Futures End, Interests Wane

June 24, 2014
Frankenstein is anything but harmless. Get it? Armless?

Frankenstein is anything but harmless. Get it? Armless?

There’s something very odd about the way that the various DC weekly books are paced. By necessity, they launch amazingly slowly — I re-read 52 recently, and was genuinely surprised at how poorly the opening issues read in retrospect, and how long the series takes to come into focus — because they have to juggle and sustain what are essentially disparate single plots for an impressively long time, meting out developments slowly enough so that they don’t exhaust material too quickly. They’re the ultimate “decompression” comics, even if they normally receive some kind of “Well, that’s different because they’re weekly comics” excuse from traditional complaints from readers.

All of which is to say, The New 52: Futures End #0-7 may feel like it’s dragging and a little directionless right now, but I still have this odd confidence in the series that, I’m worried, it may not actually deserve.

I said on the podcast that, in terms of the spectrum of DC weekly (or bi-weekly) series, this is far more 52 than Countdown to Final Crisis, and that’s still the case. The 2006 series definitely feels like the model for Futures End in almost every way, from the world-building, expansive cast of essentially b-listers or below with links to the Big Guns, almost comically-visible attempts to point to Grand Themes (By now, the “What Does It Mean To Be A Superhero” and “Technology Can Be Used to Dehumanize Us” signposts have been fairly well hammered into readers’ consciousnesses) and the asking of Big Questions that may or may not be answered before the series finishes. It’s also a model in terms of creative construction, with four writers contributing to each issue creating the fun guessing game where you can try and figure out who wrote what (I’m pretty sure Dan Jurgens is handling the Lois plot, and Brian Azzarello the Batman Beyond one, but beyond that, I have no real idea).

That clear connection to 52 creates a strange goodwill in me towards the series that I’m not sure I’d have otherwise; certainly, there are plots that I have almost no interest in whatsoever (The Frankenstein/Ray Palmer/Amethyst teaming leaves me cold, for example, despite the Phantom Zone jaunt in the last two issues) and there are moments that feel distinctly Countdown-esque in tone and execution (The villains planning the heist, the heavy-handedness of the Red Robin scenes). And yet, I’m in, I’m down with this series far more than I am for the arguably-superior Batman: Eternal, and I’m not quite sure why.

Well, that’s somewhat facetious; I prefer reading about Mr. Terrific and Firestorm than I do Batman and Batwing, for one. I also like the expansiveness of Futures End more than the relative claustrophobia of Eternal’s Gotham-centric focus.

Futures_End_Vol_1-3_Cover-1More than that, I like the feeling that Futures End is additive to its fictional world, however temporary those additions — Lois as the Perry White of the Internet, the clearly-not-going-to-last-past-this-series post-Earth War status quo, Mr. Terrific’s Steve Jobs-meets-Kanye empire — may end up being. There’re things being set up here that I appreciate as a longterm DC fan, things that I kind of wish would happen in the “mainstream” DCU, whether it’s Black Adam in the Phantom Zone, the new Firestorm situation (and definitely costume), or Cadmus Island patrolled by OMACs. It’s nothing new, per se, but it’s something different and potentially interesting, and that’s enough to keep my attention right now.

For those who haven’t been reading DC books for more than two decades at this point, though — I’m not sure there’s enough there there to keep them engaged. At only eight issues released (and DC, seriously: That zero issue was really issue one. Let’s stop with this “zero issue” bullshit, please — anyone who started the series with “issue one” would have been rightfully confused), we’re still at the point where things are being set in motion and put into place, and all plots are on a slow burn. I get that. For the good of the series and keeping the attention of those who don’t have irrational attachments to either the DCU as a historical narrative engine or 52 as a series, I do kind of wish that everyone involved could find a way to set everything in motion in a way that’s just a bit more fun and interesting in its own right.

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5 comments on “Futures End, Interests Wane

  1. Graeme–

    I haven’t read Future’s End since the FCBD issue, which made it seem like this would be yet another DC meat-grinder. What you’ve described sounds more interesting, though. Especially the description of Mr. Teriffic as Jobs-meets-Kanye.

    I know that portraying unknown technology as leading to catastrophe is a trope as old as man getting scared by fire, but it’s trotted out for a reason– human history shows constant examples of this sort of hubris, “doing something because they can rather than asking themselves if they should” (in the immortal words of Jeff Goldblum). And there’s yet another new context for it in modern society, where innovation has become a fetishized commodity. This is especially true for the TEDTalks culture, where affluent people surrounded by Yes-Men present solutions for the world’s ills within a 15-minute sound-bite, and often do so with dubious research. It’s the academic pomposity of a Malcolm Gladwell article where he suggests an easy logistic answer for centuries of sociopolitical warfare between Britain and Ireland, at worst it’s selling snake oil to solve real problems (such as that asshole who suggested oxycotin to cure all humanity’s ills). It’s turning science into a tool for celebrities to promote their own brands by giving people false hope, an easy answer to complex problems.

    Is that an accurate read of how they’re presenting Mr. Terrific here?

  2. Matt for Hire Jun 30, 2014

    As soon as I started reading this series, the 52 similarities were springing to mind. I mean, Grifter’s stuck on an Oolong Island for assassins, the Firestorm story has some similarities to Booster Gold, I get a Question/Renee vibe from Batman Beyond, and Frankenstein/The Atom/Amethyst are pretty clearly riffing on the Adam Strange/Animal Man/Starfire story. Which I guess makes Mr. Terrific a weird mish-mash of Black Adam and Steel. Heck, in the latest issue, a Red Tornado-ish creature even pops up!

    So basically what I’m saying is that it’s pretty much a 52 cover, which I find pretty brazen on the parts of DC editorial. But somehow, I’m kinda-sorta enjoying it…??? Even though I’m burned out on the whole “weekly series” thing and have to read these in chunks.

  3. Very nice think piece, Graeme. I’m definitely getting a 52 vibe, and like that the writers are shameless about the inspiration ‘Fifty-Sue’ indeed! Heck, I’m even enjoying the Grifter business now he’s stopped stabbing folk.

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