Spoilers for Future State: Justice League #2 ahead!
One of the most famous scenes from Avengers: Infinity War depicts the Sorcerer Supreme Doctor Strange using the Time Stone to search millions of timelines to find a way to defeat Thanos. But in DC’s Future State, Doctor Fate just took this a step further when he realized there were no futures where the Justice League Dark won the day. The story, from Future State: Justice League #2, is written by Ram V with art by Marcio Takara and colors by Marcel Maiolo, and is available in stores and through digital comics outlets.
Earth’s magic community has been thrown into disarray in the near future by the wizard Merlin, with magic users going to war to avoid his fanatical purge. Merlin’s hordes have killed many, and driven others such as John Constantine underground. Merlin dealt another blow by separating Etrigan from his human host Jason Blood and then taking Blood hostage to ensure Etrigan would never attack him, robbing the heroes of a potentially powerful ally. All seems lost until Zatanna, Etrigan (now bound to Detective Chimp) and Ragman reform the Justice League Dark to begin tracking down magic users and make a final stand against Merlin.
As the team confronts Merlin for the last time, Blood returns and betrays them, allying himself with Merlin. He tries to kill Etrigan, but Doctor Fate intervenes, and pledges himself in the service of Merlin if he spares Earth. Zatanna and the team protest, but he tells them he has viewed, and lived, every possible future and this particular timeline is not one where they win. He reminds Etrigan he is a demon, and thus perceives time differently than mortals, and that “past actions may yet be influenced by the future you have seen.” Merlin accepts Fate’s offer, and the two depart our plane of existence, leaving the team to ponder a battle lost.
Fans will recognize this tactic: Doctor Strange employed it in Infinity War, searching 14 million timelines for one where the heroes defeated Thanos. But even glancing through 14 million timelines doesn’t compare to living through them all. And while Strange was able to find the timeline where Thanos was vanquished and help steer it into being, Fate has to quickly recognize that his timeline is already too far gone and think up another solution. Though his bargain with Merlin is tragic, it keeps the necessary pieces on the board and reveals information that an earlier version of Etrigan may be able to use to change events thanks to his special relationship with time.
Effectively, fans are seeing a version of Doctor Strange‘s Infinity War gambit where there are no possible victories to be found, and yet DC’s most powerful sorcerer – Doctor Fate – still finds a way to maybe come out ahead. With the implication that he died millions of time to gain this new perspective, and an ending that’s one part hope to fifty parts doom, this story sets the Justice League Dark up for one of their highest stakes adventures ever; one in which they already lost, but may still have a chance to claw back victory.