The Next Batman #1
“The Next Batman”
Writer: John Ridley
Artist: Nick Derington
Colors: Tamra Bonvillain
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Editor: Ben Abernathy
“Future State: Outsiders”
Writer: Brandon Thomas
Pencils: Sumit Kumar
Inks: Sumit Kumar & Raul Fernandez
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: Steve Wands
Editor: Dave Wielgosz
“Future State: Arkham Knights – Chapter One: Rise”
Writer: Paul Jenkins
Artist: Jack Herbert
Colors: Sabe Eltaeb
Letters: Rob Leigh
Editor: Paul Kaminski
Cover artists: Ladronn (regular)/Olivier Coipel & J. Scott Campbell (variants)
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $7.99 US
Despite the two-month duration of its “Future State” branding event, DC has managed to generate a lot of interest and hype in this slate of new, fresh takes on its familiar properties, and if The Next Batman is any indication, it could prove to be a creative success as well. The writers deliver a trio of accessible stories with novel interpretations of iconic names. All three stories are set in Gotham, and it seems greater collaboration among the editors overseeing these stories could have made for more consistent depictions of a dystopian Gotham City, each of the segments entertained. If this book (and others in the “Future State” line) proves to be a commercial success, I suspect we’ll see more of this future backdrop in the months and even years to come.
The main feature – screenwriter John Ridley’s introduction of a new Batman in a Gotham City experiencing authoritarian rule – is easily the strongest of the stories in this issue, and honestly, the main reason is Nick Derington’s artwork. I found his art on Batman Universe to be absolutely delightful and charming, but he demonstrates here that he’s capable of edgier fare as well. The gritty, foreboding atmosphere is palpable, and the maturity of the story shines through even though the more cartoony leanings of his characters are still apparent. Derington has quickly become one of my favorite artists working at DC at the moment.
Ridley has transformed Gotham from a city in which criminals rule to one in which the state has come to oppress people to maintain order, showing that an extreme swing of the pendulum is no solution to problems. If his story wasn’t influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 and the heavy-handed answer to many of those protests by government officials, then his script proves to be thoroughly prescient. What’s interesting is how he touches upon these social issues without overtly exploring racism as a root cause. Perhaps some might think he’s skirting that facet, but we’re only one chapter into this story, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Ridley is holding that aspect of the story in reserve until he reveals his main protagonist. Furthermore, one could see masks in this story as standing in for minorities, as Ridley depicts a private paramilitary police force as being particularly focused on people in masks.
Which brings me to a problem with this comic, or rather, with its marketing. DC made it clear a while back that “the next Batman” is Tim Fox, but the way this plot is crafted, it’s clear that Ridley intended on making that something of a mystery. There are three characters in this story that could be the Batman: Tim, his brother Luke Fox, or Whitaker, a former Gotham cop who’s now something of a wild card in the city. In this issue, we’re never told who this new Batman is, and it’s a shame that the marketing machine operating within the corporate side of DC worked against the storytelling side of things in this instance. I felt a bit as though I’d been robbed of part of the experience, of the gradual revelation of the man behind the mask.
I’ve heard a lot of chatter about the price point at which DC has launched several of its “Future State” books, and this one in particular. But after reading this issue, I felt I got more than my money’s worth. This Gotham-set anthology offered three full-length stories. If one views this issue has boasting three $3.99 US comics’ worth of material, it delivers on value, essentially saving the reader 33 per cent over what s/he might pay normally for such content.
While Ridley and Derington’s contribution is the main draw here, I found the other stories intriguing as well. Brandon Thomas offers a different take on the meaning of “the Outsiders,” attaching it to a unique socio-political situation with this new vision of Gotham. Thomas also offers Katana a riveting, action-packed spotlight, and it’s probably the best use of the character as a solo act I’ve seen in decades. The story felt a little as though it lacked focus, as the plot kept jumping to different priorities. Ultimately, the plot seems to be about Gotham’s version of an underground railroad facilitated by heroes, but so much time is spent on Katana and then the appearance of a radically changed, former teammate, it seems clear that Thomas just didn’t have all of the space he needed to explore the many ideas he had at a more natural space.
Sumit Kumar’s name is new to me, but I immediately took notice of his art here. It feels strongly influenced by the style of Sean (Batman: White Knight) Murphy, with a hint of Erik (Savage Dragon) Larsen’s more unrestrained leanings. The two-page spread in which we follow Katana’s infiltration of a stronghold through several floors was fantastic, and reminiscent of a similar scene Derington pulled off in Batman Universe not long ago.
I wasn’t terribly interested in the Arkham Knight storyline in Detective Comics recently, but writer Paul Jenkins makes excellent use of the character as someone who sees criminals as broken people who can be treated and mended through good works. The concept here is something akin to the Suicide Squad, if the goal was real redemption and reformation rather than as cannon fodder for black ops. The tone of the dialogue and narration is stilted, slowing the pace of the story, but it is in keeping with the driven and clinical nature of Astrid Arkham’s philosophy and mission.
Artist Jack Herbert is aiming for a realistic look for unreal characters, so the end result feels a little stiff at times. However, he does convey the characters’ psychological states pretty clearly, and that’s an integral part of the premise here. Unfortunately, I absolutely loathe the design of the Arkham Knight, and it doesn’t improved much here. That huge A symbol – adoring the front and back of the character’s armor – doesn’t jibe with the gravitas she’s meant to exude. 7/10