I’ve been known to piss my friends off from time to time by the way that I tell them about myself.
It’s not intentional, mind you! I don’t make a point to gather people around a campfire, wistfully boasting of my accomplishments as if I didn’t peak in high school five years ago. The problem lies in how I tell them about the mundane things, like something mildly interesting that happened to me during my day. I’m a fairly excitable person by nature, so when I talk about finding something neat across the street, there’s this instinct I have to get people as interested in it as I am. That’s great for getting people’s attention, but the follow-through leaves something to be desired. There I am, rambling about how my day was going, luring people in as the story gets more and more intriguing…
And then I’m done! And the story just… sort of ends, leaving my friends hanging after expecting something far more exhilarating than the relatively cookie-cutter occurrence I went through. “That’s it?” they might say, which used to bother me a little. After all, I thought it was cool! Not everything about my life has to have an amazing conclusion. That being said, I’ve recently come to understand my friends a little more. After all, they were expecting a story. What kind of story would reel you in, make you invested, and then just teeter off without much of a point to it all?
The Next Batman
So we’re finally at the conclusion of John Ridley, Nick Derington and Laura Braga’s The Next Batman, and I’m not particularly impressed by what’s obviously setup for Ridley’s upcoming Second Son series. It’s nice that Jace Fox’s first issue was relatively standalone, but I was hoping the next three issues would follow the tune of Year One rather than a generic action flick. In essence, the concept is pretty solid: as opposed to a high-stakes adventure with the fate of Gotham at stake, this story is about everything Batman goes through to solve one single crime his way, and the sacrifices he makes to reach the other side. The idea of the story focusing on the individual people of Gotham City, as opposed to the entire police state that Gotham has been put under, really appealed to me… so it’s a shame that the people Ridley chooses to focus on aren’t all that interesting. To me, it’s a problem with delivery, and that’s a collaborative effort between both writer and artist. Take a look at this page, for example.
There’s a lot of important stuff going on here. The criminals Batman has been following from Issues #2-#4, Sara and Eric (whose names I have forgotten several times even while writing this review), are finally being taken into custody. What follows is a conversation between them about who truly deserves blame for the crime they committed: the murder of a man who killed their daughter. This is the setup for an emotionally raw scene, where a loving couple deal with the consequences of being consumed with revenge, and which of them deserves to take the fall for a decision neither of them regret. So, tell me: does the dialogue reflect this? Do their expressions portray this? Do the characters feel like they care about this as much as the audience should? This is a problem that occurs several times over the course of this book.
I mean, I’m asking the same question of Eric’s death scene. The dialogue here isn’t atrocious, or anything – and I genuinely love the way Laura Braga depicts the ruins of the exploded car, fire and smoke blending together as it’s blown into the air, whisked to the right of the panel. Do I love Sara’s expression as Eric dies? Do I like how little Ridley elects to linger on the impact it has on her, or Batman? Not particularly! These are things that could make for a great self-contained introduction to the Next Batman in the right hands – but in these hands, make the story feel like it’s treading water, only four issues into this new saga.
There are things I like here – the characters, some of the family drama, and especially Jace’s portrayal – but I won’t cover them here. I don’t really want to dwell on this issue for much longer, because everything else I could say about it has been said in previous reviews. There are a lot of ups and downs to this story, and it’s something I might be more forgiving of if you’re well into telling your story about the next man behind the greatest superhero persona of all time… but you’re not. You’re four issues in. The Next Batman doesn’t instill me with confidence that Second Son can get the ball rolling and keep it there, and give this character the nuance and creative storytelling I honestly feel he might deserve. I like Jace – and I really want to see him do better.
This is probably my favourite of the three stories here. I don’t like it a lot – and there are a fair few reasons as to why – but there’s also a value to it that I don’t feel is as prevalent in the other chapters here. Much of what I disliked in the previous issue came down to how I thought it was spending its time: when you’re given the chance to write a story about Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain in a cyberpunk future, I don’t think the best route to go is a story entirely set in a prison where most characters are unrecognizable in bland, orange jumpsuits – and Steph and Cass find themselves at odds for most of the issue. Here, the problem is mitigated (by a lot!) with both the scenery and the content of the issue changing pace. While the first chapter was mostly setup, this is essentially an issue-long prison break: and it features several characters back in their costumes, sporting new designs which I genuinely think are a treat for the eyes. There are still many characters that are hard to recognize out of costume – after seeing Black Lightning as a literal lightning bolt in Outsiders the issue before, it was odd seeing him as a regular person here – but Vita Ayala writes this story in a way that I can picture it taking place before much of Future State, so my problems about continuity are somewhat mitigated.
Sadly, my biggest complaint is still here, in that I really think the dialogue needs some serious polishing. Efficiency in your script is important: while sometimes it’s good to fill up pages with lots of dialogue for effect, too much of it in a fast-paced book can really make you feel like the pacing is slowing down just to let the characters finish their sentence. The worst example I can think of is when Cass is rescuing Barbara Gordon – who immediately begins to dive into a monologue after being awoken from what is essentially a coma. A lot of this is fat that could be trimmed, and it’d be much appreciated too – because then we’d have more space to see some really good art.
Aneke’s art shines more in this chapter of Batgirls than it did in the previous instalment, on account of her being given a lot more to do here. There’s more action, spectacle, location and character design, with a few moments that leap off the page when contrasted with the usual splattering of orange we see in a lot of the book. I think my favourite part of the book would be this beautifully framed sequence near the beginning, in which Cass has to infiltrate the prison by impersonating a Magistrate guard. Sequences like these are splashes of creativity that I really think help Batgirls – and a lot of Future State, honestly – shine, so it’s nice to see this book getting some of that action. This is definitely a flawed comic, but it’s also one that improved the more I read it, so I’m curious and optimistic to see if that upward incline will continue when I read more from these unique creators.
Gotham City Sirens
While I’m still very much not a fan of this book, I liked it a little more than the previous instalment! There’s a little more meat to the comic’s bones, and while I think neither the writing nor the illustrations have improved, there are a few scenes here that at least make a case for the book’s place in the world of Future State. Regarding the art, it has the exact same issues I had in the previous chapter, and I feel I managed to put those complaints fairly concisely in that one – but this issue does have the benefit of additional setpieces that make the comic a little more vibrant, at the very least. After the events of chapter one, the Sirens retreat to one of Ivy’s hideouts: and while it’s nothing all that special, Ivy keeps a “pet” at the hideout which makes for some fun interactions between the cast, as well as introducing a new design to keep me visually entertained.
Meanwhile, the story continues to feel somewhat off – which is a shame, because it’s certainly one of the more “cyberpunk” stories of the bunch. Touching on the idea of two villains stealing an entire robot for the sake of the technology she contains, only to find she has the personality of a dying teenager implanted into her? That’s a great idea, especially considering the sinister implications of what that says about her creator and “owner”. In that respect, I enjoy what the comic is trying to do… I’m just not sure if this was the best way to do it. Oftentimes, I was far more focused on what I felt was a mischaracterization of the Sirens, partially owed to the lack of Harley Quinn in the story. This absence is mentioned, but the more unhinged member of the sirens is an excellent foil to the other two because of the personality difference, and her not being there means that the others have to act like her at certain points to retain the same dynamic. I wonder what writer Paula Sevenbergen would do with the full cast of the sirens… though, personally, I’m not holding my breath to find out.
- You’re collecting every instalment of Future State.
- John Ridley has managed to hook you on Jace Fox, and you’re eager for each and every issue.
- You have such a desire to see Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown in comics that you’d buy a ridiculously expensive one just for a morsel of content with them.
I didn’t want to be disappointed in this book – honestly, not many people in the Batman News review team were more excited about Future State than me, and I do think this event has managed to create a few genuine gems. But as a reader, you owe DC nothing; for them to earn your money, they need to be making stories worth that expense, and I cannot say that this comic is worth that until it’s in a collected edition with content you know you’ll actually like. It’s a genuine shame to say this – especially when there are merits to each story here – but I’m very happy to be done with reviewing The Next Batman. Reviewing Justice League is going to be complicated enough.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch