So DC's Free Comic Book Day title this year is 20 pages of superheroes getting killed.

That's not a joke. That's actually what they're putting out as an enticement for readers who are going into comic book stores, looking to find out more about these characters at a time when superheroes are the most popular thing in the world, is a full-color comic promoting their new crossover, where characters are just murdered and mutilated for twenty solid pages. Oh, and someone gets an arm cut off, because if they didn't, how would you know it was a DC Comic from 2014?


Future's End #0, DC Comics


In the interest of being absolutely fair, something that I try to avoid whenever I can, Future's End #0, the grinding slog through the fourth future dystopia in two years where Superman is actually eeeeeeevil, is only one of two FCBD books that DC is putting out this year. The other is a reprint of Teen Titans Go! #1, a comic that originally came out last year. That alone is a little problematic for me since it shows you exactly which audience they're actively pursuing and which one they're content to just hand something that they already had laying around the office, but it does paint a pretty clear line. If what you want is fun superheroics that aren't full of people's limbs being torn off, then you can have this book for tiny little babies. If, however, you're a mature adult who wants to experience the real DC Universe, well, here's Future's End.

Besides, why would any kids want a comic with Batman Beyond, a character who was on a cartoon that ran on Saturday mornings for three years, featured prominently on the cover? This is for grown-ups, nephew!

I worked in a comic book store for a while, and I know that while it doesn't always result in new regular customers starting up pull lists and diving straight into the weekly titles, it is a showcase for potential new readers. People who hear about Free Comic Book Day do go to stores, and I imagine the fact that people who have never read a comic in their lives actually know who the Avengers and Batroc the Leaper are -- and that they seem to be pretty into seeing those characters have adventures and fight bad guys -- doesn't hurt things. That's the entire reason Free Comic Book Day even exists, after all, and why it's always scheduled to tie into the release of a new superhero movie on the first Saturday in May. It's the biggest possible opportunity for reaching people who already want to like your characters. If DC actually seemed to like theirs, maybe they could convince somebody that their books were worth reading.

Instead, we have this. And the thing is, as much as I might roll my eyes at what they're doing with this comic, it actually is a pretty accurate representation of the DC Universe that the company wants to brand itself as. Over the past decade, they've taken every opportunity at reaching a mass market and used it to scream at the top of their lungs about how adult their comics are, and how they don't have those goody two-shoes underwear perverts anymore, just killers and victims who happen to wear capes. If corporations are people, DC Comics is a 14 year-old trying to buy cigarettes while his voice cracks.

And look, I know I'm generalizing. That's what makes it so frustrating. There are genuinely great DC books that are coming out right now, books that are compelling and honest and built on staying true to the characters while still making them compelling and exciting. I promise you that I could not possibly love what Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are doing with Batman: Zero Year more than I already do, and that's really just the tip of it. Pak and Kuder on Action Comics, Parker and Pelletier on Aquaman, Azzarello and Chiang on Wonder Woman, even that new Secret Origins title was both a good idea and a good comic. They're doing good stuff. They have creators who are finally trying to shake off all the faux-maturity and "if we don't use bright colors that means it's good, right?" nonsense that's been a driving force of that company for 30 years. But every time they have the spotlight, every single time you put DC comics on a stage where they could reach people who haven't already been suckered into caring about what goes on in those books like I have and go "hey, show us what you're about," they do this.

According to the credits page, Future's End #0 was written and drawn by creators whose work I tend to enjoy -- writers Brian Azzarello, Jeff lemire, Dan Jurgens and Keith Giffen, and artists Ethan Van Sciver, Patrick Zircher, Aaron Lopresti, Art Thibert, Jurgens, Mark Irwin, Jesus Merino and Dan Green -- but it doesn't actualy feel like it was written or drawn by individual creators. It feels like an illustrated corporate edict, the new issue of DC Comics, right down to the mandatory arm-severing.

Seriously, I cannot stress this enough and I don't feel bad about spoiling it because it's going to be free on Saturday: yet another arm is cut off in this book, and that is actually hilarious. It's like DC had a corporate meeting ten years ago and realized they needed a trademark, like the "Stan Lee Presents" tag that used to run in Marvel books, and some bright-eyed young go-getter yelled out "dismemberment!" and it was 4:59 on a Friday and so that's just what they went with. I swear to you, I laughed out loud reading it because it's almost, almost, a parody of what DC Comics are like in the 21st Century, and I'd be tempted to believe that it was because the people who are credited with making it are certainly smart enough to realize what you're doing when you write and draw the 47th arm-chopping since 2005. The problem is that I'm pretty sure it's meant to be taken seriously. Like, very seriously. Like "golly, these icons of my childhood sure are grown up, I guess I don't have to be embarrassed about them anymore" seriously.

I've been through all this before, to the point where I'm just gonna save this article and keep it for the next time I get all cheesed off about some cynical nonsense, but the points always remain the same. To borrow a bit from Brandon Stroud, it's like there's a whiteboard in the DC Offices that someone accidentally wrote on with permanent marker, and so every time they do something they look at it and "Make Superman Evil?" and "Cut off an arm!" are right there at the top of the list. It's old, folks. It was old the last time you did it, and it was old the time before that.

And that's the thing: I've said all this before because they've done it all before. The setup for Future's End, the violent death of all your favorite superheroes, is the same thing that they've used for DC Universe Online, Injustice: Gods Among UsFlashpoint and Earth-2, and that's just the stuff from the last few years that springs to mind. As a company, they seem obsessed with violently murdering their roster of characters in the most gruesome way possible, over and over agian. At this point, it's their trademark. Over the past three years, it's been in more comics than heat vision.

Again, here's a spoiler warning for a comic everyone who goes to a comic book store this week is going to end up taking home unless they actively avoid it, but the story in Future's End #0 ends with Batman Beyond going back in time once all the superheroes of his own era have been murdered and transformed into grotesquely misshapen murderbots, he realizes that he's too late to actually fix anything, which he was going to fix by murdering someone because Batman told him to. It's the one thing in the comic I really related to, because as someone who genuinely loves DC comics, that's how I've started to feel as a reader: We're all too late to fix this awful, jacked up future that we've found ourselves in.


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