By Andrew A. Smith
Tribune Content Agency
Dec. 24, 2020 — As 2021 begins, DC Comics is going back to the future.
In a publishing initiative called “Future State,” every ongoing DC superhero title from Action Comics to Wonder Woman will go on hiatus in January and February, replaced by 26 titles featuring the descendants and legacies of today’s characters in various eras, from the immediate next generation to the end of time. When March arrives, most (but not all) of the regular titles will return in a trimmed-down line.
Weird? Yes, but only on the surface. Once you know the background, it almost makes sense.
First, this isn’t the first time that DC has taken a two-month hiatus with all of its ongoing books. They did the same thing in April-May 2015, when a storyline called “Convergence” replaced the regular books in a story where Brainiac takes various DC cities, puts them under domes on a planet outside time and space, and forces the superheroes to fight each other, in order to yadda-yadda, rum-de-puppity, rum-de-skidoo.
Sorry, but none of it really mattered.
See, the real reason for Convergence was that DC Comics was moving from New York City to Burbank, California, and they gave their staff and regular freelancers a two-month break to facilitate the move. The fill-in people doubtless did the best they could. But Convergence was a placeholder, and that’s exactly how it read. It ran the characters through hamster wheels until the return of the regular titles — and the pre-Convergence status quo.
Secondly, the future at DC Comics isn’t, as Shakespeare called it, the “undiscovered country.” It’s actually way past discovered, and pretty well mapped.
The publisher’s eight decades are rife with stories speculating on what characters could replace today’s familiar superheroes. Possible futures have included the “Batman II” Imaginary Stories of the ‘50s, the teen “Super-Sons” (of Batman and Superman) in the ‘70s, and “DC One Million” — when, for one month in 1998, the publisher’s entire line of superhero titles was set in the 853rd century. Characters from the future appear regularly in DC’s monthly comics, including Batman Beyond (near future), Booster Gold (25th century), Reverse-Flash (25th century again) and Abra Kadabra (64th century). Series set in the future include OMAC and Tommy Tomorrow (near future); Atomic Knights, Hercules and Kamandi (after undated disasters), Space Ranger and Space Cabbie (22nd century) and the Legion of Super-Heroes (31st century).
When you consider how much of DC’s future has been explored, it’s almost as if Future State is just filling in the blanks.
And finally, there’s 5G. Not the fifth generation of broadband cellular networks, like you see on TV commercials. In comics, “5G” was a plan by former DC co-publisher Dan DiDio to replace all of DC’s superheroes with a “fifth generation” of new faces. That was in the works when DiDio was abruptly fired in February by higher-ups in WarnerMedia.
(I’m guessing it was 5G that did him in. The Powers That Be probably feared he was about to kill the golden goose — DC’s intellectual property — that was feeding movies like Wonder Woman and TV shows like The Flash.)
So what to do with all of that 5G stuff that had been commissioned? Well, duh.
So here we are with a two-month 5G instead of a permanent one. Which raises the question: Will Future State matter, or will it be another Convergence? Given its provenance, should we even care?
Yes. Because some of it will be reflected in DC’s regular line when it returns in March. Also because there will be some “firsts” in this train ride that will be worth the ticket.
And it’s “essential reading,” if you can believe Batman Group editor Ben Abernathy.
“Future State is not a throwaway event," Abernathy said in an interview with CBR.com. "It's not time wasted in any way. It's all part of a plan we've been working on for a while."
And Abernathy should know. He’s in charge of “Future State: The Next Batman” #1 — that’s the actual title — wherein The Next Batman will be Black. We’ve had a Black Bat-sidekick (The Signal) and a Black almost Batman (Batwing) but never an actual Black Batman. Until now. (Or at least the near future.)
In Future State: The Next Batman, Bruce Wayne’s successor is Black, battling against a fascist state called the Magistrate. (Future State: The Next Batman #2 variant cover art by Doug Braithwaite, copyright DC Comics)
Who is it? Well, I won’t spoil that, except to say that the character was introduced way back in 1979. (“Quick, to the Bat-longboxes, Robin! We’ve got research to do!”)
Another point in favor of “Next Batman”: It’s an oversize (64 pages) anthology, with back-up stories starring Bat-adjacent characters such as the Outsiders, Batgirls (at least two of them), Arkham Knights (Bat-villains) and Gotham City Sirens (Poison Ivy, Catwoman and a surprise). The series runs an unusual four issues — most Future State titles run but two — to pack all that in.
And I hope it works. One thing the comics industry desperately needs is a bunch of successful anthologies. Great characters who can’t seem to support a title for long — Hawkman leaps to mind — could have a second life as back-ups in anthologies, if fans were willing to buy them. Let’s hope “Next Batman” pulls that trigger.
And where’s Bruce Wayne? He’s still around, fighting the new paramilitary rulers of Gotham City, the Magistrate. You’ll find his adventures in the four-issue Future State: Dark Detective, a slightly smaller anthology (48 pages) that will offer Red Hood and Grifter in the back.
As for lasting impact, look no farther than the two-issue Future State: Wonder Woman, which introduces Yara Flor as The Next Wonder Woman. She’s Latina, an Amazon from the Amazon Basin (which is a cute touch). We’ve had a bad-tempered Wonder Woman (Artemis) and a Black Wonder Woman (Nubia), and an army of Wonder Girls, who are almost always white. So a Latina Amazon is new thing, that makes one wonder what took so long.
Yara is also a member in the two-issue Future State: Justice League, and co-stars in the two-issue Future State: Superman/Wonder Woman. But she’s also going to have her own TV show on The CW, so yeah, she’s a big deal.
And Diana? She’s got her own book, the two-issue Future State: Immortal Wonder Woman, set in the far future. She’s evidently become a goddess, and has outlived everyone we know except other gods, who are knuckling under to something called The Undoing. It seems an Amazon’s work is never done. In the back of the book, the aforementioned Nubia gets some love.
This pattern continues with the third member of DC’s “Trinity,” with both a new Superman and the original as headliners, separated by time or space.
The new guy is Superman’s son Jonathan Kent, currently a teenager, who is all grown up as the star of “Future State: Superman of Metropolis” and “Future State: Superman/Wonder Woman.” In the former, he is so worried about his native city that he puts it in a bottle, Brainiac style. Why would he do this? Decades of reading comics suggests to me that he’s being controlled by Brainiac in some fashion. We’ll find out soon enough, because Supergirl is coming to straighten him out.
Oh, wait: She’s not Supergirl any more. In fact, Superman’s cousin gets a two-issue run as Kara Zor-El, Superwoman.
Meanwhile, the original Man of Steel has been kicked off the planet for some yadda-yadda or other, and is a gladiator on Warworld because … comics. We see his adventures in another 64-pager, the two-issue Future State: Worlds of War.
What else? Well, in Future State: The Flash Wally West goes nuts (again), and Barry Allen & Co. have to save him without their super-speed. Aquaman and Mera have a daughter, who appears in two books at different ages — she’s Aquagirl in Future State: Aquaman and Aquawoman in Future State: Justice League. Also, Swamp Thing makes it to the end of time in his two-issue Future State: Swamp Thing.
And when all is said and done, DC Comics will return to its regular programming in March. It will be a much leaner publisher, with echoes of Future State, fewer titles and, yes, an anthology or two.
But that’s a column for the future.
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I gotta be honest, Cap: I'm not feeling it for Future State. I was really looking forward to 5G, and I was really disappointed when it was cancelled. Of the series you mentioned, Future State reminds me more of DC One Million than Convergence (which I liked, BTW).I did recently try two "Death Metal" tie-ins and liked them, so I may sample a Future State series or two if the mood strikes. As it stands now, however, the next DC product I buy will be Generations: Shattered and Generations: Forged (which both tie into Future State).
5G was to have incorporated the history of the DCU against a real-world timeline and established Wonder Woman, not Superman, as DC's first super-hero. I was disappointed not to be able to read that story, but recently found out that it was actually published in Wonder Woman #750, which I bought as more of a keepsake than for entertainment. The story retroactively inserts Wonder Woman into the 1939 New York World's Fair. the story is narrated by one of FDR's aides ("Joe"...?), and a line of that narration identifies Wonder woman as "the first super-hero." Alan Scott (with power ring but sans costume) also appears in the audience. I guess that establishes Wonder Woman as the first super-hero to publicly appear. I guess it doesn't really matter. Without a series to support it, that short story is just another in a long list of contradictory histories of the DCU.
I was not excited by 5G, as I don't see any way that WarnerMedia/DC Comics is going to let such a thing stand. Batman is Bruce Wayne and Superman is Clark Kent to the general public, and will remain so in all movies and TV to come. The comics may drift off for a while, but common sense says the status quo will always return. So I expected we would have new characters in the familiar suits for a while, some silly rubbish filling the books for a time, but at some point the Reset Button would be hit. And most, if not all, of the 5G changes would end up in the same place as other non-canonical stories.
I could be wrong, but that's what I thought, and I had mentally resolved to ignore 5G until master snapped his whip and the "real" continuity returned.
Now I don't have to wait: It's only going to be for two months, with a hard reset at the end of February.
Which probably sounds like I'm going to ignore Future Tense, but perversely, I do intend to read it in real time. For one thing, I'd like to have the first appearances of Blackman and Mujer Maravilla. For another, I'll be writing another column at the end of the thing discussing what will change in the reboot, and I may do another about the end of Future Tense. Could write another midway through; we'll see.
Also, some elements are going to be retained from Future Tense, such at Yara Flor. I want to keep up, so there ya go.
By contrast, I am studiously ignoring King in Black, as I utterly despise Venom and always will.
We must have heard different things about 5G. I was expecting something more along the lines of the recent History of the Marvel Universe than the upcoming Future Tense, but I guess it's a moot point now.
Yes, it's moot and I say good riddance.
The 5G plan was to include an explanation of how everything to the present breaks down into four generations, with everyone aging more or less normally. Which would require some serious rebooting, retcons and unapologetic changes in DC history. They would be establishing an entirely new timeline, where each hero was replaced by a successor multiple times through the four generations, bringing us to the fifth generation, and a completely new line of characters: Jonathan Kent as Superman, Tim Fox as Batman, Tara Flor as Wonder Woman, Far Sector chick as Green Lantern, Andy Curry as Aquawoman, and so forth.
IOW, 5G was going to do the same thing as Byrne's Generations, and then start the line over as if this had always been true. And this would be permanent, or as permanent as comics ever are.
I am really glad this idea is now constrained to two months! We can see these clever ideas, but we don't have to live with them forever.
I think Julie Schwartz and his crew were fortunate that when they came up with the new heroes in the 60s there had been a gap of several years since the previous versions.
In the late 50s when I started reading superhero comics I had no idea that Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Green Arrow had been around since the late 30s/early 40s. I came in on the non-Schwartz Martian Manhunter almost in his first appearance and had no idea at first that Flash and Green Lantern had earlier versions.
Today there is the added pressure of the movies using the well-known versions of characters. The crazy thing is that the movies don't seem to inspire people to actually read comic books, so it probably wouldn't matter if there were different characters in the comics.
"They would be establishing an entirely new timeline, where each hero was replaced by a successor multiple times through the four generations, bringing us to the fifth generation, and a completely new line of characters."
Oh. Yeah, I wouldn't have liked that. I like to avoid spoilers. When I read about upcoming projects, I tend to skim the article to glean only enough information to decide whether I think I would like it or not. Consequently, sometimes I don't gather enough information and reach the wrong conclusion. I knew about the generational aspect but, for some reason, I thought all those new versions of characters were to be in the future. I wouldn't have minded seeing a consistent timeline, though, similar to the post-Crisis History of the DC Universe.
What you describe, though, yeah... good riddance.
I didn't have much interest in Convergence when it came out, and ended up buying the series' I was interested in for a buck a piece a few years later at a show. There was a lot of sameness to those for sure.
I had some interest in some of the 5G stuff (like Wonder Woman), but mostly it felt like I had done this all before back in the 90s.
Now with Future State? It feels like a convergence (heheh) of the two above. I didn't pre-order anything so right now I am out on DC for the next two months, except various Black Label titles or maybe another mini or two. I just looked and I am getting 5 titles in January and 4 in February.
"5G was to have incorporated the history of the DCU against a real-world timeline and established Wonder Woman, not Superman, as DC's first super-hero."
I also heard that 5G would establish "everything happened" continuity. Will that be case post-Future State?
Jeff of Earth-J said:
I also heard that 5G would establish "everything happened" continuity. Will that be case post-Future State?
Given what I've heard of the end of Death Metal, that seems to still be the case. Everything happened, in one way or another. That's a difficult position to take in a universe that people expect to have a coherent past; we'll see what it means in practice once Infinite Frontier begins.
And speaking of Infinite Frontier: I just heard the WordBalloon interview with Ram V, who'll be writing Swamp Thing. He says creators on IF books are being told they have 10-issue "seasons," with renewal possible if sales warrant it. Hopefully that will lead to satisfying stories that know where they're going and don't waste any time getting there.
Especially if the 10 issues are more or less guaranteed. I bet, however, that some get canceled after five -- the current amount of issues in a typical TPB.