Warning: spoilers for Future State: Dark Detective #3 are ahead.
Christopher Nolan’s 2008 film, The Dark Knight, is commonly thought of as one of the greatest superhero films ever made. Detailing the rise and fall of both the Joker and Harvey Dent (Two-Face), The Dark Knight meshed a gritty tale of Gotham’s political corruption with a dazzling display of Batman’s technical prowess in gadgetry. Still, the film leaves behind a concerning aspect about Batman’s crimefighting methods, which the current DC storyline, Future State, is remedying.
In the final act of the film, Batman taps into every cellphone in Gotham to create a mass surveillance network to track down the Joker using sonar. Casted onto a multitude of screens, the network formed a live feed of everyone in Gotham, functioning as an elaborate piece of mass surveillance. Longtime Batman ally Lucius Fox dubbed it as “beautiful” and yet “unethical,” decrying that it was “too much power to have for one person.” Batman, however, argued that the ends justified the means for apprehending the Joker.
In contrast to the use of mass surveillance by one of the world’s most popular superheroes, DC’s Future State offers a much more critical angle in its Bruce Wayne storyline. Set in the near future, Gotham is controlled by the Magistrate, a body combining the executive and judicial branches of government to form a single paramilitary entity. The Magistrate surveils each and every citizen at all times through their various drones clouding the sky. Under the new law, vigilantes are outlawed, and the remaining heroes must take enormous steps in concealing themselves from the Magistrate’s eyes.
The Dark Knight‘s use of mass surveillance left behind a series of unanswered ethical questions, which Future State: Dark Detective #3 has now responded to (written by Mariko Tamaki, art by Dan Mora, colors by Jordie Bellaire, and letters by Aditya Bidikar). Future State does not see surveillance as something to be lauded or justified, even in the hands of a hero like Batman. With mass surveillance out of the hands of superheroes, Future State fills in the ethical void left by The Dark Knight, presenting a future where not even heroes themselves can live in safety from a society that records their every move.
Surveillance is an apt entry point into Batman lore, because its use is wrapped up in the notion of achieving “justice” in both stories. In The Dark Knight, Batman explains to Lucius Fox that stepping over the privacy of thirty million citizens is necessary for bringing one man, the Joker, to justice. And, indeed, Batman succeeds in apprehending the Joker through these methods. In Future State, however, the oppressive effects and methods of the Magistrate contribute to more dangerous conditions for Gotham’s citizens, evidencing a skewed sense of justice that is “about protecting property over humans… or any notion of peace.” Considering the emphasis that justice has in Batman’s core beliefs in both comics and movies, the role of surveillance in The Dark Knight and Future State reveals two different sets of values that the Batmen have.
Batman’s relation to surveillance in Future State positions him as a defender of the ordinary Gotham citizen, bringing new meaning to the “Dark Knight” moniker as he uncovers the Magistrate’s schemes from the shadows of their surveillance state. Thought to be dead, Bruce Wayne operates as Batman without his fancy gear and suit, relying only on his smarts and detective skills. Instead of being a technocrat, Future State‘s Batman is much more akin to a folk hero facing his own Goliath.
Future State in some ways can be seen as the spiritual successor to The Dark Knight, particularly in regards to surveillance. In Future State: Dark Detective #1, Batman admits that he is partly at fault for the surveillance state of the Magistrate (written by Mariko Tamaki, art by Dan Mora, colors by Jordie Bellaire, letters by Aditya Bidikar). The tech that he used as Batman in the past paved the way for the Magistrate’s control over Gotham’s citizens through their nano-drones.
Given the role that surveillance plays in the plot of The Dark Knight, with Bruce Wayne building off of Lucius Fox’s sonar system to create a surveillance network of Gotham, it is natural to see the progression between both stories. Though a film, The Dark Knight continues to loom large in Batman lore, and Future State: Dark Detective could be working to push back on some troubling aspects of such a widely known Batman story.
This is precisely what makes Future State: Dark Detective such a compelling Batman story. It possesses a level of self-awareness about the biggest moments in the character’s history in order to rework them into a distinctly unheroic scenario. That is, Batman may once have been thought of as a hero, but in Future State, he is unable to escape the seeds of tyranny he unknowingly planted in years past.
While the fate of Bruce Wayne in Future State remains to be seen, it is clear that the story is centering itself around his reckoning with his past actions. Rather than dying a hero, this Batman must now answer to the conditions in Gotham that he had created in part. Fortunately, this version of Bruce Wayne is refreshingly heroic, distilled down to his best attributes with his smarts and concerns for others’ welfare.
The Dark Knight and Future State both present a Bruce Wayne who is caught in the crossfire of trying to be a hero in a world that rewards villainy. Future State is an important progression to the story of The Dark Knight because it proves that heroism is not chronologically static. What may seem heroic at one point in time may actually turn out to be heroic several years down the line. For the Dark Detective of Future State, Bruce Wayne’s impact on Gotham remains a matter that only time will tell.