22 February 2017

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part LXIV: Futures End: Five Years Later Omnibus

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2014 (contents: 2014)
Borrowed from the library
Read November 2016
The New 52: Futures End: Five Years Later Omnibus
by Daniel H. Wilson, Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, Dan Jurgens, Alvaro Martinez, Raul Fernandez, Sean Chen, Mark Irwin, Robert Venditti, Van Jensen, Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund, Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino, Jed Dougherty, Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Ray Fawkes, Juan Ferreyra, Dan DiDio, Keith Giffen, Philip Tan, J. M. DeMatteis, Len Wein, Jason Paz, Andrew Guinaldo, Walden Wong, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Scott Hampton, Charles Soule, Jesus Saiz, Tom Derenick, Francis Portela, Phil Winslade, Martin Coccolo, Aaron Lopresti, Igor Lima, Ruy Jose, Rodney Buchemi, Geraldo Borges, Justin Jordan, Diogenes Neves, Marc Deering, J. Calafiore, Cullen Bunn, Tom King, Tim Seeley, Stephen Mooney, Sholly Fisch, Pat Olliffe, Tom Nguyen, Scott Lobdell, Scott Kolins, Christy Marx, Robson Rocha, Oclair Albert, Julio Ferreira, Gail Simone, Javier Garron, Marc Andreyko, Jason Masters, Eduardo Pansica, Amanda Conner, Chad Hardin, Derek Fridolfs, Brian Buccellato, Scott Hepburn, Cliff Richards, Fabrizio Fiorentino, Scott Snyder, ACO, Greg Pak, Jack Herbert, Vicente Cifuentes, Sean Ryan, Andre Coelho, Scott Hanna, Will Pfeifer, Andy Smith, Keith Champagne, Rags Morales, Jose Marzan Jr., Matt Banning, Bart Sears, Frank J. Barbiere, Ben Caldwell, Tony Bedard, Emanuela Lupacchino, Ray McCarthy, Pascal Alixe, Lee Weeks, Moritat, Will Conrad, Steve Lightle, Stephen Thompson & Ron Frenz

Five years before the "present," the New 52 version of the DC Universe came to life in Zero Year; now, five years after, it comes to an end. The Five Years Later Omnibus presents endpoints for the 52-ish comic books of the New 52. The future in which these stories take place is somewhat obscure: the back cover actually gives the history of a world thirty-five years later, and talks about Batman Beyond, who appears in literally zero of the issues collected here. The blurb ends by saying "Learn how all this and more could come to pass," but the book is actually very poor at filling in backstory; it took me around half the book to piece together that the Prime Earth had been overrun by refugees from Earth-2, and that Darkseid's forces had invaded at some point. I'm not sure if more things happened to create the dark timeline we see, though. Plus, some of the stories aren't consistent with one another: Justice League Dark: Futures End #1 claims that Etrigan is trapped in the House of Mystery outside time and space, but Etrigan also appears in Gotham City in Batwoman: Futures End #1, where he is killed.

Unlike the previous New 52 omnibi, this one isn't subdivided, so I'll just be reviewing the stories en masse, first with some comments on the overall set-up and then hitting up some specific stories. Of the three New 52 omnibi I've read, I found this one the most frustrating. Even though none of the stories in the first omnibus came to an end, they were all designed for new readers; most of the stories in the Villains Omnibus were easily grasped one-shots. But despite being set five years into the future, most of the stories here seemed really embedded in the continuity of the ongoings they span out of-- so too bad for me if I haven't been keeping up with Aquaman and the Others. I pick on it here because it was one of the first stories in the book, and it's filled with characters I knew nothing about, depicting alterations to a status quo I'd never seen before. Unfortunately a lot of the early stories in the book are like this: Flash, Green Arrow, Infinity Man and the Forever People, Star Spangled War Stories were also virtually impossible for me to understand.

I do feel like the artistic quality was higher across the board in this one-- take this nice linework and coloring as Billy Batson talks to Lois Lane, for example.
from Superman: Futures End #1 (script by Dan Jurgens, art by Lee Weeks)

The best stories, I found, drew on nothing more than the basic premises of their characters, meaning that I could be oriented without much effort. For example, the Phantom Stranger tale didn't really depend on me knowing anything particular to the New 52 version of the Phantom Stranger-- it worked as a standalone final Phantom Stranger story, as the Stranger (who you may know better as Judas Iscariot) is called up for judgement a second time, but the jury is made up of the worst demons Hell has to offer. I enjoyed its spooky, weird, mythical tone, even though the last Phantom Stranger stories I read were from his Action Comics Weekly feature back in the 1980s.

The dog is God.
from Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger: Futures End #1 (plot by Dan DiDio, script by J. M. DeMatteis, art by Phil Winslade)
Oh, I just got the joke there.

The other final ends for familiar characters that I enjoyed were Catwoman (Catwoman pulls off the biggest heist imaginable, all within Batman's rules) and Harley Quinn (Harley runs into the Joker on a desert island). I think what made all three of these stories work is that they actually had basically nothing to do with the big picture of the Futures End timeline; they were just stories of these characters from five years on. The more the stories in this book were embedded in the details of the future continuity, the less I tended to like them. (I didn't even get what was going on between Batman and the absent Superman in Batman/Superman, for example.)

That's Eddie "The Riddler" Nygma, btw.
from Catwoman: Futures End #1 (script by Sholly Fisch, art by Pat Olliffe and Tom Nguyen & Walden Wong)

One story, however, stood head and shoulders above the rest: Grayson: Futures End #1. It's a really clever reverse chronology story, starting with Dick Grayson's execution at the hand of the Russians, and moving back through his life, so you see how Spyral came to ally itself with Russia to fight Apokolips, how Dick became close to fellow spy Helena Bertinelli, how Dick and Batman defeated the Cluemaster, even going all the way back to how Dick's parents were killed in what looked like an accident. Like the best reverse chronology tales, it rewards rereading, but it's not just a puzzle box-- it's also moving, managing to be both triumphant and sad all at once. You're sad to see Dick Grayson pushed into such circumstances, but he always manages to handle himself with the essential morality and optimism that define Dick Grayson. An amazingly well done story that completely stands on its own, and has me looking forward to reading Grayson in full some day.

Like all the scenes in this issue, even better in reverse context.
from Grayson: Futures End #1 (plot by Tom King & Tim Seeley, script by Tom King, art by Stephen Mooney)

I have to say, this experiment with the New 52 omnibi was... not great. I guess it should have been obvious. Who likes all of anything? Who even likes the majority of anything? If DC is publishing 52 comic books, we would normally expect maybe five of them to be enjoyable to me. Yet here I am reading the other 45 books on top of that. They're cool from a collector's standpoint, I suppose, but their very nature as uncurated collections of everything whether it's good or not means it's never possible for them to present an enjoyable reading experience. I've gotten a snapshot of the post-Flashpoint DC universe at three different points in its history, but that's about all I've gotten.

In Two Weeks: That's the end of Flashpoint and its myriad tie-ins, so I'm stepping back from Project Crisis! for a bit to take in something new. But before I do that, I continue my ongoing investigation of superhero prose fiction with Spider-Man: The Venom Factor!

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