The Next Batman #1 is a slow introduction to a new caped crusader

The future is here with DC’s launch of the two-month publishing event Future State. The initiative punts the company’s superhero line ahead in its fictional timeline to offer glimpses at potential (and probable) paths for characters including Wonder Woman, Superman, and the Flash.

The flagship book for the first week, however, is one that has its entire high concept right there in the title: Future State: The Next Batman.

Who is making Future State: The Next Batman?

In this case, it’s a somewhat complicated question, purely because the comic is actually an anthology with three stories: the title story, by Academy Award-winning screenwriter of 12 Years A Slave, John Ridley, and Doom Patrol’s Nick Derington; an Outsiders strip by Brandon Thomas and Sumit Kumar; and “Arkham Knights,” by Paul Jenkins and Jack Herbert. For our purposes, we’ll be concentrating on the Ridley/Derington strip. (Although it should be noted that Kumar’s kinetic artwork in Outsiders, colored by Jordie Bellaire, is almost worth the price of admission by itself.)

What is Future State: The Next Batman about?

Next Batman aka Tim Fox in Future State beats up a Bane mask gang member Image: John Ridley, Nick Derington/DC Comics

There’s some boilerplate text that tries to set the stage for Future State in each strip, talking about how these stories come “from the ashes of Death Metal” and are “a glimpse at the unwritten worlds of tomorrow.” Ignore that; all three stories in Future State: The Next Batman take place in a Gotham City a few years from now where all masked vigilantes have been outlawed by a private security company known as The Magistrate, which has transformed the city into a police state patrolled by armored soldiers and automated drones alike.

Each story in the issue features characters trying to do good in this new Gotham; Bruce Wayne has disappeared for reasons unknown, leaving room for a brand new Dark Knight: Tim Fox (although he’s not identified as such in this issue).

Why is Future State: The Next Batman happening now?

Future State is, on the face of it, a confusing thing; initially dismissed as two months of fill-in mini-series, a la 2015’s Convergence event, it’s actually a stealth relaunch of much of DC’s superhero line, with new creative teams for the Superman and Wonder Woman titles making their debut, and new series for Teen Titans, Suicide Squad, Swamp Thing, and Green Lantern being previewed along the way.

Even The Next Batman is a glimpse of things to come, despite James Tynion IV announcing he’s staying on the regular Batman series for the next year or so — the Batman introduced in this issue will show up again after Future State is finished, starting with an appearance in Batman: Black and White next month.

So, why is this happening now? Because DC is coming out of a pretty turbulent 2020 by looking toward the future… or, at least what the future looks like right now.

Is there any required reading?

Future State: Outsiders: Katana works her sword magic on some incoming bullets
Future State: Outsiders
Image: Brandon Thomas, Sumit Kumar/DC Comics

Despite the fact that the Next Batman strip features characters who’ve been around for some time — Tim Fox and his family have been part of the Batman mythos for decades — there’s no real need to read up before diving into things here, with Ridley and Derington laying out everything you need to know in the story itself.

That’s also true of the Outsiders strip in the issue, but less so in the Arkham Knights story, which pretty much requires you to have read Peter Tomasi and Brad Walker’s original Arkham Knight story in Detective Comics last year (#1000-1005, if you’re curious) to understand just who everyone is and what they’re doing there.

There is one element of Future State: The Next Batman that might lead audiences elsewhere: the circumstances behind Bruce Wayne’s disappearance. The answer to that is actually in a different comic altogether: Future State: Dark Detective, which comes out later in January.

Is Future State: The Next Batman good?

For a story about a future Gotham, Ridley and Derington’s The Next Batman conjures the past in an unexpected way, with a Gotham that feels like a cross between The Dark Knight Returns and late ‘90s animated series Batman Beyond.

The star of the show by far is Derington, whose work here is familiar to anyone who’s read his Batman Universe or Doom Patrol, but with added texture and grime, offering up hints of Chris Samnee and Duncan Fegredo at times. It’s beautiful work, made all the more impactful by atmospherically garish colors from Tamra Bonvillain. Ridley’s writing is less successful, although it’s still very enjoyable, and he sets up the story’s stakes with appropriate speed, with some nice touches in the process. (The gang being Bane-inspired is a nice spin on Dark Knight Returns gang culture, and fits in nicely with the anti-mask agenda of the Magistrate, for example.) Unfortunately, it’s an oddly slight opening chapter that leaves the reader wanting more for bad reasons — why does it feel so short? — as well as the good ones.

The rest of the issue, it should be noted, is weaker than the lead. Outsiders looks great, but the writing feels uneven and comes across as overly frantic and vague — things are happening with Katana but what they are isn’t exactly clear but it sure is exciting! — while Arkham Knights feels pedestrian and weighed down by past continuity in comparison to the other strips.

The Next Batman the strip is certainly good, and it’s the best thing to be found in Future State: The Next Batman the comic — but whether the entire comic is good likely depends on just how enamored you may be by the larger Batman mythology in DC’s comic book universe.

One panel that popped

A regular guy saying “you saved my life” and Batman saying “Now doing something with it.” Image: John Ridley, Nick Derington/DC Comics