"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Film, Comic Books
You know there’s something wrong when the series isn’t even 52 issues. The New 52: Futures End is 49 issues long and, taking into consideration any and all one-shots released in September 2014 under the “Futures End” banner, I’ve increased it to 51 issues. I thought long and hard and solicited opinions about any other inclusions into the official run of this comic and nothing else mattered. Hell, Futures End: Superman #1 barely matters. I tried my best to help DC out and make it an even 52. I couldn’t do it.
This was the issue of Futures End that I have enjoyed the least. The book feels like it’s treading water, waiting for Brainiac to arrive or for Brother Eye to reveal itself again or something. For a moment there, it seemed like the comic had come into focus and was really beginning to hit its stride. Then it closed out the previous Firestorm story and Cadmus Island and began having more things intersect until… nothing. Nothing has happened. And you could tell that this would be that sort of comic right from the beginning, too. “Never judge a book by its cover.” What a crock…
The similarities pile up… now, we see the group of ‘heroes’ who reject someone with more knowledge of the problem that they face based on odd moral grounds that seem downright short-sighted when staring oblivion in the face. Are we supposed to cheer this decision? Are we supposed to feel good about their placing their own morality and personal views above the lives they have made it their life’s work to protect? What the specifics are don’t matter when the stakes are this high. As I’ve said in the past, they seem very quick to sacrifice their lives if need be, but not their souls. Is that heroic or pathetic?
“You cannot fuck the future. The future fucks you, sir.” That’s from Deadwood, or, if you prefer in some slightly other words, Saturday Night Fever. Part of me keeps waiting for the reversal of that sentiment to be said by Terry McGinnis when BatJoker shows up: “The future won’t end me. I’m going to end the future.” That’s his mission: to fuck the future. It’s funny how many superhero stories involve that being central to the premise despite them being limited to changing the future, not stopping it. The future always happens, even if everyone is dead. And there are so many futures in Futures End to fuck us all.
Superhero comics sure are obsessed with geniuses… My instinct is to say that it’s a new fad, but it’s always been the case. Super-smart people who used their massive intellects to thwart slightly lesser smart people who are bent on destruction and domination. A conspiracy-minded writer could probably string together a nice little story about most supervillains being government agents meant to keep the super-geniuses of the world too occupied to realise that the world is a fucking mess and needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. Anyway… it’s all about the geniuses and how they aren’t really that smart, except at finding new ways to hit people. But not too hard, of course. I’m going to talk my way through this and, hopefully, make some sense intermittently.
There are 17 issues left now and this is the beginning of the final breather, I assume, before we head into that final stretch where it comes to a head with Brainiac and Brother Eye. This week, we’re given a quieter issue that follows up on the two recently resolved plots: the Firestorm/Madison/Red Robin plot and the Green Arrow/Cadmus/Earth 2 heroes plot. Neither plot is fully resolved, because nothing is ever fully resolved and the resolutions created new plots to be resolved. It’s the never-ending battle for a reason. We’ve already looked at the solicitations for what’s coming next (barring the final five issues) and it didn’t seem like we get down to business again, really, until January. There’s still some work to fit the various disparate threads into something coherent before they can converge properly.
The title of this post should have read “Boys, Toys, Electric Irons, and TVs 28: Futures End #29, New Avengers #26, and Avengers #38,” but Diamond shorted my shop on New Avengers #26, so it and Avengers #38 (which I haven’t read yet since it comes after New Avengers #26) will be discussed next week with Futures End #30 and New Avengers #27 (bet on it being a Hickman-heavy post). I don’t actually mind, because that means Futures End #29 gets all of my attention this week and it’s an issue I don’t mind digging into a little, being the first one-story issue of the series since issue 21’s spotlight on the Earth 2 folks and the build-up of Cadmus as something Green Arrow wants to take down. Here, we get an origin story for the new Firestorm.
Looking at the preview for Futures End #29 at the end of this issue and noticing that it all relates to the Tim Drake/Firestorm story, I began thinking about what we have been told about the future of this series through solicitations. It’s a comic about the future, so why not look at the brief glimpses of the future that we have at our disposal?
I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it before, but I’ve always been fascinated with the superheroes who quit and why they would do so. I’ve railed against the endless cycle heroes who, after a time, become responsible for the deaths that their enemies commit despite numerous examples that the ‘don’t kill bad guys’ policy is completely ineffectual. “Sorry, Batman, but the Joker will kill again no matter what and you know that, so…” It’s a fairly common argument and one I won’t bore you with here. But, related to it are the superheroes that give it up. For whatever reason, they decide to stop doing what they do and, as a result, people almost certainly die. While these absences are almost always temporary, there is that middle period where they have given up and I love what it means. Futures End has, in a large part, been about this.
This has been a year of considering the same things over and over again. I first did it with my in-depth examination of Age of Ultron #10. Now, I’ve fallen into that habit here every week, examining the same ideas again and again and again as they pop every week in Futures End and Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers titles. I’ve been doing it elsewhere in my life as well. It’s rewarding to continually find new things in the same. But, I want to try something different this week: a close reading of Futures End #26, where we’ll go scene-by-scene and see what’s there. Maybe I’ll just wind up repeating the same old ideas anyway. Who knows.
Last week, I rambled on about the lack of superheroes in both Futures End and the two Avengers titles written by Jonathan Hickman (or about what constitutes a ‘superhero’ at this point) and, as much as I’d like to find some other topic to ramble on about this week, a couple of big ol’ softballs were lobbed up in the form of shirtless, bearded Superman and obsessive, cranky old-man Captain America. The two most ‘superheroic’ characters in DC and Marvel depicted as men that barely resemble their so-called superheroic selves. If these two aren’t superheroes anymore, what hope is there for anyone?
What is a superhero? Both Futures End and New Avengers have spent two dozen issues dancing around this question, neither providing answers yet. This was an easy question to answer in the past, but, as stories became more morally complex and easy solutions were eliminated by increasing demands of realism and logic, the exact definition seems more elusive than ever. When the enemy is cosmic entropy where you’re faced with the options of your planet dying, saving your planet by killing another, or both planets dying… what is the heroic action? How much are you expected to give? Is sacrificing your life more noble than sacrificing your soul? What are the ethics of a secret identity and when do you cross the line between protecting yourself and lying to your loved ones? For a lot of readers, these questions are a nuisance in a genre that’s supposed to be escapism and pure entertainment. For me, these are the only questions that matter anymore.
In stories that take place in the future, the reader is always playing catch-up to some degree or another. It’s a way to mimic the sensation of picking up an issue of a series in the middle of its run, albeit designed to be new reader friendly at the same time. How much you’re told depends on how much the writer wants to reveal at any given moment; and, unlike picking up an issue of a series in the middle of its run, you can’t go out and buy some back issues to fill in the blanks. It’s like being someone who lives in the middle of nowhere with no internet access. It’s something that Jonathan Hickman likes to do quite a bit and does in ways that are quite surprising.
The idea of someone else taking up the mantle of a superhero who dies or retires is so engrained into superhero comics that I imagine many reacted to the reveal that Shazam is the masked Superman five years from now like I did: so what? It was an interesting mystery to see how and why Superman had changed from the character we know, but the fact that someone else was Superman wasn’t anything good or bad. It was a neutral move, one almost expected from a superhero comic set in the future. Of course someone else was Superman. If not him than Batman. Or Green Lantern. Of the Flash. It can’t be a superhero future without at least one replacement hero. That people would feel betrayed by someone else donning the mantle of Superman is somewhat foreign to us as readers. It’s one of the things Futures End has gotten exactly right.
I’ve had a lot of less-than-positive things to say about Futures End and DC’s theme month supposedly tied to it lately. The month was a flop, from my perspective, rarely enhancing the weekly series, often contradicting it, and, most likely, offering little for most regular readers of titles aside from a disruption (hell, I buy Wonder Woman every month, but skipped it this month… even while buying many Futures End one-shots… and Futures End being co-written by the writer of Wonder Woman, but he didn’t write the Futures End: Wonder Woman issue… wow, how did DC manage that scenario?). However, I’ve got to say, this week, I was fairly pleased with the Futures End comics that I got. Let’s shove Futures End: Aquaman and the Others #1 aside, because it functions as a conclusion to the story started three weeks ago in Futures End: Aquaman #1 and was, at best, a neutral book and, at worst, a complete waste of my time and money. The other three comics, though, are pretty much what I had hoped for this month.
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.