By Jarrod Jones. It figures that I finally get to take a crack at reviewing Grayson – easily my favorite book this year – and it’s for some morbidly dismal tie-in that disrupts the fun and frenzy of the series’ first two crackerjack issues. Grayson‘s momentum, brimming with moxie and verve, is left to stall as issue #3 sits out this month, so that DC Comics can propagate its Futures End cross-over. (While squeezing an extra buck out from their readers at the same time. Yay, us.) This raises a question: does Grayson: Futures End #1 deliver another solid entry – uninvited flash-forward though it may be – to the Grayson series? Because writer Tim Seeley is taking a back seat this time around – with co-writer Tom King handling full scripting chores (with a story assist from Seeley) – I’m inclined to say, “no.”
Don’t get me wrong. Writers Tim Seeley and Tom King both bring something vital to Grayson – King’s experience as a former CIA counterterrorism officer brings invaluable pathos to the book, and Seeley’s enthusiastic comprehension of what makes superheroes tick brings the series a potent buoyancy – but up until now the working paradigm for Grayson has been, “King & Seeley plot, but Seeley scripts.” And while there have been only two issues of the book thus far, the dramatic dip in narrative quality for this obnoxious DC tie-in is too much to ignore. King takes the enjoyable concepts he helped forge too far in the opposite direction. This is bleak storytelling even by New52 standards.
King brands his headlining issue Only A Place For Dying (which, A Lonely Place Of Dying, yes we get it, we get it), a title that seems better suited for a lurid, foamy James Bond fan fiction. (Though, in true Bond fashion, the title even gets worked into King’s story, appropriately uttered aloud by a vaguely European villain just before a bullet flies through his skull.)
Grayson: Futures End #1, while taking place in the New52’s apparent future, works its way page by page (illustrated rather inconsistently by fill-in artist Stephen Mooney) towards the past, starting off with Dick Grayson’s apparent death by hanging and working backwards. (King alleviates the potential confusion by making sure each and every page begins with the caption “Earlier.”) It’s a plot device that would seem inventive if it didn’t remind me of that one time Seinfeld did precisely the exact same thing. And like that episode – which used the backward stream of time for comic effect, mind you – this issue never returns to the end (or rather, the beginning) for narrative bookending. (Or even a happier ending.) Instead, King uses the visual parallelism of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, where panels are deliberately employed to mirror events that occurred earlier (or rather, later) and dialogue echoes dialogue from events before. (Or rather… y’know. You get it.)
There is serious potential in what King is attempting to accomplish here, and one has to appreciate the effort that was put into the issue. Had the one-shot been scripted by a writer more suited for such elaborate trappings, the payoff might have been bittersweet. But the tragedy of Grayson: Futures End is that Tom King is not Alan Moore, and yet it seems that he’s trying to be. Moore has a long history of wringing poignancy out of his stories with a modicum of fuss, and his style serves as the writer’s signature because of this. King hasn’t been writing comic books for very long – though the accolades heaped upon his novel, A Once Crowded Sky indicate that he is more than prepared for the work – and this issue feels like the writer is overcompensating for his first solo DC offering. The issue’s conceit is simply far too ambitious for King’s writing style.
What doesn’t help matters is King’s insistence to use the formative moments of Dick Grayson’s life – his parent’s death, his apprenticeship with the Batman, his flings with Barbara Gordon – to lend a poignancy to Dick’s ultimate fate. King peppers his parallelism all over the book in the most obvious places, but in keeping those particular narrative plates spinning, he loses sight of what has made Dick Grayson so appealing all these years. (I hate to scream, “blasphemy!” but Dick Grayson doesn’t kill, and he certainly wouldn’t kill under the weak circumstances in which King places him.)
I’m reminded of what Chris Sims once said to writer Tim Seeley: since Grayson would have our hero employing guns, so long as Dick doesn’t “run around strangling dudes with a snapped trapeze rope” there would be no real betrayal of the character. King does everything short of this: in Grayson: Futures End, Dick becomes the kind of man who would hold on to a jar of acid once used to kill his parents to later destroy a bridge, all in order to kill a nameless, faceless enemy. He becomes the kind of man who would snap the neck of a world leader because it’s the “right thing to do.” These things happen because King needs them to happen, not because they would, or ever could, happen. By the time this issue ends, all King accomplishes is fufilling Dan DiDio’s morbid wish to off Dick Grayson. And nobody wants that.
It’s not clear what King had hoped to wring out of this implausible “what if” scenario, but if the future holds that Dick Grayson becomes a killer for the sake of shock value, then count me out. Grayson: Futures End #1 is another grisly reminder of how a bloated crossover can utterly disrupt an otherwise fantastic book with its own capitalistic insistence. Ostensibly all we’ve done is pay $4 for a pretty cover with nothing worthwhile inside.
Story by Tim Seeley and Tom King.
Written by Tom King.
Art by Stephen Mooney.
Colored by Jeromy Cox.
2 out of 10.