Patrick: Guys, I want to start this off by apologizing for the typo in the header: it’s “Futures End” and not “Future’s End.” That’s my bad, not Shelby’s. I want to keep it there for posterity and because it speaks to the general confusion regarding this title. The full name is “The New 52: Futures End.” As a weird consequence of that name, it’s the only series that takes place in the New 52 that doesn’t bear this logo on its cover:
If Batman Eternal is about Batman losing control of Gotham, then certainly Futures End is about the superheroes losing control of the universe. Unfortunately, that also feels an awful lot like the creators losing control of the New 52.
The issue is broken up into four discrete, some might even say disparate, stories. In the first, Terry McGinnis realizes he’s jumped back too late in time to stop the invention of Brother Eye. In the second, Stormwatch is targeted by an artificial intelligence that handily dispatches of them before setting its sights on Earth. In the third, Grifter hunts down and murders… something… in the disguise of a little girl. Is it an alien? A mutant? A robot? Finally, Ronnie and Jason bicker over their responsibilities as Firestorm before eventually answering a call for help from Green Arrow. By the time they arrive on the scene, Ollie is already dead.
That’s a body count: Stormwatch (plus Hawkman) and Green Arrow, all blown up or crushed by issue’s end. And that’s not to mention the cyborg Terry bought back from the future or the family Grifter gunned down. I had expected a grim opening chapter, but this thing is relentless. The only piece which seems committed to this level of darkness is the Grifter piece, which paints the character as a methodical and ruthless, almost akin to Rorschach. Like Rorschach, it also turns out that his paranoia is justified – that turn at the end of the story where we see the little girl do something terrifying reveals that this lunatic is our hero.
In fact, Patrick Zircher is careful to keep Grifter off-panel for the entire first page of his story, so we’re only able to see the effects of his violence. He’s a movie monster, or a slasher villain. Setting him up as the one person actively doing something to quiet this as-of-yet-undefined threat goes a long way toward establishing the enormity of what our heroes are up against. It’s certainly more effective than hitting the self-destruct button on Stormwatch’s ship or murdering Green Arrow off-panel.
I’ve got my theories as to what unifies these four stories (Brother Eye), but the storytellers don’t seem particularly concerned with making the connection explicit. The very fact that we start the series with Batman Beyond suggests that the team specifically wants readers to be ill-aligned in the world before introducing complications. I mean, take a look at the rest of our heroes: Stormwatch, Grifter, Firestorm. They’re all obscure corners of the DC Universe, and both Stormwatch and Grifter are recent additions to the main DCU. Consider how Marvel’s Age of Ultron, a series similarly interested in killing-off heroes, began: with Hawkeye rescuing Spider-Man. I am significantly less familiar with ALL of the characters in Futures End #1 than I am with either Hawkeye or Spider-Man. The experience is disorienting and discomforting.
You could argue that this is the point. While Ultron traded in emotional clarity, this series is off to a muddy-as-fuck start. Part of that is due to the fact that so many different plates start spinning in this one issue, all with a mathematically precise number of pages allotted for each plate. My fear, after the first issue, is that the form is going to dictate this story for its entire run, giving us 51 more thematically inconsistent issues. But there are some good ideas in here — in addition to Grifter’s inspired characterization, Terry is a delight and I can’t wait to see him interacting with present-day superheroes. What do you guys think?
Drew: Whew. I read this issue specifically to write a response here, and completely forgot that I had read it when I actually sat down to write, about five hours later. That doesn’t bode well for this series, which seems utterly determined to stymie any emotional investment in these characters. Patrick already pointed out the strictly C-list heroes featured — none really a draw on their own — but what really amazes me is how little we’re given to care about. Part of that is how overstuffed this issue is (which I’ll get to in a moment), but another piece is how these stories are deployed.
That Stormwatch scene is 6 pages — as long as any other scene in the issue — but ends with the apparent death of every character in it. That kind of real-estate might be justifiable on a hero anybody cares about, but honestly, I had forgotten most of these guys were alive in the first place. A series depicting the demise of the DC Universe could have just as easily never mentioned Stormwatch (as many already haven’t), which would have freed up some valuable space to make us care about Grifter. Because let’s be honest: who gives a shit about Grifter? Clearly not this issue, which gives us the helpful introduction to the character by establishing that he…does whatever the hell it is that Grifter does. That “what” or “why that is” is never made clear feels less like a failure and more like an acknowledgement that nobody could possibly care enough about what a Grifter is to even bother trying to explain it.
That leaves two scenes — half of the whole issue — as dead weight, making me wonder why this issue didn’t bother to tighten its focus at all. Either of the other scenes could have benefitted from more space, which would have made the issue as a whole stronger. Patrick already cited the strength of Terry’s scene, but I actually enjoyed the Firestorm stuff, too. I’m sure the antagonistic relationship between Jason and Ronnie gets old after a while (shouldn’t they be better at this by now?), but it’s charming enough here, and builds up to a decent lesson/reveal.
Of course, that the reveal is the most exciting part of the issue sets an unfortunate precedent for this series. I can very easily see this becoming the series where I care more about the corpses than the protagonists. Like, I think I’ll always find myself wondering “why not Grifter?” You know, unless they figure out a way to kill off Stormwatch again. Nobody cares about Stormwatch, either.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?