Thanks to my job, I don’t really have the need to buy physical DC comics anymore. Week to week, everyone at Batman News is given access to the latest the company has to offer, which is an insane privilege which I feel grateful for every time I boot up my computer. It gives me the money to focus on independent and creator-owned books that I’m curious about (and a few Marvel comics, if I’m feeling nasty). Occasionally, though, I like to buy a few DC books of particular importance to me! Sometimes it’s just for the art, (Three Jokers), sometimes it’s the full package (Batman: Universe), and sometimes an issue holds a special place in my heart (Batman vs Ra’s al Ghul #1 is the first book I ever reviewed for the site) – buying things in their physical edition holds extra significance to me now that I can read every book for free, merely a few clicks away.
It’s also why I always try to account for price when I’m writing my reviews, because I just bought The Next Batman #1 for fourteen fucking dollars.
Now, seeing as Australia isn’t real, let me clarify that our money isn’t worth the same value as the US dollar – in reality, I paid about $10.50 USD to purchase this comic, which is only two and a half dollars more than what you’d pay for it over there. But to me, someone who’s about to move to the most expensive city in my country, fourteen bucks is worth at least two lunches on a good day. While I am fortunate enough to be in a situation where I don’t have to buy these comics to read them, the average reader is not – and is spending a substantial amount of cash on a book like this, in the middle of a pandemic no less. While The Next Batman is particularly expensive when compared to the other books on DC’s release slate, the principle still applies to major comics like Dark Detective and Justice League, both of which contain two stories per issue. If DC really wants to sell readers content at this high a price point, then you as a reader need to be sure you’re getting your money’s worth. I thought that was the case with Issue #1 of this comic – do I believe the same when it comes to Issue #2?
I wish I could say that I did. Let’s get into it.
The Next Batman
There’s no easy way to say this: after what I felt was a promising start to a new and different Batman story, I find the second issue of Jace Fox’s saga to be very disappointing by comparison to its opening chapter. Part of this is my fault: the solicitations for Future State made it clear that Nick Derington would only be lending his phenomenal artwork for the first issue of the comic, and I could very well have learned of this fact long before perusing this comic for the first time. Laura Braga is a talented artist – and I’ll be discussing her work in a moment – but I have to say, it’s frustrating to see DC’s most popular comic change artists after a single freaking issue, especially after advertising the story to be a co-creation of both John Ridley and Derington’s efforts.
Derington does contribute in some way: you might notice that the titles list him as having worked on the issue’s breakdowns. To my knowledge, these are essentially the comic book equivalent of “storyboards”: layouts of the framing, positioning and posing of each panel, allowing an artist to follow those guidelines as they make the final product. I’d like to speak to some professionals on the subject before I have a concrete opinion on the relationship between an illustrator and someone who does their breakdowns, but there’s a part of me that wonders if the process was necessary. The panel layouts of the comic look the same as the first issue – and there’s a wonderful fight sequence that mirrors one of the better pages in Derington’s chapter – but there also appear to be several panels where the characters seem somewhat disproportionate, or posed in a way I don’t find appealing. I have to wonder how much this would have happened if Braga were allowed to control how she presents this story; as a comic book artist, would you prefer to work against established guidelines from a seasoned illustrator, or to be given room to be your own creator? These are questions I don’t have answers to, but it’s a train of thought that I can’t help pondering on – and it’s about all you’ll get from Derington for the rest of this comic.
I don’t think it’s fair to say that Braga’s art is bad – there are a few panels that feel “off” to me, but her work by and large has a dynamic and captivating quality to it. When she shines, there’s an obvious level of artistic skill to appreciate! You can see as such in the previous image, and there are a few moments like that in the issue where I forget about my qualms. My issue with it is predominantly the disconnect; jumping from Derington’s work to a comic where I’m asking questions like “why does that suit look so ill-fitting?” and “why is Batman posed like that?” is not a great look for a book you really should have more confidence in, considering the coverage around this comic and its Oscar-winning writer. This art isn’t bad, but it’s unpolished… and the writing is nowhere near good enough to carry the issue on its own.
To be honest, Derington was the main pull of The Next Batman for me, as I currently have zero attachment to John Ridley’s writing or the story of Jace Fox. On that front, Ridley hasn’t lost me: Jace is an interesting character with a narrative voice that’s fun to follow along, so I continue to be curious about his story. There are points that give me pause: for a vigilante, he has a strange respect for the law, commenting on how Magistrate footsoldiers are merely “cops trying to do their jobs” among other things. That’s not a point I’ll harp on for too long though, because the end of the issue is clearly presenting him with a moral dilemma in that regard. My main issue lies in the rest of the issue being thoroughly uncompelling: conversations seem more focused than spouting exposition than providing compelling character drama, and the characters do little but talk about what’s happened off-panel to make them feel the way they do. Jace’s mother, Tanya Fox, is probably the worst offender; her conversation with the Mayor is an attempt to balance emotional stakes with exposition and professional dialogue, and it comes across as something from an early 2000’s drama. I appreciate the attempt at toning back the scale of the story for this Batman’s first outing, but the way it’s being handled doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm: from an uncompelling script to a rotating art team in a four-issue miniseries, I’m hoping the story manages to grab me again in its next instalment.
This is a story that isn’t necessarily bad, but feels oddly disconnected from other stories within Future State. Having read Robin Eternal, the Stephanie Brown in that story is just a completely different person than the one I’m reading in Batgirls, written by Vita Ayala and illustrated by Aneke. In one story, Bruce’s death caused Stephanie to adopt a civilian life; in this one, she adopted a life of crime, sent to the Magistrate Detention Facility to hold her with most of the world’s major superheroes and supervillains. That sounds like a cool idea on paper, and it’s only made cooler when Cassandra Cain joins her in her same cell – but I struggle to find much that I actually enjoy about the way it’s delivered. There are certainly highlights: I really like the way Cassandra and Stephanie’s relationship develops through the issue, and there’s a satisfying feeling at seeing them actually bonding near the end of the chapter. Honestly, my main issue with this book is that there’s exactly one panel that didn’t have a line of dialogue in it. The book is very eager to talk to the audience, but so much of the content could be condensed into fewer lines, if it needed to be spoken at all.
A lot of characters get lines, too. There’s a cameo from half the cast of the DCU here, from Beast Boy to Jason Blood – including characters that I know for a fact shouldn’t be in this facility right now, like Harley Quinn, Victor Zsasz and Killer Croc. Hell, the last two characters were in the previous issue of The Next Batman! Where’s the through line between each story? Is DC operating on a timeline we’re not privy to? Future State is a limited series of collected stories, and it really bothers me that it sometimes feels like very little communication is being made between creators.
Meanwhile, the artwork itself is quite well done – if a little wasted on such a drab setting. Aneke’s work is a standout of the issue in the pages when she’s given something cool do to, like Cassandra or Stephanie in their real outfits, or what’s happening to Barbara Gordon beneath the floors of the Magistrate’s Facility… but most of the issue is spent following characters in nothing but prison outfits, who become very difficult to distinguish without their distinct costumes and silhouettes. There were several times where I was looking at a character with zero idea of who they were, until another character was kind enough to address them by name. Coupled with the fact that the book doesn’t fit with anything else we’ve seen in Batman’s Future State timeline so far, and we get a story that is fairly decent on its own, but just doesn’t gel with the rest of what’s being told.
Gotham City Sirens: Ladies’ Night Out
I really don’t wanna spend much time talking about this comic, because I really didn’t like it. Catwoman and Poison Ivy working together with a self-aware android seems like something that fits pretty well with the premise of Future State, but I don’t believe I was feeling what the creators were intending me to feel here. Fortunately, I can boil down most every problem with this chapter to a single page! Take a look at the following panels.
I find there are a lot of issues hiding in the above sequence, and it’s what prevents me from considering this a particularly good comic book. This is another situation where the breakdowns were made by someone who wasn’t the illustrator, so I don’t know how much of a factor that is regarding the art… but do you think the art flows particularly well here? Do the Sirens look like they’re in an action sequence in the first panel, for example? An important rule of stylistic art is to exaggerate poses for effect: if I were swinging in on a vine, I might be posed like Ivy in that panel, but it doesn’t mean that’s going to necessarily look good when it’s illustrated. Ivy’s pose in the third panel works a lot better as a result, because it’s a big physical expression of what the character wants in that particular moment. But while we’re on the subject of Ivy, do you think she’s written particularly well here? Does this sound like the voice of a character readers are well-used to now? In talking with Catwoman, would she be encouraging Selina to let her hair down, or would the dynamic be reversed? DC characters have fairly flexible personalities, but we’re not given an in-depth perspective as to Ivy’s mindset right now. As it stands, she’s merely one of several characters shouting lines into the air, and that style of writing relies on character and chemistry. I don’t think these three have what the issue wanted to have, and it makes me wonder if the story would have worked better had all the characters been original citizens of Gotham.
Finally, there’s the chase in the bottom of the page – and honestly, I was really hoping we were past the point of walls of exposition in the middle of an action sequence. It completely disrupts the flow, and it’s made redundant by Catwoman immediately shutting down everything this character just said by declaring she knows it already. This comic attempts to be frenetic and snappy, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near polished enough for that: whether I’m referring to the art or the story, I don’t think it works. It’s coherent enough to make sense, but I can’t think of many other strong merits to it.
- Money is no object to you, and you can spend as much as you want on whatever you want.
- You like Jace Fox! His story hasn’t lost me yet, and there’s plenty of reason the final chapters can pick up the slack I feel this issue created.
- You’re a sucker for Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown – even if that story doesn’t fit with the rest of what we’ve been seeing in Future State.
This book is particularly irritating in that it was a triple threat of stories I didn’t love, hitting me one after another with content that left me wishing it was more. That’s not a good feeling you should have with any comic, but when a company is charging you serious money for it? It’s just not worth the effort. Readers shouldn’t feel the need to buy three books if you’re only looking forward to one of them! If each story was good, you can make an argument for its merits – like I did with the last issue – but I don’t think any of them were that good, and it makes the overall package worse as a result. If you’re looking to read John Ridley’s The Next Batman, you can make a strong argument for the trade; at least then, you know exactly what you’re spending your money on.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch