One of the most difficult things about contemporary Batman comics is the titular hero never really seems to learn from his mistakes. Even in the pages of James Tynion IV's current Batman title readers are presented with a hero who, despite having failed his city and his own family in Tom King's run preceding it, exhibits the same behavior—attempting to "save" Gotham by exerting every aspect of control he can both as Batman with extralegal violence and Wayne Enterprises' CEO with the company's technology. In both, Batman is at least temporarily bested not by his greatest enemies also, but his own hubris and any associated back-to-basics fallout ultimately cut short. However, in Future State: Dark Detective #1 writer Mariko Tamaki succeeds where others have failed, serving up Bruce Wayne and Batman facing the error of his ways and thus delivers one of the most interesting and transformative Batman stories in a long time.
The story splits itself between two narratives, focusing on a "now" and a "then" set roughly one month in the past. While that particular storytelling device is a touch cliché, Tamaki uses it to lay important foundations. The Magistrate now runs Gotham City, using direct controls to deal with crime in the city and keep its law-abiding citizens on a short leash. In this near-future dystopia, former vigilantes are hunted by the Magistrate, including Batman. Bruce Wayne, in his civilian identity, is shot by a Peacekeeper. Batman is declared dead, along with Bruce Wayne, leaving Bruce in a challenging position: dead and broke and left to deal with the fallout of a future he feels responsible for creating.
It would be easy to take Bruce at this point and lean into the character's brokenness or even have him turn to some sort of secret contingency plan. Instead, Tamaki takes the shattered pieces of this character and puts them together to establish a story that is part redemption and part exploration of Batman's "detective" aspect without smoothing over any edges. The story treats his long line of mistakes as more of a villain than any single figure and lays it all out for readers. This is a Batman with literally nothing left to lose—delivering a vastly more authentic feeling than his recent non-Future State crusades.
To put it simply, it's "dark and gritty" done right. Tamaki weaves a great deal of wit and even wisdom into the issue using Bruce's inner monologue. The artwork enhances all of this a great deal. Dan Mora draws a perfect Bruce Wayne and Batman while the rest of his work fills in the world building that Tamaki's words cannot enumerate in a visually engaging and interesting fashion. Paired with Jordie Bellaire's phenomenal colors, Dark Detective #1 reads like DC Comics' Blade Runner, switching between the dark of night and the bright, neon pop of a city enslaved by its own technology.
I would be remiss in not mentioning that the issue's backup story, a Grifter story from writer Matthew Rosenberg with art by Carmine Di Giandomenico and colors by Antonio Fabela, is also fantastic, if a touch chaotic. Not directly tied to Tamaki's tale, it does a nice job of further fleshing out the future, Magistrate-controlled Gotham, especially for readers who may not be reading other "Future State" titles.
Future State: Dark Detective #1 is exactly the Batman story that comics has needed for some time. It's raw without being overly dramatic, it's dark without being gloomy, it's gritty without being cliché, and it delivers this all without gimmick. There are real stakes here for all of Gotham. It's a back-to-basics story that is anything but basic.
Published by DC Comics
On January 12, 2021
Written by Mariko Tamaki
Art by Dan Mora
Colors by Jordie Bellaire0comments
Letters by Aditya Bidikar
Cover by Dan Mora