This is the fourth and final issue of Future State: Dark Detective. It’s been entertaining so far, but every issue left something to be desired, mainly in the writing department. What Dark Detective—not just the main feature but the miniseries as a whole—needs is a strong conclusion. That won’t undo any of the missteps that have been taken previously, but ending on a high note always helps to make the story more memorable and enjoyable. Have the creative teams working on this book been able to pull this off? Let’s have a look.
I enjoy Dark Detective for what it is, but I don’t think the story’s structure is good. For example, over the course of the past three issues, the plot development has been minimal and a lot is being repeated and/or over-explained. All of this has slowed the story down to a snail’s pace, and by the time we get to #4, the plot is rushed in an attempt to have it catch up with itself, meaning that the book has a serious pacing problem. That, in turn, results in a finale that’s trying to do too much all at once, crumbling under its own weight. Furthermore, the ending itself is abrupt and anticlimactic, even though it is set up to be, literally and figuratively, explosive! The reason for it being anticlimactic is because the story simply stops being told. Loose ends aren’t tied up. There’s no reflective epilogue. We don’t really know how successful Bruce’s mission really is because we aren’t shown the consequences. We don’t know where the characters could go from here. We don’t even see how Bruce and Peacekeeper’s duel ends!
And yet it’s still overwritten. Like before, there’s too much repetition and too many things are explained that probably didn’t even needed to be explained in the first place. I think that this story would have been stronger in its presentation if the text had been kept to a minimum. The more silent it is, the more streamlined the comic becomes. For example, there are instances where Tamaki puts three different narration boxes in the same panel that all say the same thing but in different words. Besides that, Mora and Bellaire are such good storytellers that I can guarantee that most readers will look at their artwork and are already able to understand the actions of characters and most of the story itself. All the writing needs to do is fill in gaps where necessary and provide entertaining dialogue. Inner monologue is fine, but every time it’s written, a writer must ask themselves if it’s really essential to have it on the page. Especially in a book like Dark Detective, where it sometimes gets in the way of the otherwise beautiful visuals.
Moving on, I think some of the characters in this story are underused and underdeveloped. For example, we still don’t know anything about Noah other than that he’s a conspiracy nut. But what exactly is his role in this story, other than being a convenient plot device in the sense that he (unintentionally) provides Bruce with the means to complete his mission? And what about Hannah? She has more personality and is more developed as a character than her father, but she doesn’t have an interesting arc or a memorable moment. Then there is Peacekeeper-01, of course. We know he’s a control freak and a jerk, but other than that he’s still a blank slate.
It’s a shame, really. I think Hannah could have been an interesting character if she and Bruce had started working together in issue #2, so they would be directly influencing the plot. Noah could have easily factored into this as well, if he intentionally—rather than unintentionally—helped Bruce out. For Peacekeeper-01 there might not be any hope, though, and in this case I don’t think it’s entirely fair to blame anybody on the creative team. From what I’ve read, this character has been kind of boring across all Future State books. The character clearly needs a lot more work before he can fill the role of the villain.
That said, it’s not all negative. I think the idea of Bruce working from the shadows in a near-future Gotham is cool. I like that Bruce needs to work with the technology that he has at hand, and that he needs to improvise when certain things don’t go according to plan. I also think that the story has a lot of potential to be good and, even though it doesn’t always work out, at least it’s still entertaining enough that I want to keep reading. I just wish it was better.
The artwork is once again fantastic. Mora’s pencils are solid as ever. His characters are always so lifelike, with the appropriate expressions, realistic proportions and body language. They always interact with each other organically. These aren’t stiff character models just standing about during a conversation or striking basic hero poses during fights. While their movements are at times exaggerated, which is totally acceptable in a superhero book, they behave like real people, and it is this quality that makes Mora’s artwork stand out. Of course, it isn’t the only quality, because the way that he frames scenes and panels is always strong, visually and artistically. Even the most simple panels, for example when Bruce sits in front of his computer, are great. Mora has a way of drawing you into the moment, and the many details that he includes in most of the panels create an immersive reading experience.
However, a scene transition occurs that I find incredibly jarring. Without giving away too much, Bruce and Peacekeeper-01 are fighting in a hallway. There isn’t a window to be seen. But when we flip the page we see them crashing through a big window, falling to the depths of Gotham. This is a glaring continuity error, but I’m not sure how much of this is on Mora—it may well have been written like this in the script. An editor should have caught this.
What I love about Bellaire’s work in this issue in particular is how she plays with the color schemes. At the start, Bruce is still at Noah’s place, prepping for his mission, and the colors are muted. But as Bruce goes about his business, the colors gradually become more vibrant. Toward the end of the book, when Bruce is fully geared up and taking the fight to the Magistrate, Bellaire uses a nicely varied palette that enhances the superheroics on display. The artwork, from both artists, is stellar, and, as it’s been from the start of this miniseries, it’s also the true selling point of the comic. Mora and Bellaire’s work is unique and this book is worth picking up for the art alone.
Full disclosure: I do not like this chapter one bit. I was pleasantly surprised with part one, but that level of quality didn’t carry over. By the end of this Red Hood story, I’m just left careless. The story hasn’t managed to make me care about Jason’s mission, the supporting cast, or the villains, but the plot itself also leaves a lot of money on the table. There’s an attempt at creating plot twists, but all of these fall short every time. For example, Rose seems to want to capture Jason when she holds a knife to his throat while three Magistrate aircrafts are coming for them, but it turns out that it was a trick: she says she wants to bring Jason in alive and claim the reward money (as if the aircraft pilots can even hear her like that), and after she’s said that, the aircrafts immediately turn around and fly away. I don’t buy this. It’s such an incredibly lazy way to resolve conflict—a total cop-out—that it’s just unacceptable in an issue that’s this expensive. This isn’t the only problematic moment, but it’s definitely one that stands out.
But what’s even more problematic than that is the fact that this story doesn’t go anywhere. The reason is that it turns out that it’s setup for a different, upcoming book: Future State: Gotham. I have nothing against teasing a sequel at the end of a story, but the story itself needs to be finished! Here, it just sort of peters out at the end, leaving many things unresolved, and as a result the story can’t stand on its own. When a story can’t stand on its own, then readers shouldn’t be expected to pick up the sequel.
The characters in this Red Hood story aren’t that great, either. Jason is a fairly standard action hero, who goes in to kick some ass and be grumpy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that approach, but I would have appreciated if Jason had a stronger personality. Throughout this story, he seems detached from the situation, like he doesn’t really care, and yet, for some reason, keeps going. I’m also not a fan of how Rose is written in this second chapter. Her entire character can be summed up like this: She aggressively and desperately wants to get in Jason’s pants. She doesn’t have much else going on. What’s more, the character dynamics between Jason and Rose are quite dull. While Rose wants him, Jason stays apathetic. It’s not that he’s playing hard-to-get, pretending that he doesn’t care—he literally barely reacts at all. In other words: the story might want you to think that there’s a character dynamic here, but it’s hardly developed.
Milonogiannis’s art is pretty good, though, even if it isn’t my cup of tea. I’m a fan of his action scenes, which are explosive, fast-paced and over-the-top, and break up the boring dialogue scenes by treating us to a visual spectacle. Bellaire continues to color Milonogiannis’ art, which creates some aesthetic cohesion between the two vastly different stories in this issue. I’m just not sure what the intention was with having Jason wear the classic Red Hood mask. First of all, where was he keeping it? Did he pluck it out of thin air, or did he pull it from somewhere else? Secondly, is this meant as a visual joke or is this serious? Bolland managed to make the classic Red Hood mask look good in The Killing Joke, Capullo made it work by finding middle ground between camp and serious in Zero Year, and Tan’s rendition of the mask looks pretty cool as part of Jason’s psychedelic Anti-Batman look in Morrison’s Batman and Robin epic. I’m afraid it doesn’t work for me in this issue, though.
- You are a fan of Mora and Bellaire’s teamwork!
- You are a fan of the Gotham-centric Future State books.
Overall: If you are looking for an issue with well-rounded characters, an intriguing plot and a full-circle ending, then I can’t recommend this comic. If you don’t mind any of that and are just looking for beautiful artwork—and perhaps the best rendition of Bruce Wayne and Gotham that I’ve seen since the start of Rebirth—then I absolutely recommend this comic!
Total Score: 5/10
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.