DC loves alternate timelines almost as much as it loves Batman, and DC Future State feels like the ideal fusion of the two. The already chaotic Gotham is now a cyberpunk dystopia, with a private contractor called the Magistrate operating as the new police force and killing anyone wearing a mask. The various members of the Bat-family are scattered around the city, and Bruce Wayne? He’s presumed dead.
Enter Tim “Jace” Fox, Lucius Fox’s second son. After being estranged from his family for years, Jace returned in the aftermath of the “Joker War” and has now become the much publicized Next Batman (DC). Right away, John Ridley’s writing gives him a strong, lived-in presence as he alternates between being Batman and attempting to reconnect with his family. Ridley is clearly reveling in this opportunity, best evident in the opening issue when Jace doesn’t worry whether he can cut it as the new Batman—he already knows he can. Art from Nick Derington and Laura Braga make Jace’s story feel bombastic and splashy without being overdone.
In addition to Jace’s story, Next Batman comes with alternating stories where other Gothamites take center stage: Gotham City Sirens (seen in issue #2 & the upcoming fourth installment) and the villain-focused Arkham Knights (#1 & #3) don’t take advantage of their respective lineups, but the other two stories are much better. Outsiders is delightful right from the start: Writer Brandon Thomas has a fondness for Duke and Black Lightning, respectively turned into a revolutionary and an energy being in this new version of Gotham, but it’s even clearer how much he loves Katana. This is a great showcase for the swordswoman, thanks to artist Sumit Kumar and colorist Jordie Bellaire, who provide fantastic action throughout its two chapters. It’s hard not to want this team to tell more stories with these characters, even off its ending alone.
Another standout is Batgirls (issues #2 & #4). Aneke’s cartoonish art sadly doesn’t allow for much in the way of flourish when it comes to the action, but it allows Cassandra Cain to be expressive when she talks. Vita Ayala has given Cain and Stephanie Brown a fun dynamic to work with; some of the dialogue can be a little clunky, thanks to book quotes, but overall it hangs together and has a fun energy.
It definitely feels like the Bat-office got the most prep time for Future State, which makes sense, since DC clearly wants to do more with Jace and this new Gotham. Even if it didn’t, it’s just fun to see the Bat-family in adventures that aren’t too cosmic or convoluted. Who knows how that will change when these elements are brought into the main Bat books, but Next Batman is well worth reading if you need some normal Batman adventures… provided you’ve got about $30 for all four issues.