At the beginning of 2021, Future State was released into the world – and whether you like it or not, it’s been one of the driving forces of momentum for DC’s universe as of late. Personally, I’ve found it kind of interesting! Seeing where places such as Gotham City are in the near future is cool, especially when you jump back to the present day to essentially lay the groundwork for what might be to come. It’s almost like when you watch an intense scene in the opening of a movie and they cut to three weeks earlier – only on a publishing-wide level.

One of the biggest characters to emerge from this event was Lucius Fox’s “second son”, Jace Fox – Tim Fox for the people out there who don’t respect the name the character chose for himself, such as DC Editorial. Jace is a different kind of Batman: it’s not only that he’s black and has a more tenuous connection to the main Bat-family, but it’s also because his attitude to crimefighting is one that’s a lot less refined than that of Bruce Wayne’s.  Future State: The Next Batman hints at what that actually means in a story that starts off strong, but unfortunately peeters off pretty quickly. Now, it’s up to John Ridley to take what he wrote in that story and translate it to current continuity. Now that we’ve seen what Jace is like as Batman, will his origin story hold up to snuff?

Honestly, yeah! I had a good time with Second Son, and with I Am Batman out today, be sure to check out this beforehand. I guarantee it’s required reading.

So, Second Son is split into four physical issues, which amounts to twelve digital ones. The divide is mostly done well, and I actually bought these comics in physical editions to see how well they translate from one format to another. Save for a couple of pages, it’s pretty obvious the book was meant to be digital-first – but I didn’t really find it to be all that grating when I held the book in my hand. The benefit of owning these physically is that you get to see a few splash pages that the digital editions can’t properly explore with its aspect ratio, so I’d definitely suggest picking this up as a trade. That being said, you absolutely do get your money’s worth if you’re picking this up issue to issue online.

To my knowledge, the artwork of the four issues is split between two pencillers: Tony Akins and Travel Foreman, Foreman ultimately handling most of the comic. Colourist Rex Lokus does a good job of giving all the artwork a similar mood, so you honestly don’t really notice when the artstyle changes. This is a big step up from Future State: The Next Batman, where the change in artists felt incredibly sudden and disruptive. Points to Second Son for better consistency on that front!

Foreman’s art in particular feels like a really strong point to the book. It’s nothing super complex or anything – Akins draws more complicated stuff in the first issue, whereas the densest of Foreman’s panels are probably those at Jace’s party, or the fight with Batwing in Ratcatcher’s den.

That said, Foreman does a great job with the characters themselves. Reminiscent of Nick Derington’s style in Jace’s debut issue (but different enough to be clearly be his own style), Foreman draws the Fox family as very visually distinct individuals, and does an awesome job of drawing a younger Jace Fox that retains traits and subtleties he’ll carry over into his adult self.

I think the character that surprised me most – both in how they’re drawn and how they act – is Lucius Fox. Portrayed in media such as the Dark Knight trilogy as a very put-together person, seeing Fox’s emotional range in this book is really interesting, yet doesn’t feel like it comes out of nowhere. It’s clear that the Joker’s attack on him influenced him, but beyond that, the book goes to great lengths to peel back the layers of the man: someone who uses the privileges he earned to protect his family from harm and accountability. It’s not so black-and-white – he clearly has good intentions – but Lucius is quite literally seen in a very ugly light in this comic.

Really, none of the characters are portrayed as flawless in this book. Lucius and his wife, Tanya Fox, both do several things in this story that make it very hard to root for them, or even like them – and while Luke Fox is very clearly still a hero in this book, he finds himself unable to face his problems in the way his younger sister Tiff expects of him. Tam, the older sister, is somewhat fridged in this book. That’s unfortunate, but it does help show how the Fox family acts under stress, and it provides readers with a nice callback to anyone who read the Batwing comics back in the day!

I honestly like a lot of how Ridley writes the Fox family, but ultimately they’re used as a means of lifting Jace Fox up. I don’t want to go into spoilers – the reveal of what happened to Jace in the past is quite well-executed – but despite all of the other characters’ flaws, Jace is ultimately guilty of a greater sin than the rest of them. Jace’s backstory is grim, but very real and plausible, and explains a lot about the kind of person he is in the modern day.

What makes Jace a great character in this book, however, is that he also steps up in a way the other characters don’t. Instead of covering up his mistakes, he learns to stop running from them and own up to them – stepping up and trying to face his shortcomings, despite his family attempting to bury them for the sake of their own reputation. That, more than anything else, tells me why Jace could truly be the next Batman.

There’s a lot I haven’t written about: Future State detectives Whitaker and Chubb returning in an interesting subplot, or the questionable interpretation of Renee Montoya’s values – let alone the story’s connections with the current Batman comic, of which there are many. But if I have to recommend this book for anything, it’d be for what this says about the Fox family, giving us their most interesting interpretation in years. I’m excited to see where I Am Batman takes it… especially since, frankly, issue #0 is literally just another issue of Second Son, seeing as this book has a ridiculously abrupt ending that requires further reading to be remotely satisfying. It’s a good thing that the book has earned its continuation.

Recommended If:

  • You’ve been enjoying John Ridley’s growing resume as a comic book writer, inluding the critically acclaimed The Other History of the DC Universe.
  • Future State’s world has you invested enough to see how current Batman media develops to get to that stage – and if Future State is truly meant to come to pass.
  • You want to see Lucius Fox, his family and the next Batman in a new, darker – and more refreshing – light.

Overall

This is an imperfect book, and certainly not the greatest origin story for a new Batman that you’ve ever seen – but that bar is so ridiculously high that I don’t think it’s fair to judge by that metric. What this book is has a lot to like already – and collected with Future State: The Next Batman, we now have an incredibly solid foundation for a new character that has a lot of potential. I don’t know about you guys, but I want to see that potential realised.

Score: 7/10

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Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this movie for the purpose of this review.

Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch