The Gold Standard: Let’s Talk Future’s End

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At any point leading up to Future’s End #0, if you had asked me, I’d have said I’d be reviewing it weekly and getting tired of doing so about about three months, but that I’d have kept at it for as long as I stayed sane. Then a funny thing happened…I worked on Free Comic Book Day (that isn’t funny, that’s normal, I’ve never actually been to my LCS on FCBD) and forgot to ask them to put any books away for me. I figured, whatever, I’d grab it off of Comixology. Only…it wasn’t there. So then I figure, hey, I’ll just go grab a copy from the shop on Wednesday and do a double review of the first two issues (0 and 1). Now, I can’t remember if my shop didn’t have copies, or if I totally overlooked it, or if I just plain forgot, but I walked out of the store that day without it. Sure, I had my digital copy of the first issue, and I read it, but I was missing something, and my OCD senses started to tingle, and the next thing I knew I was probably seven issues behind.

This was a good thing. A VERY good thing.

See, Future’s End is, thus far (having just read issue 13), a pretty good book…if you can read it in chunks. It borrows from the old weekly models that DC developed with 52 and Countdown, and chooses to have several stories going on at once featuring relatively lower tier characters (as well as Terry McInnis and Tim Drake, because, let’s face it, Batman Beyond and my generation’s Robin are never low tier), with a pacing that moves quickly between the various plots to explain time jumps (like how Renee Montoya and Question would vanish during 52 only to reappear on the other side of the globe, or everything with Firestorm in this book so far). Unfortunately, what’s been lost over the years is the right way to pace it out. 52 was awesome, and it’s aged incredibly well, and that is only partially because of my love of anything where Booster is treated in a manner that fits his awesomeness accordingly, but it’s mainly because the story was well put together. Sure, there was filler, and a good ten issue drop off in the middle, but the beginning was great, the end was great, and the middle is just fine when read as a complete product. More importantly, and on topic, you could pick up and read an issue and feel like you got a story as well as questions you wanted answers to.

Future’s End, one issue at a time, is just questions. Sure, if you read four or five at a time, you get a decent chunk of story, but picking it up and reading it every week? I try, and even after I did my first binge, I still found myself having a two issue chunk today (including the new issue). It’s not that nothing happens, it’s just that so little happens at a time with each of the plots that it’s hard to keep up with what isn’t happening. Yes, there are cool moments (some really cool, like Phantom Zone Black Adam), but they almost feel like they’re there to ease the pain of not having much story going on.

I mean, like, we had the Firestorm stuff, and that was interesting, but then it faded to the most background of background plots in favorite of a guy named Cal who swears he isn’t Red Robin but is totally Red Robin, and I just can’t make myself care because I have no context as to why he would need to fake his death to that degree. Yes, I get that’s the point of doing a future story, but his characterization isn’t exactly helping me to figure out what’s going on there, but it’s a main plot. Then you can hop over to the Stormwatch plot, and that is just…DC finally put Ray Palmer into something! Yay? I don’t know, he’s not any Ray I know, he’s just some weird mad scientist with shrinking powers who has no trouble chopping off Hawkman’s arm so Frankenstein can have it. And then Hawkman isn’t dead, but Stormwatch is, and you know what? I’d probably care a lot more if I cared about Hawkman or Stormwatch, but the New 52 version of Stormwatch was just a giant waste of potential that I’m not getting into today and screw Hawkman. But the problem is that you kill a group of characters that nobody cares about, and then you send another group that even fewer people care about out to rescue them, and then you make it a big deal because in the future Frankenstein has Black Canary’s face on his chest.

Thing is, this book is still early, again, issue thirteen, that makes fourteen if you count the zero, so I’m not exactly expecting the stories to be OMG insane right now. I mean, Batman: Eternal has been doing that, but that’s different, the confines of the Bat family let the writers contain the plots without having to stretch the focus too far. Future’s End lacks that luxury by nature of trying to encompass the entire DCU while also trying to shroud the secrecy of the fine details of what the bloody hell happened to make things so fraked up in the first place.

Now, the fun parts of Future’s End have been worth it, and the Batman Beyond stuff has been fun for me as a guy who reads the Batman Beyond digital title (never fallen behind on that one). I said it earlier and I’ll say it again, I was liking the Firestorm stuff before it dropped off a cliff. Masked Superman is intriguing and I still keep wondering who it will be, and just what happened to Clark. I’m fan of Grifter and Deathstroke so I’m able to mildly tolerate the presence of Fifty Sue (she’s awful), and the Earth 2 gulag that Cadmus has intrigues the hell out of me.

There’s plenty of good here to go with the bad, that’s how any halfway decent book should be, as far as I’m concerned. I mean, a great book won’t have that much bad, but a halfway decent one? I kid, I kid. Anyway, the biggest problem that Future’s End has is something I picked up on after my first binge.

It reads like a digital title.

Go read Batman Beyond, or Justice League Beyond, or Smallville. You’ll see what I’m talking about. The issues aren’t short, but they feel like it. They feel like TV shows, to be honest. You get a quick read that ends on a cliffhanger, and you want to come back next week for more.

Thing is, those only cost a dollar an issue. So I don’t mind the fact that I never feel like there’s any sort of resolution for anything unless it’s the finale of an arc. Seriously, go read the Batman Beyond and Justice League Beyond crossover that just ended. Every single issue ends on an amazing cliffhanger, and no less than three actually end on the same “We’re going to crush Lord Superman!” cliffhanger, but try to not get excited and want the next one. It can’t be done, the books were that good, and the pacing was that good.

Also, in something Future’s End hasn’t been consistent at, the next issue always picks up…where the cliffhanger leaves off. Half the reason I’m completely incapable of figuring out what’s happening in Future’s End is that it’s so rare for an issue to pick up where the previous one left off. It’s just so damn jumpy that I can’t really get a flow for anything, and it drives me nuts. I always think I missed an issue somewhere, every issue. It’s one thing to do a book in a confusing future, but at least keep the pacing tight enough that the reader isn’t looking for more time jumps with every issue.

Alright, now to pause from the rant a little bit and give you guys a list of things that I’ve actually liked about the series so far!

 

What I’ve liked:

  • Masked Superman is a jackass. Clark Kent can’t be a jerk, so having a Superman that you just want to give the finger to is kinda awesome. He’s a man of few words, and it’s great.
  • Grifter is prominent. I actually own his entire solo series, even the second half of it (all three books that Liefeld ‘took over’ fell apart), and I enjoyed it for the first bit. Grifter is a great character, and unlike many Wildstorm entities, he actually fits in pretty well with the DCU. Why? Well, for one, Daemonites are awesome, and for two, his power now being completely true sight means that he’s bound to see through something for a crazy ass reveal in the near future.
  • The early Firestorm stuff. Jason rightfully guilting Ronnie over the fact that Ronnie’s selfishness killed Green Arrow, Ronnie making Jason suffer for his mistake and not letting him out of the Matrix, and the eventual blowup between them. Pretty much everything up until Masked Superman started telling them to get back together.
  • The Earth 2 Gulag. I might not care one way or another about the modern OMAC’s (the Infinite Crisis version was so much cooler), but I love that Cadmus has a secret island with every Earth 2 “Wonder” they can find, and that Deathstroke’s job is to go and hunt them down to add to the list.
  • Everything in the far future. I love completely over the top implausible future stories because I find myself just needing to know what exactly caused this utter insanity. I mean, for frak’s sake, Frankenstein has Canary’s face stitched on to his chest. That is awesome, and morbid, and sick, and more awesome. Then the revisiting of that time to tease the ultimate fates of Batman and Joker? Awesome. Loved it.
  • Voodoo showed up!
  • Brainiac corrupting the Engineer. I mean, it’s not going to be as brutal as it could be, but just imagine if that had happened back when Ellis was writing Authority. Did you do it? Admit it, you got a nerd boner, there’s no shame.
  • Also, Brainiac crop circles. Really, Brainiac as a bad guy, especially with a messed up Brother Eye future, that’s awesome. That’s going to be nuts.
  • DC apparently had a war that actually has long lasting effects on everyone, that’s kinda rare. I mean, Infinite Crisis had lasting effects on who was involved, but even the nuking of Bludhaven only really shook up a few characters. So far nobody has shown up in Future’s End without having their life turned upside down by the Earth 2 War.
  • Phantom BLACK ADAM means that I can’t wait to find out what he does to warrant being thrown in the zone.
  • Ollie might be dead, but the man he becomes in the time between his current (awesome) book and Future’s End is filled with moments that I know I’d love to read about. Oliver Queen, hero to the people!
  • Lois Lane means something! How long has it been since someone could say that honestly without referring to Smallville? The Fast Lane is established as one of the most trusted news sources in the DCU at this point in time, and it’s her show. That’s the sort of respect Lois deserves.
  • Anytime someone maims Hawkman it’s a bonus in my book. So to have a book where, thus far, he’s been blown up, left in the vacuum of space, had his arm cut off, and then god only knows what the Brainiac/Engineer hybrid has in store for him? Heaven.
  • Plastique makes for great comedy.
  • Emiko has shown up, which means that we’re getting Ollie’s badass little sister teaming with Barda. That’s the makings of something potentially awesome.

 

And now, because you can’t have one without the other, here are some problems I’ve had with the actual story (i.e. not ranting about the pacing this time).

 

What I haven’t liked:

  • No Booster Gold yet. Haven’t DC learned anything? Their two best weekly series, 52 and Justice League: Generation Lost, had the Booster man front and center, and both were awesome. The point? Booster makes everything better and a lack of Booster is just a way to scream “This book sucks!”
  • Fifty Sue is one of the worst new characters in ages. She’s as bad as Deadman’s talking White Ring in Brightest Day.
  • Ollie died looking like a homeless man. You can be the hooded, bearded, hero to the people without looking like you sleep in alleys under cardboard.
  • Too many OMACs and the all look stupid. The Infinite Crisis version should be the only version.
  • Mr. Terrific’s awful back tattoo that just screams “I’m more gang member than business man”. Seriously, the tat made for a cool cover visual until I saw him actually rocking it in the book, and then it turned to shit. Also, the fact that he calls people “hater” and says “dope”. I’m sorry, but for a character who is supposed to be the third smartest man on Earth, they can’t escape writing him in a way that can only be described as “what a white person thinks black people talk like”. I understand this because when I was in my early twenties I thought these sorts of things, and now I realize I was an idiot.
  • Going to double down on Mr. Terrific; even beyond his awful ink and stereotypical dialog, he also dresses like a complete and total schmuck. All white with a big letter T? Big
  • It’s obvious to everyone else that “Cal” is Red Robin, yet he keeps denying it while doing total Robin stuff…like beating the piss out of people and ducking gun shots.
  • The League having absolutely zero sympathy for Jason after Ronnie locked him in the Matrix for weeks to hide the fact that he caused Ollie’s death. Yes, I get that Firestorm is needed, but you’d think the greatest heroes in the world would raise eyebrows at one of their members doing that to another.
  • Amethyst’s scars. Yes, I’m cool with Gemworld being gone, and I’m fine with her moving from sword and sorcery princess to regular badass, but I think they went a tad over the top with disfiguring her.
  • Hawkman didn’t stay dead. I hate Hawkman.

And finally, because it’s me and I love to do them…

 

Random thoughts:

  • I imagine if future Bruce knew that Terry was working with a bunch of criminals to break into Terrific Tech, he’d smack him and say “This is what C list heroes are for!”
  • Michael Holt is totally not Michael Holt, right? I figure coming out of Earth 2 he wound up with some Terry Sloane in him, and possibly even some Beguiler (for those who aren’t reading Earth 2, he’s the Darkseid follower that is keeping Terry and Michael working for Darkseid by dominating their wills). Why else would he be a walking stereotype that does everything so sketchily?
  • Why is Batman the only person to get hit maimed by a Brother Eye Bug without getting turned? Cold had his hands cut off and started spitting out Binary, Beetle was infected and went full robot face, and John was infected and next thing you know his head is connected by some giant arm thingie coming out of his shoulder.
  • Whenever Brother Eye talks, I hear HAL 9000.
  • Anytime an organization gets as sneaky and shadowy as SHADE, things go kablam in their faces. Will this time be any different? Safe money says no.
  • Terry meeting Tim was great. Terry is all cool “Oh, you know about the Tonga Death Strike” and then Tim is all “I know the man who came up with the deathless variation” and Terry is all “….”. It’s great, two guys trained by the same man in different eras that have no clue who the other is.
  • A version of Hawkman and Atom that aren’t friends and have no relationship? It’s strange.
  • Who the hell is Stormguard? I kept thinking he was New 52 Steel.
  • I like how Hawkman can not only regrow his arm, but the armor on it, because he and Frankenstein have the same gear on their shared arm.

 

Top five guesses for the identity of the Masked Superman:

  1. Earth 2 Superman
  2. Shazam
  3. Superboy all grown up
  4. Val Zod
  5. Majestic

 

But in the end, I went back and I read all fourteen issue back to back (i.e. I did that yesterday and now I’m on day three of writing this review because of it, so from this paragraph down…it’s a new day! It’s a new generation!), and I figured “Hey, this is the final judgment, so it’s only fair to come at this series from one more perspective”, that being the one of the person who would read this book in trade.

When I went through it issue by issue, or small chunks at a time, I liked it, but I didn’t love it. It was alright, but never great, and only sometimes was it ‘good’. The pacing seemed all over, the cliffhangers jumping around and not always following through, and a disjointed sense of storytelling that I immediately felt would read better all at once. Fourteen issues at once, though? Mission accomplished, this book reads VERY well in trade sized chunk. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still no 52 of Justice League: Generation Lost, but there is a lot to like here if you able to tackle it uninterrupted.

And it’s infinitely more readable than the Original Sin garbage coming out of Marvel.

 

Overall?

As a weekly series: 5/10

As a first trade volume: 7.5/10

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