[Vaal’s Note: While I didn’t intend it at the outset, the following contains Spoilers for Future’s End #0]
I was planning on doing a blog post about story ideas I’ve put on the back-burner outside of the Descendants this week, and considered just linking that editorial because it really says all I feel needs to be said about Future’s End (spoiler alert, it’s dark and pointless!).
But then I got to thinking… this could be a great opportunity to talk about the ‘bad future‘ trope and dystopian futures and ‘set right what once went wrong’ plots in particular. Also, it’s a chance to blow your minds.
How am I going to blow your mind? Because I, the guy who has devoted seven years and counting to mocking, eschewing and subverting grim and gritty, the man who lunges for people’s faces when they use ‘it’s dark’ in general as a reason to call something good… likes and respects classic dystopian fiction.
This is because, like Batman, dystopian tales—the classic dystopian tales that don’t just have a dystopia as a setting, but as the primary theme—are not as dark as you think.
Consider the clear and obvious examples: Brave New World and 1984. They are all about worlds as dark and awful as anything Warhammer 40K’s grim darkness, George RR Martin’s imitators, or DC comics can produce. The difference is in the intent and the message. For the latter, the message is that the ‘real world’ is a dark, terrible place and any amount of light or joy is ‘for kids’. For the former, the message is that in this place and in this time, there is a chance that this is how our future could be—now let us all strive to ensure that it never comes to pass’.
My conception of ‘light’ and ‘dark’ isn’t always based on how the world is presented, it also takes into account for what it evokes in the reader. Showing us a dark world in hopes of discouraging it is right in my wheelhouse. Showing us one because it’s HARDCORE and MATURE and DEEP and BUZZWORD are not.
And yes, there is a rant I could be making about the half-dozen movies that will be out sometime this year about moody teenagers in generic oppressive societies where only the colors blue and green exist sticking it to the man, but I’ve got more interesting things to talk about, frankly.
First, however, let’s talk about something the opposite of interesting: Future’s End.
Just from the previews for the Free Comic Book Day, it’s easy to see what’s going down here and it’s so stunningly ripped off from Days of Future Past and every single story featuring OMACs (Don’t worry, I’ll explain), that even I, at the height of my disdain for DC didn’t see this level of creative bankruptcy coming (Also Terminator, we’ll get to that in a second).
Okay, so in this bad future, which is the same very cool future of Batman Beyond, the evil robot satellite, Brother Eye has done what he usually does and broke out his ability to assimilate people into evil cyborgs called OMACs (One Man Army Corps, cyborg super soldiers who transform thanks to nanotech beamed into them by Brother Eye… usually.), only this time, instead of bitchin’ bro-bots with mohawks, they’re all gruesome, weird and looking like rejects from The Thing (not Marvel’s).
Also, despite this clearly being a robot/cyborg apocalypse, Frankenstein’s Monster is still allowed to be bio-punk because how else would we see the totes grownup image of a woman’s face and hair sew into a dude’s chest?
But whatever, right? Sure it’s pointlessly graphic and nonsensical… but it got the plot rolling, right?
Where to start?
Well first of all, I feel like this is where most modern dystopian tales and bad futures fall apart, right out of the starting gate. These pages raise a question that I promise you Future’s End will NEVER explain in a satisfactory manner:
What in the seven interlocking hells is the point of all this from Brother Eye’s perspective?
Let’s be honest: the fact that they clearly say it’s Brother Eye on the first page automatically means that ultimately Brother Eye will be a pawn at best and the real villain will either be a) a big bad they use all the time like Darkseid, b) a villain who doesn’t deserve to be a big bad but will be pushed anyway because they’re ‘cool’ like that new evil Kryptonian dude, or c) someone who was never expected because their involvement makes no sense. I accept that because like a beaten dog, I just want them to stop and pet me again like I remember from when I was a puppy.
However. Brother Eye’s tech is still what’s making this happen… so why is everything so painfully inefficient? Don’t get what I’m getting at? Why is WonderRobo in that preview swinging sword-hands that can’t reach past her legs? And why does she have an exposed human torso? Why did the robot design such a crappy robot? That looks like a Resident Evil zombie, one of the ones you just shotgun and walk away from—which is basically what happens, so this thing was weaker than both a robot and Wonder Woman—what was the point?!
Even granting that Brother Eye plots are always clearly Skynet-inspired to the point that I think Bruce should just cut off his Netflix account, he should have at least built a decent robot.
Forgive me if I’m getting farther afield from the dystopia discussion, but I’m researching and getting more scans from #0 as I got through this and… it’s a mess. An absolute mess. And while I intend to point out why this is a bad dystopian story and a flat ‘bad future’ plot, it has so many other problems that I fear the person who emailed me is going to get their rant anyway.
Okay. Back on topic.
What the hell is Brother Eye trying to accomplish just running roughshod around the place just killing people with swords. Skynet nuked the damn planet and Brother Eye has pointy sticks. Some of the robots have guns, but he felt it necessary to give them freaking shields—like round metal discs, not deflectors or something useful. Oh, and it sounds a bit like he’s started a cult… so yeah, it’s Darkseid. This is going to be about Darkseid.
Anyway, this utter lack of focus or motivation on the part of our villain is what makes this such a hard sell right from the start. As does the complete lack of meaning.
When Days of Future Past did this, it was from an outgrowth of a recurring threat and subplot in the series: anti-mutant sentiment and the advent of the various Sentinel projects that would eventually lead to an expansion of their application. The conquest was shown to be systematic and ablative, grinding the heroes down through relentless attrition. The Bad Future there was all about the ultimate consequence of the ‘true villain’ of the X-men series and the fruition of the dreams and aspirations of multiple villains.
In the context of the New 52, when have we ever seen the danger of the OMAC project? The actual OMAC comic was apparently very good, which is why DC canceled it. This isn’t a consequence of anything but the specific plot that’s going to unfold here. Where the threat of Project Wideawake and the beginnings of the Days of Future Past timeline hung over the X-men for years, this is going to be nothing but another with the mystery villain (Darkseid) just moving on to something new and random because this never hooked into their arc in the first place.
Without any attempt at making the event mean more to the whole DCU (besides maybe trapping Batman Beyond in the hell that is DC’s main universe like Marvel JUST DID with Spider-man 2099), DC stumbles into the dumbest, most baldly manipulative tactic deployed by bad future stories:
‘Future Crash’ is how I describe the bog standard, overwrought cold open for most ad future storylines, wherein absolutely everything goes to hell in ~about five minutes, right before the hero goes back in time. While I hesitate to call it bad in general when it’s really just tired, it’s particularly pronounced in superhero stories where the future crash is shown with multiple heroes who have shrugged off much worse being killed or mutilated all in the span of a few minutes.
The intent is clearly to make the audience worry and hope that this is something that will never happen, but the thing is, we know it won’t. Whenever you see a bad future in a series that is still going on, you know that future is going to get averted. That is just how these stories work. The story is how it gets averted and what we can take away from how the future got this way.
Again, we turn to Days of Future Past, specifically a scene from the animated version.
At one point, we see gravestones of various characters in the series. They all died at various times and we get a push focus on Jubilee’s which reveals she died in 2010 (the series ran in ’93), showing that young Jubilee fought and likely suffered for 17 years before being taken down by the Sentinels, while other characters who died in 2012 or ’14 had to keep up the fight even after that.
In that one little scene, less than ten seconds, we have more story, depth and impact than the wave of mutilation (by the way, someone actually suggested I do blog my rant about Southland Tales) that Future’s End shows us where apparently everyone was either fine or assimilated for quite a while before this cliched last stand that won’t matter because of the kind of story this is.
A future crash in and of itself disqualifies a setting from being a dystopia in my opinion. If that’s a bit confusing to you seeing as how I was attempting to analyze this as a dystopia in the first place, that’s because the fans of this thing all over ComicBookResources.com and Twitter keep calling it that and I was giving them the benefit of the doubt.
Not all bad futures are dystopias, even if they have something like this vague Brother Eye cult acting as a sort of oppressive government. A dystopia implies a level of corruption of the people and the system and ‘cyborg virus’ is not the same thing and neither is zombie apocalypse. Future’s End’s future is not a dystopia, but it really wants to be. It’s trying to have its cake and eat it too with all the horrible murders and Batman wanting to kill a dude, but… no.
Speaking of the deaths, this time I’m not complaining about the characters dying. It’s a future story, no one cares. No. One. Which is part of the problem. The parts of FE #0 that aren’t pipe about how bad the bad future is (which in this case could have been done in one page, two tops given how deep it is), are about showing superheroes dying horribly or suffering body horror that even American McGee would shake his head at… after vomiting. Seeing as absolutely no one who has read a book or watched a TV show in the past two decades can even muster a spark of a crap to give about the actual deaths, the deaths are decidedly just eye candy. Brutality and gore just to revel in it. It’s creepy. Its even creepier when I see discussions (that I refuse to link) that boil down to fan ficcing the deaths or assimilation of other DC heroes because 20 pages of it wasn’t enough.
And yet even then, looking over these pages, something occurred to me. Something both glorious and damning to the DC editorial staff:
The Creators Aren’t Taking This Seriously
A very big deal has been made of one particularly awful scene in this book where Frankenstein’s monster opens his shirt like a goddamn flasher to reveal… Black Canary’s head grafted into his chest, which he can use in the same way if Iron Man’s Unibeam. The commenters who have pointed out the cruel excess, the not-so-subtle sexism, and just the sheer grotesquery of this are, of course, completely correct.
However, I can’t stop pointing and laughing.
It’s not that I think the actual thing that’s on the page is funny, it’s that after thinking about it for ten minutes, I realized that there is no way a grown-ass adult wrote that scene in seriousness with ‘this is what grown-ups would like’ in mind.
This is how I would parody New DC. This exact scene. It would take two interesting, rich characters and then have one pointlessly and horrifically destroy the other to use as a weapon against other heroes. This is literally a joke I might make on twitter pointing out how DC treats their stable of heroes and I cannot think there is any other reason to do this.
It doesn’t even make sense. The whole world is turned to OMACs, but Brother (Darkseid) Eye lets this guy not only be organic and independent, but tells him to sew people into himself? Plus, from a physics of superheroes standpoint, it’s clearly just her face on his chest and not her whole head and certainly not her throat (otherwise he’d have no room for lungs or a heart), so where is the Canary Cry coming from anyway?
The vast majority of this book is the dumb, stupid shock crap DC has been in love with for a while. This scene, however? Pure mockery even if I still wish it wasn’t there.
And if you don’t believe me, I have more evidence that someone in the art or writing department is having fun with DC’s idiocy. In another scene in the Bleeding Cool article I linked, there’s a picture of a cyborged John Constantine. And he is still smoking his cigarette.
I’ll give you a moment to let that seep in. A full assimilated cyborg in the middle of a robot apocalypse… is smoking a cigarette. You can’t tell me that is anything but the artist not giving the basic elements of a damn about this serious and grown-up for reals comic.
Still not on board? Still think there are still some artists out there who, against their own interests, actually respect DC, their storytelling and editorially driven direction? Well check this out. That is Mark Waid and Dan Jurgens having a twitter fight where Jurgens is clearly upset that Waid would insinuate that the credited creative team have anything to do with the content of FE #0. He instantly recognizes that calling FE #0 indicative of the New 52 is an insult and demands an apology.
And finally, this is touched on in the article I linked, but… the arm. Oh god, the arm. DC loves chopping arms off and this is the most self-aware arm-chopping I’ve ever seen. After getting his arm cut off Batman pretty much calls the whole thing bullshit. It could be read as being upset that he didn’t go out taking down criminals, but it really feels to me like he’s angry at how cheaply the comic itself is treating him. Considering that his own Batman Eternal is a competing weekly series, he has ample reason to be upset at FE.
So bottom line, that created an event about a future they give us no reason to care about, using characters they don’t care about and the creators are actively making fun of it within its own pages. Still got to be better than Villain’s Month.
Sorry if you were expecting me to analyze dystopias or bad futures in more depth here, but actually reading the comic made it clear that I couldn’t let this grapefruit go by without taking a swing. I promise to tackle these two interesting tropes in the future (including my own use of an unideal future).
As a further apology, next week I’ll be doing an article people really seem to enjoy when I do them: This old monster. The subject shall be… Brownies.
Evil and delicious. The crafty bastards.