If one were making fun of DC Comics' over-reliance on extreme violence and gore, and frankly bizarre fascination with the dismemberment of superheroes and supervillains, one might suggest that their Free Comic Book Day offering might simply consist of nothing but various characters having their arms chopped off. But sometimes DC makes it really hard to make fun of them, as this is actually the climax of their Free Comic Book Day offering:
One could question the wisdom of the publisher offering this particular comic for Free Comic Book Day, their once-a-year opportunity to reach out far beyond their base to try and recruit new readers into reading comic books in general and DC comics in particular (Hey, I just did!). This is, after all, the first chapter to a weekly series set in a dystopian future (i.e. where nothing matters or counts) and the New 52-iverse, which will eventually culminate in some 40 one-shot special issues with collectible covers in September, the contents of which aren't yet decided upon or even in the works yet.
That said, I'm not sure what might have been a better book to promote. DC also offered an all-ages comic, a straight reprint of Teen Titans Go! #1, of course, but if they were to publish a gateway comic to their New 52 line of books, as would obviously make sense for them to do, what could they have done instead? Batman Eternal is their other big weekly series, and while it's already in-progress, it's only four issues in...perhaps they could have reprinted and gave away Batman Eternal #1...? Perhaps, but that was already gonna be a hit, right? A weekly series not starring Batman (well, this will star a Batman, just not the Batman) and not produced by DC's best-selling, best-reviewed writer Scott Snyder could probably use the promotional push of FCBD. The thing is, this promotion is aimed at people who already read DC comics, and maybe some Marvel comics (There are some awfully unfortunate parallels to Marvel's Age of Ultron in this comic, even if Age writer Brian Michael Bendis' plot was already a staple of Hollywood science-fiction blockbusters).
For better or worse, this comic does present a perfectly accurate picture of the DCU at the moment, and thus serves as either a welcome mat or a moat to potential DC readers, depending on their personal tastes and/or tolerance for superhero body horror and gore (Note this is rated "T for Teen," meaning "Appropriate for readers age 12 and older" and that it "may contain mild violence." The wording of this always cracks me up when I look at images like the above and below; that's mild violence! Imagine the "moderate violence" of T+ book, or the "intense violence" of a Mature book!)
I think Comics Alliance's Chris Sims did a pretty accurate (and, as always, amusing) job of talking about the book in terms of its demonstration of the publisher's idea of putting their best foot forward. So let us, instead, focus on the comic itself, shall we?
The credits don't actually appear until a two-page spread featuring some uncolored imagery from the next issues, the first issue, after the end of the story. There are four writing credits—Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Dan Jurgens and Keith Giffen—although, as Sims said, there's little-to-nothing recognizable as the work of those individuals within (The closest I can think of is that the story reminded me quite a bit of Jeff Lemire's overlong "Rotworld" story arc in Animal Man, a story set in a dystopian future where all of the world's super-people were transformed into hideous monster versions of themselves).
There are five art teams involved: Ethan Van Sciver, Patrick Zircher, Aaron Lopresti and Art Thibert, Dan Jurgens and Mark Irwin and, finally, Jesus Merino and Dan Green. Van Sciver and Jurgens are the only two I really recognized enough to notice and think, "Oh, this is his scene" or "I guess this is where they take over." The best I can say of the art is that the character designs are cool, much cooler than I expected in many instances, and each art team is strong. There are no bad or hard-to-read pages in this whole book.
Giffen also picks up a credit as "art consultant," which is a strange credit. I wonder what that entails? For past weekly series, particularly and most consistently 52, Giffen provided breakdowns for the other artists.
The story opens in Central City, "35 Years From Now," with Van Sciver drawing. What does the world of 2049 look like? Well, the sky is red, the moon has a big, glowing Brother Eye eye shape on it, and various unshaven characters have formed an uneasy alliance, to protect civilians from "the bugs."
I didn't recognize any of 'em except The Flash, who looks just as he does in 2014, save for a bushy gray beard, and Captain Cold. There are three dudes with machine-guns; a bald guy with a long white beard who looks a little Oliver Queen-like, a blonde guy with long hair and a long beard, and another guy with an eye patch. I don't know if they are old man versions of DC characters or not; if so, they are DC characters without super-powers.
The door to their stronghold is broken down by two creepy cyborgs that apparently used to be Wonder Woman and Hawk (from Hawk and Dove, one of the very first of the New 52 books to get canceled). They're basically just superhero torsos attached to giant robot spider bodies, with swords for hands, glowing red lights all over and Brother Eye-branding on them (Wondy's tiara, for example, features Brother Eye's eye where the star used to be).
These are really weird, rather creepy designs, and a refreshing change from the expected, humanoid shaped cyborgs or robots.
Page three brings us the first on-panel mutilation of the book, as Wonder Woman chops the hands off Captain Cold, or "Leonard" as he's simply referred to here, which initiates his cyborg-ification and use of "eye" for "I" puns:
He offers Flash the choice of either joining Brother Eye willingly or being destroyed, and when Flash responds "Go to hell, you monster" (there's that mild language of the T-for-Teen comic), Frankenstein unbuttons his shirt for the most fucked-up thing I've seen in a DC comic in...forever...?
Congratulations Van Sciver and whoever wrote this page; that is some messed-up, scarly-looking shit that will stay with me.
Frankenstein than narrates to no one in particular for a page, showing the extent of the world's Brother Eye-ification.
Batgirl's torso built atop the Bat-signal, which is now a Brother Eye-signal! The Amazons of Paradise Island as four-legged robot things (Good news, Wonder Woman! Your sisters will be de-petrified at some point. Bad news? They will all be killed and turned into torso spider-bots), standing above the skeletons of Deathstroke the Terminator and a Green Lantern! Aqua-spider-bot-man underwater! And, in London, this...!
That's followed by five rather tedious pages of superheroes sacrificing their lives in a battle against robotic foes—Blue Beetle and Green Lantern John Stewart battle the "assimilated" versions of Booster Gold, Superman and Amazo, who was already a robot, while Grifter and Amethyst, Princess of Gem World fight Superman and the assimilated John Stewart.
We then get to the crux of the issue, and what appears to be the premise of the series. In the Batcave, Batman (a white-haired Bruce Wayne) is putting the finishing touches on his time-travel device while being second-guessed by Batman Beyond (Terry, like from the cartoon; interestingly, this Batman Beyond isn't the same one from the Batman Beyond comics DC has been publishing. At least, he might have the same costume and the same secret identity, but the world he is comic from is clearly not the world of those comics, which was filled with very different versions of many of the heroes glimpsed in these pages. So this is a Batman Beyond, but not the Batman Beyond from the Batman Beyond comics. Got it?)
At one point, Batman tells Batman Beyond that he won't live in Brother Eye's world, at which point BB responds, "Then you and Mr. Terrific should never have built it."
So as in the post-Crisis, pre-New 52 continuity, Batman Bruce Wayne created Brother Eye. I always thought it was weird that DC never did anything with that weird-ass plot point brought up in the lead-up to Infinite Crisis; apparently, Batman had an ultra super-secret, sentient A.I. spy satellite for years, and they never went back to tell any stories about why he had it and how he might have used it in the past. It seemed like such an obvious Batman story to tell, and one more interesting than any of the Batman fights Two-Face for the 402nd time stories they told instead.
Anyway, in this future continuity, Batman built the satellite with the help of Mr. Terrific, from the canceled comic Mr. Terrific, who was on Earth-2 in the pages of Earth 2 last I knew (Mr. Terrific, Grifter, Amethyst, Frankenstein...they could probably have called this Canceled Comics Cavalcade instead).
Batman's radical plan to save the world is to go back in time and stop Brother Eye from ever being built by killing a man. Whether the man is Mr. Terrific or Bruce Wayne isn't clear, but it sounds like they're talking about killing Terrific, since once Bruce has his arm chopped off and takes a mortal wound (see above) he tells Terry not to contact Bruce Wayne in the past. Or Superman.
At no point do either of the Batmen mention to one another that the whole traveling back in time from a dystopian future where machine makes war upon man to kill the person who will create the operating system that controls the evil machines is basically just the plot of Terminator.
Batman Beyond makes the jump in the nick of time, but A.L.F.R.E.D., the AI in his suit that is not at all like J.A.R.V.I.S., the AI operating system named after billionaire superhero Tony Stark's butler, only to discover that he missed his target, and only traveled back to five years from now, 2019, not 2014. So Terry might be able to watch the live-action Justice League movie on DVD, but he might be too late to stop the horrible future from occurring, as the thing he traveled into the past to prevent "is already in play."
"Damn," Batman Beyond says, and not whatever stupid future swear he used to say on the cartoon. Slag? Shway?
It might be the most derivative comic in recent memory, with almost nothing original about it—save for the cool robot designs and the horrifying use of Black Canary's face—but it was very well drawn, and I plan on reading the next issue. If it can maintain this level of quality artwork and so-stupid-it's-entertaining, big, dumb, ultra-violent action, it might be worth spending a few weeks, months or even a year with.