Review: Future State - The Next Batman #4
"The Next Batman", "Batgirls" & "Ladies' Night Out"
Writers: John Ridley, Vita Ayala & Paula Sevenbergen
Artists: Laura Braga, Aneke & Emanuela Lupacchino
Colour Artists: Arif Prianto, Trish Mulvihill & John Kalisz
Letterers: Clayton Cowles & Becca Carey
So we come to the end of The Next Batman. This four issue limited series has been an integral part of the Future State mini-era, which is has seen DC put the main continuity on hold, and treat us all to a glimpse of a future that, it's fair to say, isn't so bright. No shades needed here! This has been a depiction of a world that's seen several changes, none of them for the better.
However, a Gotham City full of sweetness and light just wouldn't be right, so the grim tone and bleak status quo has worked beautifully for this title, and the surrounding books featuring the extended Bat-Family. Any fears that this run would fall down badly without Bruce Wayne donning the cowl have been ill-placed, as this has been a title that's delivered consistently, and produced a story that has been satisfying and nicely paced, yet has left me wanting to see more. Will we get it? It appears so...
Rather than overloading the bombast, writer John Ridley wisely opts for a finale that, while action packed and full of bang for your buck, feels like an intimate story that takes place in a confined space. Picking up where the previous issue left off, this is a roller coaster ride and race against both time, and huge odds. There's a tangible sense of peril and high stakes danger throughout this book, and a real feeling that events are certain to take a huge turn for the worse. As our titular character runs the gauntlet of the city in an effort to bring his quarry to justice, I felt as though there was no way he could pull it off, Batman or no Batman!
Jace Fox has been a welcome appointment to the cowl. Despite my initial misgivings he's proven to be a Batman that you can't help but root for. Less infallible than Bruce Wayne, less self-assured than Dick Grayson and less psychotic than Jean-Paul Valley, this Caped Crusader feels like a man trying to do his best. Not always getting it right first time helps to make him identifiable and less of a superhero. Whilst his journey to the costume hasn't been fully explained, there has been enough meat on the bone to draw the reader in.
With an end that paves the way for a family conflict to come, there's the potential for so much intrigue and familial drama down the road. When readers are given the opportunity to revisit this scenario again in the future, then I'll be there, first in line, to get more of the Fox family saga. In the words of Verruca Salt, "Don't care how, I want it now!"
The concluding parts of the side stories are contained within these pages too, with Batgirls especially hitting the heights. It would be hard to divulge too much without straying hugely into Spoiler territory (see what I did there?) but suffice to say that this instalment contains the granddaddy of all prison breaks, the kind Michael Schofield would be proud to call his own! With a much loved character making a very welcome appearance during the proceedings, this has an incredibly stacked deck of characters indeed. Highly recommended! Ladies' Night Out continues on in it's comedic vein, which doesn't massively appeal to my sensibilities, but please don't let this writer's opinion put you off. It's still a well composed, entertaining story that features fun takes on the characters, and anything that brings Slam Bradley to the table can never be a bad thing.
The Next Batman has been a great event series. We've been given four well paced, and expertly realised issues, that have kept me on the edge of my seat. A fresh voice under the cowl has certainly put a nice spin on the mythos, and has lived up to the hype surrounding the Future State era, when other titles maybe have not. When we're treated to new eras and fresh twists on long standing characters and situations, they can sometimes miss the mark. Not here though, this has been every bit as good as I'd hoped for.
Hats off to John Ridley and his creative collaborators for this fine read. Go and pick it up if you can, it's a worthwhile investment.