Grayson: Futures End #1 – The subtle art of the one shot

That special month of one shots and three-dimensional motion covers not only makes my eyes roll but my enthusiasm waiver. The stories often relate to a certain event or crossover and feature a contained plot. Given the rarity of the ones shot comic in modern times, the art of producing a story in twenty odd pages is a challenging one. Recently it has also been the case that these books allow a spotlight to be shone on new writers and showcase new talents. It is an unenviable task because the pressure is high, and these books act as a non-consequential story. With the case of Futures End, the challenge is even greater because the story moves five years into the future and any status quo developed in current continuity has been called into question. Not only must the creators keep character with their protagonists but rapidly introduce a new environment hopefully with some hints of familiarity in order to develop a coherent story. For the case of Grayson, Tom King continues to write with Tim Seeley at his side and Stephen Mooney steps up to the plate. Not only do they succeed in creating a fantastic story five years in the future, they change the rules as they do it.

CapturedFive years in the future Dick’s espionage shenanigans lead him to a defection in Russia, together with his dearest love Helena. The story ends at the beginning and almost every page is a snapshot of past events in his life. These range from a last stand against parademons with Helena by his side, to his early days with the Bat, meaning that the five years ahead theme is not fully enforced. The book doesn’t serve as a biography of his life but actually tells a story in an incredibly subtle way. In referencing certain parts of his life, King not only touches base with Grayson’s central ethos but also delivers the story in a reverse manner. The opening scene is quite devastating if read at face value, but there are three fundamental elements to it that are only revealed through the comic. These themes include murder, escapology and secret codes. It is once you have read the comic that you are able to actually read between the lines and the opening scene takes on a very different meaning. It is very cleverly done, because King not only tries to convince you that Dick’s life is in genuine danger but you may not even pick up the clues he is laying out. The explanation is right there in front of you, but you need to work at it because King is not going to explain it to you. For those waiting to read the comic, I will go into specific spoiler detail at the very end of the post.

TattooThere are some beautiful and sentimental moments throughout Grayson’s life that are depicted in these pages. His relationship with Helena is well chronicled through multiple scenes, including those of courtship on a roof, escaping death defying situations and questioning the morality of cavorting with the enemy. Almost every scene refers to a pertinent time in Dick’s life, including the tattoo he gets to show his love for Helena. She makes mention that if he is captured he will be instantly recognised and killed. A motivation for not getting captured which contrasts perfectly with another scene when he first became Robin. As he asks Batman why his costume is so bright, Bruce replies by saying he needs to earn the right to use the darkness, by being inconspicuous in the light. It is a lovely parallel and also affords Stephen Mooney the opportunity to draw Helena and Grayson in moments of intimacy and romance, but also his time with Batman as Robin. It must be a moment to savour for Mooney because of the range of creativity involved. For the most he draws excellently and the mid range focus on Dick’s image is very expressive and his motion is fluid. However Stephen’s pencilling is quite detailed and at further distances can lose focus on faces and become a little murky. The flashback page of Nightwing running with Batgirl is very sweet and Mooney does their costumes and symmetry justice. Even at this moment King is using their dialogue to build the clues to the opening pages.

LullabyThe final pages reveal the way in which his parents were killed and Batman’s early declarations of refusing to kill. This stays with Dick throughout the comic but there are times where this is called into question, especially by Helena. The bridge scene seems to call this into question a little too early in the story, losing a small piece of continuity. The most poignant moment that makes him question his ethics is on a battleground where he sings a lullaby to a child who survived an unnecessary army assault. This then feeds into the point of this whole comic, the moral code of Dick Grayson in a world of romance and subterfuge. Whilst it is a very clever comic and the story is coherent, it still tries to accomplish a little too much. You cannot fit all of Dick’s life into such a small number of pages and by streamlining some of his key characteristics in order to tell the story, you lose the finer details. But that is not the aim of the book because frankly it is impossible. Therefore it is forgivable that there are some continuity mishaps and his philosophy on murder is not explored further. That is not the creator’s intention but it is to touch on some beautiful moments and that is the most amazing part of this comic. If we relate this to my opening comments then the task at hand has been performed with full commendations. To create a story that is not only compelling and emotional but to refer to the multiple driving forces behind it in a very intelligent way deserves the most credit. I am sure we will be seeing a lot more of Tom King, and I for one am very enthusiastic about it.

*For those that struggle to understand my analysis without explaining the clues, read on for a spoiled review of the opening scene! * 

This is the opening page:

Grayson (2014-) - Futures End 001-001At first reading this page is very upsetting and difficult to believe. As you read the rest of the book then it is obvious he is in no real danger. I have listed all the clues below but there are some important features of these few panels that need elaboration. The touching of the rope is clearly a reference to the final page where we see an almost identical image. She is applying the acid at this moment for the rope to slowly disintegrate. There are multiple references to ropes throughout the issue and to murder and the death of Dick Grayson. She even says that this is where he began, at the end of a rope, which is a cruel comment alluding to his time as a trapeze artist and the incident that led to him becoming Robin. She also uses the Cluemaster’s code to tell Dick, “The Roof”, a comment on multiple escape plans from the roofs of buildings. That noose will fall apart and he will escape without difficulty, maintaining Helena’s cover and his betrayal. It is a amazing scene that really isn’t what it seems upon further reading. Here are the clues:

1st Flashback – DIck says to Helena that his hands will not be clean referring to the scene where she kills to save his life and utters similar words. This also refers to the final page where it is mentioned that, all that needs to be done is to clean your hands and walk away.

2nd Flashback – He actually kills KGBeast in plain sight highlighting that when he fails it will be for everyone to see. This also plays into the plan of having Helena be his executioner to prove her own worth as a spy.

3rd Flashback – Helena states that receiving a medal is just something else to hang around his neck, a reference to the opening scene.

4th & 5th Flashback – Dick is inconsolable as he cradles a child and sings to her a song from his youth, one that is repeated in the final flashback. This is the straw that breaks Grayson’s back and leans him towards murder.

6th Flashback – The parademon scene. Dick reveals that the jar of acid that burns slowly affords the user time to escape. This is how he slips away from the hanging that we do not get an opportunity to witness.

7th Flashback – The Russian dignitary uses the phrase – “we will not hang you out to dry”.

8th Flashback – This is the first mention of the roof and the use of the Cluemaster’s code. Though this is revealed later, you can work out that Helena is telling Dick she loves him, which is why he reciprocates.

9th Flashback – Second mention of the roof and the acid jar rope trick. Also Helena is intrigued by his secrets.

10th Flashback – Helena kills for Dick, which he finds very difficult to handle. Here is where we read, “My hands can’t be clean”. Once again referring to the opening page.

11th Flashback – More scenes about escape, ropes and the Cluemaster’s code. In this case Dick is laughing because Helena accidently says the word “Fart”. Also she states she is going to kill him, which occurs at the opener.

12th Flashback – Again we discuss the roof and extraction points. An interesting scene is played out here regarding her motivations to kill and Dick’s refusal to do so.

13th Flashback – Initial scene initiating the theme about being in plain sight, the spy getting a tattoo.

14th Flashback – Bridge scene demonstrating the rope trick and uses the term, its an old circus trick, a tragic reference to his parents’ death. He alludes to dying at her side and then he will tell her the trick. Which he does when they fight the parademons in the sixth flashback.

15th Flashback – As he runs the roofs with Batgirl, she comments upon Nightwing’s need for a lady like Batman. This comparison is made with the hiding in plain sight motif. Also more rope mentions.

16th Flashback – Cluemaster’s code is explained! The first letter of each sentence is used to make a secret message.

17th Flashback – Earning the night with Batman.

18th Flashback – Batman gives Dick the jar of acid and introduces his philosophy of not killing. A beautiful contrast is made between Helena and Batman’s motivations. She says you don’t kill a man and you give up your responsibilities for him, whereas Bats says you kill a man and you give up your responsibilities for him. This also plays into Batgirl’s comments about Dick requiring a partner like Bruce. This is actually proved to be incorrect.

19th Flashback – The touching of the rope that the Grayson’s fly with. The acid is applied and the crime is committed. The lullaby is the theme music of the trapeze troupe and we see Dick smiling as he flies.

Tom King is very purposeful in the dialogue he uses and the themes he touches upon. There is an excellent exposition on Dick’s moral code and the contrasting elements of being the hero. It is hard to believe that this is just one comic issue because so much is accomplished in such short bursts.

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