Visions Of The Future In Comics edited by Franceso-Alessio Ursini, Adan Mahmutović and Frank Bramlett (book review).

Sometimes, picking out books for review merely on title doesn’t necessarily know quite what or how the subject matter is covered. Whatever section of our genre we choose, Science Fiction will always have some sort of different future to what we expect, so why should we expect anything different in comicbook realities?

There are lots of visions of different futures, so I was curious to see what would be covered in this book. The sub-title of ‘Visions Of The Future In Comics’ edited by Franceso-Alessio Ursini, Adan Mahmutović and Frank Bramlett is ‘International Perspectives’, so don’t expect the usual suspects, although samples do pop up from them. They are there but not necessarily in the form you would expect.

Divided into three sections, ‘Future-Formal’ is more a matter of acquainting you with some in detail. I’ve never come across the six-page ‘Here’ by Richard McGuire and unless you read ‘Raw!’ in 1989, then you’d have missed it as well, although it did go on to become a graphic novel. The samples shown by Roy T. Cook have more to do with having multiple time periods inset in the same panel. As it’s off household events, I have to confess to a raised eyebrow. The next writer, Alan Finch, seems to be taken by ‘Here’ as well before dabbling in Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s ‘From Hell’, which I didn’t regard as time travel before. It isn’t until Franceso-Alessio Ursini’s piece where he includes an exploration of Howard Chaykin’s ‘American Flagg’ that I felt myself on home ground.

The second section, ‘Future-Past And Future-Present’ is basically history repeating itself in a slightly different format. Isak Hammar looks at ‘Judge Dredd’ and it being based off the Roman Empire. Hardly surprising when you consider one of the Judges is called Caligula. Then again, Mega-City is a mixture of many cultures and is also considered a satire so anything goes in the end. One thing that isn’t noted is that the robot called ‘Call Me Kenneth’ was supposed to be named after actor Kenneth Williams who was Caesar in the ‘Carry On Cleo’ (1964) film.

Fred Francis focuses on Neil Gaiman’s re-interpretation of the Sandman, moving it away from the National Periodicals gaudy tallow and purple super-hero of the 1940s. I’ve often wondered on copyright issues here where consider that Marvel Comics also uses the name. As they are contrasting characters, I doubt if one would be mistaken for the other.

Aaron Gaius Ricker’s look at ‘Watchmen’ seems a little at conflict with what I know. Considering that both the Comedian and Dr. Manhattan worked for the government, I can’t see them being in disgrace. The police didn’t like vigilantes doing their job for them was what brought in the Keene Act. The ticking clock wasn’t there to show the general passing of time but the representation of the clock showing how close to doomsday we were. Both vital elements to get right. The only thing that might be up for interpretation was Rorschach allowing himself to be killed because he knew his journal was out there with the truth in it.

The problem I have with part 3, ‘Future Culture’ and comics from Mexico and Sweden is because they are unfamiliar, the writers will have the readers at a disadvantage as they discuss the subject and I ended up being no wiser at the end of their respective essays. If anything, there is more a discussion on the art than the reality they are supposed to be depicting and there are only a few samples.

I have to confess that I came away from this book not really sure what to think. As a sampling there is no real consistency. Even the attempts to compare, say, ‘Watchmen’ and ‘Kingdom Come’ is matching apples and oranges. They aren’t the same fruit. The diversity of future realities at least shows writers are not copying each other.

Although lip service is spent on other futures you might recognise, none of the writers involved here have analysed on many are post-apocalypse or decent futures that you might want to live in. They don’t really stray into such analysis and rarely cross over each other’s subject matter. In some respects, this does give some diversity but little to draw any major conclusions.

GF Willmetts

July 2018

(pub: McFarland, 2017. 248 page illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £40.50 (UK), $39.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-47666-801-7)

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