has been one of my favorite illustrators since Klaus, a book that he created together with Grant Morrison (and, yes, I’m still sad that we didn’t get a new chapter of that series around Christmas). So I’ve been cautiously optimistic about this creative team taking over Tec, and have looked forward to reading my review copy.
Tamaki and Mora succeed in setting up a mystery. The public thinks that Bruce Wayne and Batman are both dead, and when we find Bruce, we see him down and out in the alleys of a near-futuristic, cyberpunk version of Gotham. He is broke and he seems lost. In most cases, seeing a broke Bruce Wayne makes me yawn, as this is something that has been done to death by now. However, once I get past this fact, I find myself wondering exactly what has led our hero to this point, and because of that I think there’s enough incentive to keep reading to find out what’s going on. That said, this opening chapter doesn’t offer all that much in terms of plot. We mostly just see Bruce looking forlorn as he wanders about, until he gets into a scrap and ultimately decides to don a bare-bones Batsuit as he outruns the authorities. In that sense, I feel like more could’ve happened in these pages, but with three more chapters to go, perhaps it’s a good thing that the creative team is taking it slow for now. Only time will tell.
Furthermore, despite the fact that we are in a near-futuristic Gotham, there are some old familiar elements here that I appreciate. Batman’s formative years as a vigilante count as my favorite Bat era (in terms of continuity, not necessarily publication history). I love the idea of this mysterious figure who, like a vampire, only comes out at night, preying on criminals while hunted by the police. The stuff that we see in “Dark Detective” isn’t exactly like that, but we do get to see a Bruce Wayne who is forced to go back to basics and is indeed being chased by the cops. The cyberpunk setting puts an interesting spin on this, even though this certainly isn’t anything new, as Paul Pope beat this creative team to it with his excellent Batman: Year 100 miniseries back in 2006.
The story does raise some questions, though. These aren’t related to the mystery or the story itself, but rather the timeline. For example, Bruce does not appear to have aged much at all, and yet the entire city looks completely different. It has to be said that Mora’s rendition of this version of Gotham is beautifully detailed, as we get to see the interior of a diner, a big square that might remind one of Times Square populated by many different kinds of people, and we even take to the rooftops which provides a view of the cityscape that surrounds Batman. The one and only Jordie Bellaire elevates Mora’s powerful pencils with incredible, layered color-work, once more establishing herself as one of the greatest colorists in comics of this day and age. Gotham looks almost like a real place, not in the sense that it’s photorealistic, but in the sense that it’s so immersive, populated and vibrant. But how is this possible? How far into the future is this taking place? How does this work? These, of course, are questions that we can ask about the Gotham-based Future State comics in general, but I feel that they should be addressed in this book sooner rather than later, instead of leaving it up to the readers to figure this out or deciding that it doesn’t matter.
The writing itself isn’t bad by any means, but I’m in two minds about it. On the one hand, I think the gritty tone that’s set by the opening line, “Gotham is a funeral no one’s attending,” fits a cyberpunk-inspired world and works in a pulp fiction context. On the other hand, I would’ve appreciated a more subtle writing style, something less edgy and more to the point, as there are only so many pulpy lines that I can take before this story starts leaning into parody. I don’t think that this first chapter reaches that point quite yet, but if Tamaki isn’t careful, this might happen further down the line. There’s also quite a bit of repetition, to the point that I started to wonder how many times we are going to be told that Batman and Bruce Wayne are dead. But these are only minor complaints for now. The dialogue is fine, not too heavy on exposition while still managing some world-building, and I very much appreciate that Tamaki doesn’t hinder the flow of Mora’s excellent fight scenes by cramming the panels with text, as so many other writers do. It seems she knows when to let the art carry the story; hopefully this is will continue to be the case in the coming chapters.
FUTURE PAST – CHAPTER 1
The second story is about Grifter, and I’ll say up front that it’s really good! Rosenberg writes a fast-paced, easy-to-read story with snappy dialogue and strong characters. Even if you have never read a Grifter story before, you will know what he’s like in the first couple of panels, from the inner monologue in the captions as well as the dialogue. Grifter isn’t a bad person necessarily, but over the years he has made a lot of enemies, as we see in this story. Grifter is over-confident at times as he deals with his enemies, which often backfires in ways that are both highly entertaining and exciting. I am not too worried about whether or not he makes it out alive, as I’m sure he will, but because Rosenberg has quickly managed to make the character likeable, I find myself rooting for him as I’m eager to find out what happens next. I want him to succeed in his mission, especially with the forces that he is up against being this overwhelming.
It’s an action-driven story. Di Giandomenico gets to draw a great bar fight scene which, despite being chaotic and all-over-the-place, flows from panel to panel and transitions into a chase sequence. There’s a solid pacing to all the action, as it unfolds like ebb and flow. Everything appears to be peaceful before the shit hits the fan, but quiet interludes follow the bombastic violence every time. This makes the first chapter of “Future Past” a good example of how to balance out an action-driven story.
But it’s not all about Grifter. After he gets arrested, he finds himself in the company of Luke Fox, who also got taken by the authorities. Rosenberg handles both characters well, as their voices and personalities are distinct and consistent. Where Grifter is a bit of a hothead, somewhat impulsive and keen to pull the trigger, Luke is much more reserved and firmly against guns. These clashing personalities create interesting and fun character dynamics that propel the story forward.
This isn’t a story that will change your life, nor is it something that pretends to be more than it actually is, and that’s a good thing. The story’s focus is clear: Grifter and Luke have to find a way to escape Gotham. But as straight-forward as that premise is, there are some twists and turns along the way that keep me on the edge of my seat. There’s plenty of comedy here as well, but I don’t find any of it to be forced or out-of-place. The jokes are organic in the sense that they are always about what’s happening in the moment and they even contribute to the character development as they amplify these characters’ voices and personalities. I honestly struggle to find anything here that I don’t enjoy or which doesn’t work for me—it’s just a strong opening chapter and well worth a read!
- You are a fan of Dan Mora’s beautiful art!
- You like Jordie Bellaire’s colors and want to see how she enhances Mora’s pencils!
- Grifter, that lovable bastard, is your hero!
Overall: The first issue of Future State: Dark Detective offers two strong opening chapters. While I still have some questions with regards to the world-building—in particular how much time has passed since the lastest issue of Detective Comics—I’m definitely on-board for now. “Dark Detective” is mainly setup and not much besides some action and the start of a mystery happens, but the art is terrific and I’m looking forward to finding out where this journey takes Bruce. “Future Past,” by contrast, is entirely action-driven and fast-paced, and even though a lot happens, the creative team manages to strike a nice balance between bombast and quiet moments. If you’ve been on the fence about this book, I’d say give it a shot. Recommended!
Total Score: 8.5/10
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.