Spoiler alert: I thought this comic was alright!
Normally I tend to give my final thoughts at the end of the issue, but I think it’s important to preface this review with my ultimate opinion. In my review for The Next Batman #1, I praised the comic for its wonderful artwork, smattered across a selection of lengthy comics – comics that would normally be found in separate books entirely. In my view, the great work that the book had to offer was more than worth the, admittedly, hefty price point. I did not feel the same in my review for the second issue – and the scores in each review are pretty reflective of that. But the question of how to score a comic becomes a lot harder when you think the book is just “decent” – not so good that it justifies the expense, nor so bad that said expense seems like an insult. Would I recommend this book for the price you’d have to pay? That’s a difficult question… so, let’s get into what I thought of each individual tale that lies within The Next Batman #3.
The Next Batman
I’m little mixed about this comic, because in reading it I felt a fluctuation in the quality of both its writing and its illustration. To begin with, I want to touch back on Laura Braga’s artwork – the current artist of The Next Batman, working with breakdowns by Nick Derington. When I search Braga’s artwork in other comics, I find myself incredibly impressed – her pencils and inkings on Witchblade have a wonderful sense of polish to them, and I especially adore her depictions of Gotham City Sirens such as Catwoman. There are a lot of reasons why I might not like her illustrations of Ridley’s story as much: is it because Derington’s breakdowns clash with what she wants to draw? Is the colouring not doing the pencils and inkings proper justice? Was she given a limited timeframe to finish the story? These are things I can’t presume, and it’s why I don’t think it’s fair to judge an artist based on one comic. In truth, comics (especially ones with heavy action) can be incredibly difficult, and I think it’s in this that lies my problem. Take this sequence of panels, for example. Here, we see Jace taking down Stanz, one of the Magistrate’s head goons in the story – and half of these panels I really like! The way Batman’s cape billows across the top of the first panel looks wonderful, framing the man dodging the bullets below. Some of the fighting itself looks wonderful – the second and fourth panels in particular portray a sense of weight to Jace’s punches, like they’re really knocking the wind out of the private cop. Compare that, however, to the last panel of the page, where Batman looks like you could stick him in a cyberpunk retelling of A West Side Story. These panels don’t all meet the same level of quality – and while I understand why this may be the case, I think it does impact the reading experience in the process.
This being said, I think the quality of writing has improved from that of the previous issue! It’s not perfect, of course – Peacekeeper-01 and Stanz have a conversation that feels rather clunky, and I don’t particularly like the fact that Joker War is having a serious impact on the direction of the Future State Bat-Books as a whole. But through that, we see some moments that shine a little brighter than those of Issue #2. One example is a very cool scene involving Jace using a flare to patch himself up – despite the neo-noir feeling of Gotham City as a whole in Future State, Jace’s portrayal as Batman has a low-level, guerilla feeling to it. He’s a little more personable than Bruce Wayne’s Batman, and a little more honest in how he views the world and the criminal justice system. In addition to that, we get a deeper look into the Fox family in this issue – the conversation between Luke and his sister gives some needed depth and nuance to the relationships between the six members of the family, and it helps remind the audience of the people affected by the city around them. If it’s any indication of how Second Son is going to be handled, then I’m interested – and curious to see how it develops past The Next Batman’s final issue.
I don’t think that the second chapter of the Outsiders’ foray into Future State is as refined as the first one – but it also has some serious high points that go beyond that of the first issue. Getting the negative out of the way, the narrative is really hard to keep track of. Throughout the issue, the story is interspersed with a lengthy – and I do mean lengthy – speech from Duke Thomas, who is something of a revolutionary in this version of Gotham. The speech itself is honestly quite well-written, but it is really hard to keep track of it when we’re also told to pay attention to the scenes in front of us. These scenes will often show meaty conversations between other characters, including Duke himself… and I can’t wonder if there was a better way to lay all of that out.
I think it’s important to make this complaint known, because I think everything else being presented here is REALLY good. Brandon Thomas and Sumit Kumar have a synchronization with one another that is unparalleled throughout the rest of The Next Batman, and it extends to every panel in front of us. The relationship between Katana and Black Lightning – loving, but strained by circumstance – is brought to light by Thomas and sold by Kumar, who captures the haunted expression on Tatsu’s face with much more of an emotional punch than the reader might be expecting. This carries over to the action too, which presents all three of the Outsiders as practically forces of nature, who in working together can decimate their enemies with the power and strength of a true superhero team. The fights aren’t won effortlessly, and that shows in both the script and the delivery – but when they succeed, it feels like nothing less than a triumph, which leads into a conclusion that delivers one of my favourite Duke Thomas moments ever. If you’re having doubts about Duke, or the potential of Future State in general, then it’s hard to go wrong with Outsiders. Solid recommendation.
Arkham Knights: Dawn
This is probably the only comic from this issue that I know I liked more than its previous instalment. While the first issue did a suitable job of setting up the dynamic of the Arkham Knight and her squad of villainous soldiers, its followup was very effective at testing their relationships with one another! One thing in particular that I like about Paul Jenkins’ work is how he treats the lore of Future State: It’s not just a showcase of whatever the authors want to do in a weird side-alley of the DCU, but a fleshed-out world unto itself. There are layers to this world that are as of now undiscovered: Penguin’s position in the underground, the way each villain sees one another, and especially the system of the Magistrate’s Peacekeepers. Apart from Peacekeeper-01, Arkham Knights seems to be the only book interested in showing the other Peacekeepers, and Peacekeeper-06 is a great foil to the Arkham Knight for the little time they have available to them on the page. The only problem I have with this, of course, is that none of this seems to be going much of anywhere – once Future State is over, I doubt we’ll see the end to any of these plot threads, and it makes the promise of “Never the End!” on the book’s final page ring a little hollow.
However, what we’re being given really makes me want more. My complaints about Jack Herbert’s action still ring true in this issue – but they’re less of a problem when the story manages to carry an emotional heart throughout it, which Herbert delivers rather effectively. Once again, Astrid and Doctor Phosphorous steal the show – and the way their allegiance culminates gives Arkham Knights a sense of impact when reading it. You feel empathy for these villains, which I think is the appeal to Astrid Arkham as a character. In working together, Jenkins and Herbert have managed to make me care about a group of criminals with nothing in common but the circumstances they’re subjugated under; and it’s one of those books that could truly shine if this event was allowed to carry on past its conclusion at the end of February.
- You have an expendable income that doesn’t mind taking a dent.
- The Next Batman #1 hooked you on its backups, and you’re looking for their well-executed conclusions.
- You’re intrigued about how the relationships in Future State deepen and develop… even if they’re relationships that don’t seem to have much of a shelf life.
My opinion on this book has softened a lot in reviewing it, and it’s helped me to see that I really did have a good time reading the comic… but I have the luxury of doing that without hurting my wallet. I think for this purchase to be worth it, then you have to be interested in every single one of these comics – and I can’t suggest you buy this book if you aren’t. If you are, however, then I think you’ll find yourself with a compelling and exciting reading experience, with what I hope to be a decent payoff to its main story when The Next Batman comes to a close. See you then!
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch