Sunday, October 5, 2014

Reviews of 3 Batman family 'Futures End' issues

In September, DC Comics has been running its weekly limited series, DC COMICS — THE NEW 52: FUTURES END. As DC Access describes the concept, "five years from now a time-hopping Batman Beyond desperately tries to prevent a dark and devastating future from happening."

In essence, this means DC has published one-shot FUTURES END issues of its New 52 titles. Having read only three of them, I've quickly surmised you don't have to have read those respective series to understand the FUTURES END issue. 

Here's what you do have to know: The stories are really just the New 52/DC version of Marvel Comics' WHAT IF? tales, meaning DC's familiar characters are put in wildly unusual circumstances five years from the present.

Here are my four- to five-sentence takes on the FUTURES END issues for three of my favorite Batman-related characters: Dick Grayson, Batwoman and Batgirl/Barbara Gordon:

GRAYSON: FUTURES END No. 1: The first page shows Grayson getting hanged for treason — at hand of fellow secret agent/spy Helena Bertinelli (better known as Huntress). So the immediate question that comes to my mind is: "How did Grayson end up in this fix?"

For the next 19 pages, writer Tom King takes us into the past, giving his readers clues on subsequent one- to two-page scenes on not just how Grayson ends up on the wrong end of a noose — but how he likely escapes death (which we don't see). By the end of the issue — and really just before Grayson's time as Robin — King has taken us to Grayson's origin and ties his parents' murders at the end of Zucco's gangsters into his own (presumed) death. 

The story, which focuses mostly on Grayson's time as a secret agent that sends him into a KGBeast-run Russia, is pretty darn ingenious. Grades — Story: B+; Art: C+

BATWOMAN: FUTURES END No. 1: This disturbing story is made for those of us who have read Batwoman's stories since the pre-New 52 brilliance of writer/artist J.H. Williams III.

Now that I write this review, I realize this issue boils down to a question just as the GRAYSON one-shot does: What would happen if Alice/Elizabeth Kane fought on the side of angels, only to be forced to confront her twin sister Kate -- now an undead, fire-breathing vampire with bat-like wings? Sure, the concept is every bit as weird as it sounds, but I gotta give writer Marc Andreyko a resounding "A" for macabre creativity, which works given the atmosphere Williams set as a precedent years ago.

In addition to Kane being a force for good (forced to go to extremes with her confrontation with Batwoman), I really dig the unusual Batwoman team Andreyko creates: Batwoman, Kane, the Demon, Clayface and Ragman. And as with the way so many of Marvel Comics' WHAT IF? series ends, this BATWOMAN issue concludes with a gut-wrenching death. Shocking but powerful stuff. Grades -- Story: A; Art (Jason Masters sticks close to Williams' style): A

BATGIRL: FUTURES END No. 1: The question here is: What if a thorougly broken-hearted Barbara Gordon gave up being Batgirl only to study to be a disciple of Bane's and later oversee a team of Batgirls (including Stephanie Brown)?

Honestly, I was thinking "What the--?!" for most of this issue, but by the epic conclusion I was sold. Writer Gail Simone makes me wonder how Babs -- who in the regular continuity has always been a beacon of hope and optimisim -- could go dark. While Simone pulls in the ugliness that is Gordon's psychotic and demented brother, James Jr. and had me scratching my head at Babs' motives, she ends with a pump-your-fist conclusion that makes the rest of the story pay off. As she has throughout her 34-issue BATGIRL run, Simone tells the story through Gordon's honest and intimate perspective and with this one-shot, puts an exclamation point on why she's the ultimate writer of my favorite superheroine. Grades -- Story: A-; Art: B (the inks and coloring don't always do much for the pencils).

Gail Simone afterward tribute: You'll be missed, Gail Simone. Your BATGIRL run is nothing short of a classic. It will go down in comics history as a must-read for Batgirl fans. Just how good is your take on Barbara "Babs" Gordon/Batgirl? Yours is the incarnation and standard by which others should be judged. Thank you, Gail!

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