BY MATT TUCK
It was a good week to be a comic fan. The Next Batman #4, X-Men Legends #1, Wonder Woman #2, and Immortal Hulk: Flatline delivered a range of compelling stories.
FUTURE STATE: THE NEXT BATMAN #4
Written by John Ridley
Art by Laura Braga
Admittedly, I was critical of The Next Batman #3 as it was heavy-handed with its modern justice criticisms. An issue later, and Ridley and Braga delivered an engaging story that focused more on the characters rather than beating us over the head with social commentary.
What I particularly appreciated in this issue is the character development beginning to unfold in Tim Fox. Last issue, from the first page to the last, he felt like a stand-in for Bruce Wayne with hardly anything new to add to the mythos. In Next Batman #4, we get to see Tim taking a different spin on being the Dark Knight. This is best captured in a chase scene in which Batman is forced to drive a standard SUV rather than the high-tech Batmobile. This could have been played for laughs, but Ridley chose to keep the tension high, and it worked quite well.
We also see the difference between Tim and Bruce’s portrayals of the Caped Crusader in Tim’s dealings with his family. As Batman, Tim is forced to fight his own mother, thus the heavy reality of the burden of wearing the cape and cowl begin to set in.
This issue was hard hitting and thrilling, and Tim is starting to become his own protagonist separate from Bruce Wayne. I highly recommend this issue.
X-MEN LEGENDS #1
Written by Fabian Niceza
Art by Brett Booth
If you are like me, most modern comics remind me of just how much I miss the 1990s artwork. Sure, it was over-the-top flamboyant costumes, and practically every character looked like they were on a hearty diet of steroids and raw meat, but the level of detail in each panel was impressive. For better or worse, those days have been replaced by a Manga-inspired generation of artists who have cut back on those minute details.
X-Men Legends #1 gave us a pure ‘90s throwback that will make you want this every single week. The issue did not feel like a retro take on the X-Men; it made me forget that it was published in 2021. I could have sworn it was from the mid-’90s X-Men run, and that is a compliment. I was especially pleased to see Cyclops in his old yellow and blue costume sans the hooded onesie, but I was most excited to see the classic “old man” Cable, complete with bodybuilder physique and oversized gun. Cable even does a little fourth-wall breaking when he remarks about thinking Adam-X was out of his “extreme” phase. Nice work, Fabian.
This issue definitely would have graded higher had it been the new direction for the X-Men, particularly that retro 1990s art style. The only drawback is that, despite Marvel claiming this exists in continuity, I can’t help but feel these stories will not mean much in the long run. Hopefully, Marvel will find a way to tie it into the current X-Men run, and that would elevate these issues.
FUTURE STATE: WONDER WOMAN #2
Written by Becky Cloonan & Michael W. Conrad
Art by Jen Bartel
Of all the comics I read in the past week, this was the hardest to grade. On some levels, this was an A-level read, but it had moments that made me want to put it down entirely.
On one hand, the writing was top-notch. The emotional depth flowed from panel to panel, and the dialogue stayed true especially to Wonder Woman’s characters. It was a sentimental look at the Future State Diana Prince, the last of DC’s Earth One universe following the events of Death Metal. We feel her loneliness as flashbacks carry us through the demise of a gray-bearded Superman and his fiercest rival, Darkseid. We get a touching and reverent finality of The Spectre’s existence that would bring a grown man to tears if played out on movie screens. By the time we reach Wonder Woman’s end as she decides to bring this era to a close, the emotional strings are pulled tight, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It was simply spectacular writing.
From a storytelling perspective, this issue hit all the right marks and is worthy of high praise. My trouble was with the artwork. It had moments of sheer brilliance as Bartel captured Cloonan and Conrad’s heartbreaking storytelling in the stunning detail of Wonder Woman’s eyes. Bartel truly brought life to the comic with Diana’s closeups, specifically the magnificent rendering of the eyes. Then I would turn a page, and that masterpiece turned into a kids’ cartoon that was difficult to take seriously.
Maybe Bartel was intentionally echoing the Silver Age in the artwork. Compared to those powerful close-ups, the lighthearted, cartoony style felt out of place and lost the essence of the story’s forlorn theme. My biggest complaint is with Darkseid, as he was downright laughable in places. Had this been a comedic take on the DC Universe, it would have been at home with this style. But Future State Wonder Woman #2 was a highly dramatic take on a legend’s passing.
If every panel had the same masterful work as those Wonder Woman close-ups, then this comic would have easily been an A, maybe even an A+. However, I struggled to get past the Saturday morning cartoon feel, which in itself would have been a D because it was so out of place. When I average the two out, I came to a B- thanks to the stellar writing and expressive eyes.
IMMORTAL HULK: FLATLINE
Story, Art, and Even Colors by Declan Shalvey
This Immortal Hulk one-shot had the feel of an Immortal Hulk comic, but it lacked the ingenuity we have come to expect from the main series. Of course, this was not the usual creative team of Al Ewing and Joe Bennett, so it understandably had a different tone. Overall, Shalvey went easy on the horror themes that have been such a hit with fans and opted for a more classic Hulk tale.
In many ways, this issue felt like a throwback to Bronze Age Incredible Hulk. Although the story still focuses on the intelligent and sinister Immortal Hulk, the dialogue and the direction pulled from the Silver Age. In this issue, we meet Bruce Banner’s college professor, Dr. Noreen Noolan. She is an elderly woman touched by gamma rays and the Green Door. While she is equal in power to the Hulk, her mortal body is dying. Although there is a decent fight scene between Noolan and Hulk, the heart of the comic was Bruce and Hulk’s dysfunctional relationship. Noolan basically served as the counselor for a couple’s therapy session.
In the end, fans of the traditional Hulk stories will appreciate Shalvey’s take on the title, but the Ewing/Bennett followers will prefer their take on the Green Goliath. The fact that Shalvey wrote the script and completed the artwork as well as all the coloring is impressive in itself and worth noting.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is also a teacher, freelance writer, comic collector, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.