Tim “Jace” Fox was supposed to be the next Batman. No, really. The plan was that he’d debut in Batman #100, written by Academy-Award-winning scribe (and actual comics writer) John Ridley as part of an initiative that would see other longtime DC heroes replaced by new characters. Then the initiative behind this was scrapped and the work that had gone into it was repurposed into the “Future State” event from earlier this year. “The Next Batman” lives on, however, as the third Ridley-written miniseries is currently being published. As to whether this will ever be a bigger concern than some miniseries written in an alternate, dystopian future, this first volume offers few clues.
The Gotham City of “Future State” is your standard fascist police state with the private army known as the Peacekeepers running things on the street. They’re led by the heavily armored figure known as Peacekeeper One, have the backing of the current mayor Nakano, and are supplied by Foxtech. That’d be the company run by Batman’s former gadget/weaponsmith Lucius Fox, whose wife, Tanya, is working with the mayor to ensure that his “Shoot Vigilantes on Sight” law stands up to an ACLU challenge. They’re doing this because they’ve had their fill of vigilantes. Which is something that’s going to cause problems later because their prodigal son, Tim “Jace” Fox is The Next Batman.
We’re introduced to him stopping a random assault in a dark alley, and making a clean getaway before the cops can take him down. Then we see him interrupt a gangland initiation while saving the young initiates from what was going to be a police execution. What follows is Jace catching a couple murderers who, it turns out, actually had a good reason for what they were doing. This Next Batman doesn’t believe in killing either, so now he has to figure out a way to get them into police custody before the Peacekeepers take them all out.
If you’ve read that and thought, “Huh. This Next Batman sounds a whole lot like the Old Batman, only now he’s got an extra layer of faschism to work under,” then you’ve identified my biggest problem with the volume’s main story. Everything that Jace does here as Batman is something that I could easily have seen Bruce Wayne do as well. While there are nods to the character having to deal with a troubled past, we only get hints of that here. Hell, we don’t even learn why he wanted to be The Next Batman by the end of the story.
What we do learn at the end of the story is that Jace’s family situation is going to be a very messy one for him going forward. He’s got two parents who love him, but are very anti-vigilante, one sister in a coma, another who is apparently going to become his “Robin,” and a brother who resents him. This is admittedly different from what Bruce has to deal with, though I can’t say that it’s all that interesting. We’ve seen this kind of secret identity schtick done before and making it grimmer doesn’t do a whole lot for my interest.
I will say that it’s executed quite well. Ridley has the story move at a quick pace while also allowing for enough time to establish the characters, setting, and stakes. The story he’s telling may be quite familiar, but it progresses quickly enough that you won’t be bored while reading it. There’s also the sharp art from Nick Derington in the first chapter, and the slick stylings of Laura Braga (working over Derington’s breakdowns) in the three that follow. Both are great at making the action look sharp while also selling the character drama in the story as well.
This main story is followed by three shorter ones to round out the package. “The Cavalry” is from the latest “Batman Black & White” miniseries and features art from Oliver Coipel. His work looks striking in this format and the story is more of a showcase for the artist as he shows what happens when The Next Batman is strung up by some gunrunners. The title is a clue. This is followed by another Coipel-illustrated story, “Family Ties,” which ties into the “Joker War” event. The Fox family has wound up with Bruce Wayne’s fortune and they have to make a decision about what to do with it. Unfortunately Lucius is under the influence of Joker Toxin and he’s not seeing things too clearly. Coipel does more quality work here, and because of history, the story can be read in two ways. As an indication of where Ridley’s run was originally going to go, or as a setup for the events of “Future State.”
The final story in this volume, “3 Minutes,” features more great art from one of the best Bat-artists, Dustin Nguyen. Regrettably, his work is propping up a story that doesn’t quite work when it comes to retconning a character’s motivation for working with Batman. The motivation in question belongs to Lucius Fox as while he was fine supporting Bruce in his crusade, seeing him involve children in it is giving the man pause. For what it’s worth, the retcon/rationalization makes sense. It’s just that I’m so far past the point of caring about writers using Robin as an example of recklessness on Batman’s part after all these years.
“Batman by John Ridley” is ultimately an alright collection of stories that are mostly about a new character taking up the Dark Knight’s mantle. Though he’s someone from a different social class and family situation than Bruce Wayne, the adventures we see him have here are remarkably similar. To the point where I have to say that if you’re looking for the next big thing in “Batman,” this isn’t going to be it. Still, the main story is good for what it is, and it’s just enough to get me curious about Jace’s origin as Batman, which Ridley will be getting to in the next volume.