Chalk it up to some kind of comic book Stockholm Syndrome, but reading the main Convergence series made me feel weirdly… not nostalgic, exactly, but curious to re-read The New 52: Futures End, and specifically to read the final issues — featuring the showdown with Brainiac which ties in with Convergence — for the first time, thanks to my being dramatically behind on my reading. So, this weekend, I found myself going through the final ten issues of the series, thinking Wow, I wonder how all this holds together?
…Surprising few, I suspect, would be surprised that the answer is “Not that well.” There are a lot of holes to pick in the final issues of Futures End, but one problem doesn’t even belong to that series; instead, it’s a Convergence problem, which is “How did Brainiac end up back on Telos after being captured in the 5 Years Later timeline of Futures End?” (There are other ways in which Convergence doesn’t line up with… well, almost anything else, really, but I’ll save that for a future post-Convergence post; I’ve already read the final issue, and it’s… a doozy, of sorts.)
I point this out not because it’s a big deal — there are many ways of explain it away, especially given that Brainiac is the prisoner of a guy who can control time itself — but because it’s lack of explanation in Convergence spotlights one of the biggest problems with Futures End: namely, a weird, disjointed sloppiness.
The pacing of the final issues, for example, is off in a way that feels as if there was one massive script for the climactic battle that was just cut randomly into 20 page chunks to fit each issue (An impression not helped by the fact that the art teams are oddly inconsistent in some of the issues, with 18 pages by one artist and 2 by someone else entirely, as if added after the fact); cliffhangers happen three pages before the end of an issue, leading to the final page being more of an anticlimax than anything that’d get you to pick up next week’s book if you were on the fence, or the action would suddenly cut away to an unnecessary epilogue that didn’t even really make sense for those of us who’d read every issue of the series to date.
The plots, too, are almost impressively slapdash: The denouement of the Shazam-as-Superman storyline happens in the mid-20s, but he inexplicably takes up the role again for no reason other than to give the real Superman something to “forgive” him for when they meet issues before the end of the series, for example; the Engineer is possessed by Brainiac, but released off-panel, because… there’s nowhere else to go with the plot at that point? Fifty-Sue, the omnipotent clone who dominated the series’ middle section, is essentially cast aside before Brainiac attacks, because given what we’ve seen of her to that point, she could easily defeat him, and instead things have to be set up to let the Atom shine, I guess. That Fifty-Sue, the escaped Earth-2 survivors, and so many of the long-running plots of the series end up coming to nothing (Even to the point of avoiding resolution in a couple of cases), speaks to how Futures End falls apart as it heads to the finish line.
Worst of all, though, is the way in which the final two issues seeks to resolve the Brother Eye storyline. For those who weren’t paying attention, the set up was basically this: Earth 30 years in the future is a cyborg dystopia ruled over by Brother Eye, an A.I. created by Batman and Mr. Terrific that decided, Ultron-style, to save humanity from itself by destroying humanity. Terry McGuinness, Batman Beyond, is sent back in time to the present day to destroy Brother Eye before that happens — but he ends up 5 years to late, in the time period of the majority of Futures End. By the end of the series, McGuinness has died and been replaced by Tim Drake, who does end up back in time — our present — and does destroy Brother Eye. In the final issue, he ends up in the 30-years-in-our-future period that the book launched in to discover… nothing has changed.
An alternate timeline? Nope. Instead, we’re told, Brother Eye survived his own destruction and even though the past was changed (Changed in multiple ways; Brother Eye’s destruction meant that the Earth-2 survivors never made it to the regular DCU Earth, which literally undoes every single other plot in the the series), the future stayed the same because… oh, fuck it. Just because, okay? (The real reason is, the final issue of Futures End is a prologue to the soon-to-be-launched Batman Beyond series, written by Futures End co-writer Dan Jurgens. Somehow, knowing that doesn’t make anything any better.)
So what we’re left with is a series that refused to even play by its own rules, when it came down to it; one that ends up stating outright that the actions of any individual, even when doing exactly what they’re supposed to do, have no effect whatsoever when facing the collective might of the machine. It’s a frustrating, upsetting ending to the series on every level — not only does it make no sense in terms of plot mechanics, but in terms of any potential deeper meaning, it’s exhaustingly nihilistic. Why fight? Why even try? There’s no point. The final two issues, when taken as a whole, pretty much say outright, “Yeah, the whole thing was a waste of time. Sorry you stuck around for those 48 issues.”
The one-two punch of these issues and the final Convergence — which, I’m sure, I’ll be complaining about on the podcast next week — would be enough to throw me off DC altogether, in another world. As it is, there’s a bunch of DC You books I’m interested in, and a few I’m downright excited about. The relaunch is coming at the best possible time, because the output of these two flagship events combined is enough to convince anyone of a level of creative exhaustion and surrender that anyone should find unnerving.
Nice covers by Ryan Sook, though.