Future State: The Next Batman #2
Finding a man lying on the street in a pool of his own blood is only the start of a case that quickly triggers greater complications and concerns for the Next Batman. Having ascertained that the crime was no robbery and the victim was seemingly a normal citizen, Batman must now investigate who would have wanted this man dead, and why. What's more, he must do this with the Peacemakers at his heels, tracking him with killing intent. The chase is on for Batman, and the question is, will he find the murderers first, or will the Peacekeepers find him?
Also, in this issue's first backup story, it's a reunion of Batgirls in the most unlikely of places. What is the bad blood between Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain, and can their division be bridged?
And the Gotham City Sirens have lost one member to the justice system and added another in her place as they navigate the oppressive Magistrate regime the way only criminals can: through the secret places of Gotham where the masks still live and thrive.
Though time has changed Gotham in many ways, it has not managed to lower the crime rate along with its mask activity. That’s to be expected. More than the gothic architecture and gargoyles of the classic Batmythos, Gotham is defined by its soul deep corruption and its seemingly endless supply of bloodshed and horror. Gotham has always been a nightmare of a city where the shadows are long, the night is longer, and the teeth of the street are merciless and sharp.
That being the case, it’s hardly surprising to find that the next Batman does not get to slow down, despite having prevented a life-destroying decision for two brothers in the previous issue. Gotham’s jaw keeps grinding down on the population, and so Batman encounters a murder scene as the issue opens. The victim was beaten to death, but he was not robbed, which begs the question of who killed him and why?
Of course, unlike Bruce Wayne, this Batman does not have the luxury of focusing entirely on the case before him. With masks outlawed and Batman listed as the number one target of the Peacekeepers, he is perpetually hunted and must juggle maintaining his freedom from capture with trying to navigate bringing justice to a city where the answers are rarely easy, or simple.
Chapter Two of the Next Batman saga delves deeper into what differentiates this Batman from Bruce Wayne. It also sheds light on their similarities; this Batman is younger, less experienced and more emotive. He makes mistakes that Bruce would not have made, and lacks Bruce’s technology and resources (though in fairness Bruce does as well these days), but the two of them share a love of Gotham City, a passion for justice, as well as the experience of loss and the regrets those losses foster. More, they share an unshakeable will that allows them to push through whatever pain or fear stands between them and the accomplishment of their goals.
This is fortunate because Batman may need those things to get through the night intact.
John Ridley’s voice for Batman continues to develop its own quirks and tones even as he fleshes out the world Batman inhabits. It’s refreshing and a great relief to me to see that he is addressing the question of constitutionality in ways that dystopian futures rarely do. This Batman should also be a breath of fresh air for those who have missed Batman as a street level crime fighter with all the vulnerabilities and limitations that implies. It is, appropriately, like watching the first years of Bruce Wayne, but in a modern setting and with a modern voice.
This issue sees a change in artists as Laura Braga steps in with finished artwork from Nick Derington’s breakdowns. We also have colors by Arif Prianto in place of Tamra Bonvillain. The look is quite different than the first issue – Braga’s artwork leans less graphic and more traditionally superheroic than Derington’s, and in response, Prianto’s colors are not as intense or as stark. However, despite the change in style, the feel and flow of the world remains beautifully consistent. I can’t stress enough how much I enjoy the grungy neon look of the future’s Gotham – it makes me think of red light districts, or Times Square before the clean up. Braga and Prianto make an excellent team, though it’s difficult to match Derington and Bonvillain.
The backup features are different this time around, with Outsiders and Arkham Knights making a comeback in Next Batman #3. This issue’s stories focus on some of Gotham’s most reknown costumed women, beginning with “Batgirls.”
Opening another area of Gotham to us, “Batgirls” takes place inside The Magistrate’s detention facility for costumed individuals. Cassandra Cain has been captured by Peacekeepers, who escort her to her cell in the opening pages of the feature. There she is introduced – or reintroduced – to her cellmate, Stephanie.
Yes, that Stephanie!
But don’t get too excited for the reunion. Readers familiar with the longtime friendship between Cass and Stephanie may be surprised to see that the two are no longer on speaking terms, as Stephanie has long since betrayed the resistance and parted ways with the batfamily. Now reunited, can they mend their fences? More than that, do they want to?
Writer Vita Ayala presents a women in prison story that doesn’t fall to women in prison tropes. The detention center does not separate inmates by gender, and in fact almost seems to team them by type or connection: we see that Harley and the Joker share a cell for example, as do Beast Boy and Donna Troy.
Artist Aneke teams with veteran color artist Trish Mulvihill to create this modern, glass and steel prison. Aneke has a strong grasp of facial expressions and body language. At times her work reminds me of Cliff Chiang in feel, though she certainly has her own style.
There’s a lot of interesting things happening in this story – unexpected alliances reveal themselves, plot twists, and prison violence. I’d be very interested to find out whether the background characters were specifically chosen or left to Aneke’s discretion, because if they were purposefully placed, the prisoners’ identities raise a million questions. Why are some of these non-Gothamite heroes and villains imprisoned in Gotham? And how did they even manage to capture some of these characters? It’s intriguing and a little confusing, but I’m definitely interested.
“Batgirls” serves as an appropriate companion to the debut of the newest iteration of the Gotham City Sirens, as well. You could call them mirror images of one another, as “Batgirls” looks to veteran crimefighters formerly of the Batfamily, and Gotham City Sirens revisits the morally ambiguous Catwoman and Ivy, along with their new partner in crime and heroism, Dee-Dee.
Dee-Dee is an early version of an upcoming release product called the Domestic Droid – intended to cook, clean, and “so much more.” That “more” is important, and carries some unfortunate implications later in the story. For now, what’s important is that Selina, Ivy and Dee-Dee alike aim to expose, and thus bring down, Dilton Luxury Tech… the very company responsible for Dee-Dee’s creation.
I’m not certain how to define Selina and Ivy’s relationship – presumably it arises from the current Catwoman plot which is about to introduce Ivy back into Selina’s life. Certainly they are far closer here than they ever have been, and I found myself wondering whether they were meant to be friends, lovers or something in between, as they are rather touchy feely and affectionate with one another. Regardless, I do enjoy seeing the Selina-Ivy leg of the Gotham City Sirens lineup further developed and solidified into a true alliance.
That said, the Sirens backup seems somewhat out of tone with the remainder of the FS Gotham line. Visually it works for the most part – color artist John Kalisz maintains that beautifully lurid look of Gotham, and the artwork by Rob Haynes, Emanuela Lupacchino and Wade Von Grawbadger is clean and attractive – though I’m not a fan of the Babs Tarr-designed costumes.
It is Paula Sevenbergen’s story that throws me off. The tone is almost light and comedic, despite the story dealing with some of the worst overreaches we’ve seen in FS so far. A peacekeeper is shown attacking (and presumably killing) an old man for wearing a beanie, which they have taken for a mask. That seems almost cartoonish in its extremity. I understand that the lighter tone and exaggerated evil of the regime is intentional, and I do remember Sevenbergen’s fill-in for Catwoman #22, which was also rather silly. That was breezy, fun and fine for Catwoman #22, but here but it doesn’t quite click into place for me. I expect the story, taken in isolation, would feel less out of step..
Overall I would say I preferred the previous issues’s backups, if only because they seem to fit the lead story somewhat better. That said, I am still looking forward to the conclusion of Batgirls and Gotham City Sirens, particularly given their cliffhanger endings.
Another excellent Next Batman adventure, paired with two intriguing backup stories. The character, motivations and methods of the man behind the cowl continues to evolve and reveal itself.
Future State: The Next Batman #2: A Look Beneath the Mask
Writing - 8.5/108.5/10
Storyline - 9/109/10
Art - 8.5/108.5/10
Color - 9/109/10
Cover Art - 9/109/10
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