And here's the thing: That's both a spoiler and the only piece of information fans were given before the issue was released. While there is plenty of intrigue and mystery in this issue, the plot itself doesn't quite qualify. The final couple of pages of the story have literally been discussed in every interview supporting the weekly series, which kicks off on Wednesday. That's understandable enough, since this is a zero issue and the final pages represent the premise of that comic...but it's a drag that our final images are of something we already knew we would see.
Then again, Dan Jurgens -- who co-wrote and co-drew this issue -- once wrote a story called "The Death of Superman." That was more or less exactly what it said on the tin, and yet if memory serves it sold pretty well.
The story is orchestrated by Batman who, thirty-five years in the future, is leading the rebellion against Brother Eye, the spy satellite he and Mr. Terrific invented, which has since become sentient and is sweeping the globe, "assimilating" all life on Earth.
As I noted in a previous write-up, there are shades of previous time-travel stories here. Like Days of Future Past, the satellite was created and given sentience by someone who had no idea how bad an idea it was, and no clue it would eventually begin indiscriminately going after everybody to bring a forcible "order" to the world.
Combine all of this with a ton of Easter eggs and likely hints about where the epic crossover story will go next, and you've got an issue that bears some serious examination.
So, with deference to our reviewer Michael Brown, I'm stealing his format here...
Mostly, this book looks terrific. They took four artists with very different styles and managed to form a coherent narrative where no shift is particularly jarring. Some are clearly more suited to this story than others -- both Jurgens and Patrick Zircher are terrific choices to draw Batman Beyond, for instance -- but overall, the look is not only good, but consistent...which is good because it promises good things for the eventual collected editions.
The plot itself is pretty promising, and what better way to introduce Batman Beyond to the DC Unvierse proper for the first time ever than to give him a crossover all to himself? This is -- again, excuse my old-school Dan Jurgens reference -- a bit like introducing Waverider in Armageddon 2001. The stakes of that story were so high, and he was so integral to the plot, that readers couldn't help but perceive him as important to the DC Universe going forward at the time.
There is an overwhelming sense, both in this issue and in the teaser poster we've seen before, that there's been a lot of thought given to the timeline and the nature of the future here. That's good, because having something that feels meticulously mapped out is leagues better than something like Age of Ultron or Countdown to Final Crisis, which traipsed through time and space with no real sense of context or consequence.
There's also an undeniable sense of urgency in this book. This isn't "things will get really ugly if you don't succeed." It's "every character we care about in the DC Universe is already dead and buried if you don't succeed." Time-travel stories have the ability to go balls-out, crafting a fatalistic and horrifying world that the reader really doesn't want to see come true. Too often, they opt for "bad-but-familiar." Here, we're thrown into the deep end of a hellish, disorienting world. It's an immersive experience and, for the most part, it's incredibly compelling.
It also feels like this issue, in spite of being the first issue in a long storyline, is also the culmination of something. There are a number of dangling plot threads that seem to have been set up so they can be knocked down here, and probably more still which will be knocked down just out of practicality since cancelled comics leads like Amethyst and Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. are front and center. The whole thing just feels very considered and rich with mythology...something that DC since the launch of the New 52 has somewhat lacked.
Where the upcoming film adaptation of Days of Future Past may be a bit confusing for the uninitiated because it will introduce new characters within the alternate future who will then likely continue to appear in whatever timeline comes out of the story, there's a similar effect here in that it's not clear just who we're meeting when the story begins. It may just be me, but the lack of costumes or proper names make all the cannon fodder in that first scene totally anonymous except for The Flash and Captain Cold. It took me out of the story a bit.
Some of that falls on Ethan Van Sciver, whose pages open the book. Other than the fact that it's hard to know what the heck is going on in the first two pages, though, his work is solid. Generally, his Flash doesn't work for me because Van Sciver's ultra-detailed, pin-up-friendly art always feels a bit static and staid, which is the opposite of what I want in a Flash comic. Not so much here.
Some of it falls on the writers and editors, who didn't clearly identify people in dialogue after the pages came back and it should have been obvious that "hey, wait, are these guys supposed to be important? Because I have no idea what I'm looking at."
And, hey, maybe that's my bad. Maybe they're just "Revolutionary Guy #3" and the like. But they feel like they're important and to me, it seems like you need a Masters in DC Universe History just to figure out who's talking to Captain Cold. I don't know why it doesn't bother me that my brain is left to fill in the blanks on massive amounts of plot that happened over the course of the preceding 35 years, but it does bother me that I can't name these two grimy dudes. But it does.
The thing that bugs me the most -- and again, this might just be me -- is that it's awash in something that I'm just plain tired of. By the time we sat through more than a solid year of Infinite Crisis-related stories, I simply couldn't have cared less about Brother Eye...but DC clearly loved the idea because it continued to recur just about everywhere all the way through Final Crisis a while later.
And, y'know...it's all about Batman.
Where we talk about things that are neither good nor necessarily bad, but are at least a little head-scratching.
There's a weird echo chamber effect here because Dan Jurgens has drawn a version of this story before. Back when he was the artist on Booster Gold in 2006 or 2007, the second arc that Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz wrote, titled "Blue and Gold," imagined a world where a time-traveling villain had come into possession of Blue Beetle's scarab.
For reasons we won't get into here, he traveled back in time and conned Booster into believing that he could alter history and save the life of his best friend (Ted Kord, the Silver and Bronze Age Blue Beetle who had died at the start of the Countdown to Final Crisis storyline). Doing so, however, created a catastrophic domino effect, causing the superheroes to lose the Crisis and Brother Eye to take over the world at the command of Maxwell Lord, the man who had killed Beetle in the aforementioned event book.
As you an see at left, that too was a bit dystopian, and had just as many Brother Eye drones kicking around. They even had a moment of Superman popping up in the thrall of the satellite, and the heroes saying that they had assumed the worst but hoped for the best when he went missing. That's more or less verbatim something that happens in Futures End, except that here, Superman is hideously deformed as his body has been physically invaded by machinery. The visuals in Futures End are more striking, but they're also somewhat grotesque and bizarre, and I could see them putting some readers off.
The coincidences between the Booster Gold story and the Futures End story are likely just this side of unintentional. Remember that Booster Gold's tale tied into Infinite Crisis and Futures End in some ways feels like a spiritual successor to that story...not surprising, since Infinite Crisis happened on the twentieth anniversary of Crisis on Infinite Earths and Futures End seems to be leading up to its thirtieth birthday. It's probable that nobody really thought about the Booster Gold story as they were crafting this issue of Futures End but that the reason it feels oddly familiar is mostly just the composition of the story's parts.
It's nearly impossible to tell a story featuring the same antagonist (Brother Eye), a number of similar story elements (the small, outlaw band of heroes and time-travel, just for a start) evoking, intentionally or unintentionally, parallels to the previous tale. It's only particularly jarring because many of those elements are not particularly common within the DC Universe's long storytelling history, and so the similarities between the two stick out more.
All that said, if the person Terry McGinnis was sent back in time to kill turns out to be Ted Kord (who will reportedly make his first New 52 appearance in the twice-delayed Forever Evil conclusion), I'll be very sad.
There's also the feeling that this shares a lineage with Crisis. Whether DC wants to say it yet or not, it seems at this point that's what they're going for. The ultra-detailed work of Van Sciver in the first few pages -- in a strange world with red skies and elaborate, bizarre machines -- feels like it's taking a page from George Perez and Phil Jiminez, who drew the Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis miniseries.
...Why the heck did Terry travel back to the wrong year? Does it have to do with the same "fog" that made time travel impossible for the Legion Lost crew? Was it because Brother Eye's creepy robo-soldier that followed him through the time portal infected the mechanism a tiny bit before it died? It feels a bit like the answer is "because that's the story we're telling," which is fine, but a bit easy. If an answer comes out of the weekly series, though, I'll take all that back.
Most of the time, Free Comic Book Day titles lack something in the way of substance. Even when the freebie is used to kick off big storylines, like last year's Infinity or War of the Supermen a few years back, they just have a tendency to feel...thin. Not here. The story is, if anything, too complex, too filling, and ultimately a little bit oppressive. But that, I think, was the point since they were throwing the reader headfirst into the deep end of a very, very different DC Universe. If this book felt too familiar or seemed like you knew exactly what was going on, it would arguably have been a failure.
Instead, it's a visual treat and the story is incredibly compelling. The preview pages and, prior to that, concept art and leaked images that have been circulating online, don't do the book justice by a long stretch and serve as a reminder that it's never a good idea to base your first impressions of a comic on a few pages of out-of-context preview material.
It feels like they've created a ton of stuff from scratch here, and while it has the potential to be a trainwreck trying to connect the dots between the DC Universe we know and the one we saw in today's issue, I find it difficult not to have confidence in the steady hands of writers Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Keith Giffen and the aforementioned Dan Jurgens given the huge promise shown here and their combined track record.