Sometimes, the cure is worse than the disease. That is a dilemma that actually rests at the heart of all time-travel fiction, including The New 52: Futures End. If you change the timeline, if you alter events to avoid a disastrous future, how can you be sure that the new pattern will not be worse than the old? In the case of this particular story, the future that the heroes are attempting to end is so horrific that any risk is probably worth it. But still, these characters cannot escape the bitter irony of doing badly by doing good.
Understandably, a giant avatar of Braniac attempting to steal a part of New York City tends to overwhelm all other considerations. This series has often suffered from a sense of scattering and lack of cohesion as the various plotlines proceed in parallel without an overall feeling of unity. Here, that dissipates as the actions of Superman, Batman, Batman Beyond, Tim Drake, the Atom, and others focus on the attempt to thwart Braniac’s attempt to add Manhattan to his collection of memorabilia from doomed timelines. The battle is epic, and epically drawn by Patrick Zircher and Andy MacDonald with colors from the indefatigable Hi-Fi. As Superman and the Atom battle the giant avatar, we really do believe that titans are clashing. As the city flies and dips and swoops, we really do believe that gravity itself has turned on the hapless inhabitants.
All of which makes the outcome more effective. It turns out that Mr. Terrific and Batman have a weapon to unleash against the curator of worlds. How does one fight a being like Braniac? Well, you are essentially talking about a computer intelligence. True, it is a computer intelligence of godlike power and unbelievable antiquity. But the details of its history do not change the facts of its nature. And to overwhelm the mind of an intelligent machine, one uses another intelligent machine. It is the old adage about setting a thief to catch a thief magnified into literally world-shattering proportions.
The two geniuses even have such a machine ready at hand. It is called Brother Eye. And thus as the issue comes to a close, we see that the future has not ended. The future, and the horrors it contains, has just begun.
This issue is one of the most artistically sophisticated, subtle, and surprising of the entire series. The people of this universe are caught in the vicious fork of a double bind. They must save themselves and their people from Braniac. But in so doing, they have delivered themselves to a much worse end. It is the kind of bitterness that often marks the best time travel fiction, the despair of a cruel fate that turns even your attempts to avoid it into steps in your own doom. Had all of the issues of this series shown similar intelligence and aesthetic verve, the book might have reached the landmark status to which it aspired. As it is, this issue may well be one of the few highpoints in a series that has been more a muddle than a masterpiece.