Some Future State stories have dealt with dark, dystopian futures, but the lead story in Future State: Immortal Wonder Woman #1 takes it a step further with Diana, the remaining Amazons, and an aging Superman fighting to defend Swamp Thing, the Green, and basically the symbol of life on Earth from both Darkseid and the Anti-Life Equation. Writers Becky Cloonan and Michael Conrad and spectacular artist Jen Bartel tell a story about fighting a war with love to the bitter end as Diana doesn’t want to fight for the dying Earth and instead start somewhere fresh with Swamp Thing and her sisters, but is overridden by the warlike Amazons as well as Darkseid popping in for one last chance to conquer Earth.
Cloonan and Conrad’s writing in Immortal Wonder Woman #1 can be described as truly poetic and matches the emotion-tinged visual from Bartel. The opening sequence has Diana interacting with a hologram of Batman and meditating on their relationship as part of DC’s Trinity’s with Batman telling her that she’s a true symbol of hope to rally around. However, Diana is also a realist about what’s going as she wistfully sees a star blink out of existence, and the story cuts to Apokolips where Darkseid realizes the end aka the Anti-Life Equation is near and abandons his empire, son Orion, and follower Big Barda and immediately heads to Earth. Bartel does a great job of contrasting the Amazons’ perspective of Earth with its reality using an almost beach vacation color palette for when the Amazons decide to defend the planet from an unknown threat to using a dark and rusty one for when Darkseid flies through space to the “husk”.
Jen Bartel is known for beautiful character design and capturing deep emotion out of her figures, but she can also draw one hell of a fight scene when Diana and Darkseid finally throw down with again Superman having one heroic moment and then getting flattened. She channels her inner Jack Kirby with colorful explosions and speed lines every time Darkseid lands a blow, or Diana kicks the Apokoliptian tyrant or gets a grip on him with her lasso. Bartel also uses interesting (or heartbreaking) panel shapes like when she lays one out that looks just like Darkseid’s Omega sanction and ends in a stark, panel of skulls on a stark background. On a more macro-level, Cloonan and Conrad keep the objective of the battle high, yet simple, Diana, the Amazons, and Superman have to protect Swamp Thing from Darkseid and the Anti-Life Equation for a chance at filling Earth (or maybe a new planet) with life again. The stakes of this comic are literally life and death.
The first story in Immortal Wonder Woman #1 is a Ragnarok for the DC Universe courtesy of Becky Cloonan, Michael Conrad, and Jen Bartel, who makes everyone look epic, pretty, and/or war worn while nailing the look and color palette of utter cosmic darkness too. It’s the last of the old gods battling the embodiment of utter evil with only a small chance for rebirth in the form of Swamp Thing, who is given a frail form and halting speech patterns. It’s also a masterclass in pacing with Cloonan and Conrad getting to the emotional breaking point before hitting that “To Be Continued” with literal tears streaming in the last panel that Bartel draws.
The second story in Immortal Woman #1 is written by LL McKinney with art from Alitha Martinez, Mark Morales, and Emilio Lopez, is set earlier in the Future State timeline, and features Nubia, an Amazon who has taken up the mantle of Wonder Woman while an off-panel Diana is queen of Themiscyra. Like the lead story, its plot has a world-ending conflict as Grail, the daughter of Darkseid, is stealing parts of an artifact connected to various gods that if put together could rip a hole in time and space. Most of this is explained in many expository text boxes by McKinney, who seems to be trying to fit a 4-6 issue miniseries in two issues.
A feeling of being overstuffed aside, “Nubia” is not without its charms. Martinez and Morales are veteran storytellers, who excel at everything from an exciting bout of close quarters combat between Grail and Nubia with a poster-worthy splash of the protagonist saying, “I am Wonder Woman” to capturing Nubia’s pained facial expressions when Aunt Nancy asks her for a favor in return for helping her solve the mystery behind these artifact thefts. Speaking of Aunt Nancy, McKinney’s background writing YA urban fantasy comes in handy with some of the little world-building touches like having her run a night club called the Ebony Web with a spider on the door and with a (quite handsome) minotaur bouncer. With her punnish name, knowledge of almost everything, and propensity for single malt whisky, Aunt Nancy has a lot of personality and would be an intriguing permanent edition to Nubia’s supporting cast, or the Wonder Woman side of the DC Universe as it’s good to see a god from West African folklore pop up. Also, I think this might be the first time that the wonderful city of Atlanta has popped up in a DC comic that I’ve read.
However, Nubia’s heroism and Aunt Nancy’s charisma don’t completely make up for a story that is mostly telling and not showing with L.L. McKinney basically undercutting the two page vision that Alitha Martinez and Mark Morales draw earlier in the story by explaining it all in a wall of text. On more of a new reader front, she also doesn’t really introduce Grail except that’s she strong (By defeating Nubia in combat.), generically evil, and wants the artifacts. If I hadn’t (unfortunately) read Geoff Johns’ Justice League run, I wouldn’t know that she was Darkseid’s daughter and basically the Anti-Life version of Wonder Woman. I mean, this is the comic book equivalent of a two episode mini Big Bad arc on a CW show so we don’t need a super deep villain, but including this context could deepen the threat against Nubia and reality. I really wanted to like the Nubia story and look forward to McKinney’s graphic novel take on the character, but it was disappointed and definitely felt like a first published comic.
Overall, Future State: Immortal Wonder Woman #1 has one strong, epic story and another story with potential that it doesn’t fully live up to that also shows the difficulty of transitioning from prose fiction to comics. However, this book is definitely worth picking up for Jen Bartel’s career best take on the final battle between good and evil in the DC Universe with punches that make galaxies trembles and facial expressions that will make you tear up while Becky Cloonan and Michael W. Conrad write a Diana, who is trying to cling onto hope in an utterly no-win situation.
Story: Becky Cloonan, Michael W. Conrad, L.L. McKinney
Art: Jen Bartel, Alitha Martinez with Mark Morales
Colors: Jen Bartel, Emilio Lopez
Letterer: Pat Brosseau, Becca Carey
Story: 8.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.4 Recommendation: Buy
DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review