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Boys, Toys, Electric Irons, and TVs 05: Futures End #5

What being a ‘superhero’ means continues to crop up in Futures End. It’s beginning to look like a longform meditation on the concept, what it means in the Nu52DCU and beyond. The fifth issue opens with Mr. Terrific acting like his definition of a superhero: announcing a new piece of technology. In this case, the uSphere: a floating globe that’s “your brain’s backup.” The announcement is a big media event with an over-the-top speech by Mr. Terrific that’s long on rhetorical flourishes and short on substance. “And that, my friends, is how to be a super-hero,” he says after, removing the sunglasses he was wearing during the announcement, a reversal of Clark Kent removing his glasses to assume the identity of Superman. For Mr. Terrific, being a superhero is being a successful technology magnate. We are living in the shadow of Wildcats Version 3.0 clearly.

It’s the conflict between ‘stopping large threats while allowing the world to continue with as little direct influence as possible’ and ‘changing the world itself in concrete, direct ways’ styles of superheroics. The reversal of the Clark Kent/Superman move is not accident as he represents the former more than any other superhero, while Mr. Terrific is staking claim to the latter. It has clearly ruffled the feathers of the Justice League (as his verbal conflict with Aquaman showed in issue 2). During Mr. Terrific’s announcement, we see a few members of our cast watching, all with looks that seem focused and, possibly, wary/unsure. Besides Lois Lane, the three other heroes we see watching seem like a trio that this book will pivot upon at certain times: Bruce Wayne, Terry McGinnis, and Tim Drake.

We know that Brother Eye was built by Batman and Mr. Terrific, so there’s the suggestion that, while Mr. Terrific is on the outs with the League, that may not extend to Batman, a hero that has flirted with using his corporate power as an extension of his superhero efforts. He’s too driven and mentally disturbed to ever embrace that path the way that Mr. Terrific has, but he does seem like someone who would be sympathetic/supportive of that methodology even if he can’t bring himself to do it himself.

Terry McGinnis, on the other hand, knows that the road that Mr. Terrific (and Wayne) is heading down leads to the devastation of the planet as the technology that Mr. Terrific associates with being a superhero grows too big, too smart, too impressive, and overruns everything. He watches, posing as a homeless man, from the crowd (though, he is literally homeless), clearly not buying into Mr. Terrific’s rhetoric and (false) promises. He is watching everything he wants to destroy to save the world. In his world, Mr. Terrific is a misguided supervillain who thinks himself a hero. The real superhero is Terry McGinnis, the future Batman.

Tim Drake is still a bit of a mystery, at least with regards to what he thinks of Mr. Terrific. He is thought dead by the world, has a new identity, and has expressed various anti-superheroes (and anti-Batman) sentiments. However, as we all know, you can’t just quit being a superhero. You’re always one – and always one crisis away from admitting it. His new superhero identity is that of a bartender who’s just a regular person. His methodology is a more localised version of what Mr. Terrific does: he’s trying to be a decent person. He sees the folly in largescale change when what’s really required is smaller changes where people act decently and live goods lives. If everyone did that, there would be no need for superheroes. He may think Mr. Terrific is a good guy or he may think he’s just like the rest. It’s easy to see how he could lean either way, or both in varying proportions.

Where the comic itself lies seems to be with the old style of superheroics. We know Mr. Terrific’s efforts are misguided and wrong. What’s required is a largescale effort by the future Batman to stop the villain-that-thinks-himself-a-hero. Stormwatch (aka The Authority) has been killed and Mr. Terrific is really the villain… this is a comic rooted in traditional superhero methodology. Even Tim Drake will, no doubt, embrace it again at some point. Grifter has been working on a small, local scale and seems poised to ‘graduate’ to the big leagues. The Firestorm subplot has had the hero quit with its two halves going their separate ways and one confronted with another example of someone fighting against the old style of superheroics where the Justice League keeps teleportation technology to itself, preferring to transform the world directly, purposefully oblivious to the guaranteed negative consequences. And who’s on the horizon? Brainiac… technology gone too far…

Maybe it’s not about superheroics. Maybe it’s just a fear of the modern age in general as I expressed last week. Either way, the message is clear: the old ways are best, the future must be killed.

3 Comments

Well, I appreciate that you’ve found a “grand unified theory” of Futures’ End. I still haven’t gotten it. My big complaint so far is that the #0 issue set this story up as “Terry McGuinness needs to avert a horrible future” and we’ve seen disappointingly little of that so far. I keep getting reassurances from other readers that “Hey, all the other stories might end up tying into that!,” but if that’s true, it hasn’t been telegraphed by the authors.

I am, however, sick in bed today, so I plan to reread #0-5 as a whole and see how it comes out. Maybe I’ll like it more as a bundle.

I’ve grown increasingly sickened by the “new style” of superheroics, and I can see why it usually ends in disaster. It may be a cliche to see technological progress turn into evil, and I’m not even bothering with Future’s End but for your insightful readings. Because the alternative is usually the kind of ego-stroking utopianism seen in so many TED talks, where people who are generally of privilege come up with sweeping fixes for society’s ills without having to get into the problems that come up with applying them to all people regardless of their consent. It’s coming up with cures for all illness and disability without worrying about the side-effects that medicines actually have, it’s coming up with sweeping societal reforms that by pass the opinions (for good or ill) of multiple cultures in favor of groupthink, and it’s jumping to the happy ending while bypassing the middle (which is where most of both life and fiction dwell). I don’t really care to read something like Futures’ End with the humdrum Frankenstein resolution, but it doesn’t outright bother me like the “white flight” futurism seen in the Fantastic Four (which is somehow still going).

I have more appreciation now than ever before for the “We catch them if they fall” rhetoric of Grant Morrison’s JLA, because I don’t need to see the masturbatory power fantasy of a utopia with a MacGuyver-style fix for everything any more than I need to see the masturbatory power fantasy of the Hulk defeating Thor.

Adam, if the plot threads end up tying together like they did in 52, Countdown, and Trinity, then we’re in for a world of hurt (and a lot of wasted time).

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