REVIEW: Not the FUTURE We Want, the One We Get

Sometimes you pick up a book knowing full well how it will end. I knew exactly what I was getting into when I picked up the science fiction graphic novel FUTURE, but that didn’t stop me from loving the journey.

FUTURE is about the last astronaut on Earth, Murray Mielniczuk, and her wife Kay. Murray is Earth’s last and best hope. She also has one month left to live. With Earth facing imminent collapse and Murray in the clutches of terminal illness, the plan to save humanity seems well, kind of a crap shoot. The plan? Use time travel to propel Murray 317 years into the future. Use the future to save the future. It’s a novel idea, but one that involves everything going exactly to plan. FUTURE comes courtesy of creators Tom Woodman (W), Rupert Smissen (A), and Aditya Bidikar (L) It’s also the first project from the new independent publisher Cast Iron Books

FUTURE

Tom Woodman (writer), Rupert Smissen (artist), Aditya Bidikar (letterer)
Cast Iron Books
March 2021

Don’t look away

Cover image of graphic novel FUTURE
Cover of FUTURE graphic novel | Cast Iron Books

The first thing you’ll notice reading FUTURE is that it’s hard to look at Murray. It is difficult to be a part of her relationship with Kay. It’s impossible to avoid how sick Murray is and it’s a stark contrast to how hopeful Kay is about the possibility of a positive outcome, both for Murray and their mission. Both seem to be on a collision course with time, but that doesn’t stop the narrative from being compelling or from needing to read onward.

Interior image of FUTURE from the science fiction graphic novel.

Kay’s relentless optimism stings. She pushes forward, believes in a cure, believes in humanity, even when there’s nothing to suggest she should believe in any of them. The reader invariably takes the position as being more cynical than Kay, but despite ourselves we can’t help but invest in the hope of a future for these characters. It is the impossible conundrum of the human psyche. The push ever onward is elemental, we cannot stop it, we cannot avoid it. FUTURE exposes that within us.

Forward

Kay and Murray love one another absolutely. Woodman has worked to make this couple feel as if they have a rich and glorious history. Smissen creates just gorgeous renderings of how they met, how they seen one another, and the bond they share — it comes through in little glances and small jokes, and the flashbacks of their relationship over the years. Smissen’s work delivers the nostalgic haze of memory, its soft edges and glow. It’s not the truth, it’s memory. It is fractured and it comes in jagged bursts we can’t control. The use of color, shifting tones, and the softness with how Smissed creates Murray’s memory of Kay and their life tenders an inescapable emotionality.

Murray's memories of Kay

Their love is whole and complex and if it wasn’t, FUTURE wouldn’t work. Thankfully, it does. Murray doesn’t purely exist as a prop for advancing Kay’s growth as a character and vice-versa. (That said, I could do with fewer tragic outcomes for lesbians within the science fiction genre.)

Interior images of Murray and Kay from FUTURE

By all accounts, Kay shouldn’t be with Murray on this shot-in-the-dark mission to save humanity. Kay is no astronaut but she’s not about to let her wife go on this probable one-way trip alone. She is driven by her desire to do everything she possibly can to save her wife. As the pair blast off into space, I found myself hopeful even though I had no reason to be. Naturally, nothing goes to plan.

Kay and Murray end up back on an empty Earth sometime in the future. They are the only remaining survivors. They have no food, no water, and no path forward. Still, they try.

Murray’s final month is familiar to me, it reminds me of my dad’s. It’s been over a decade but time cannot shake the weird, liminal space of those on the verge of death and those who will survive it. This is where FUTURE does its best work.

The faithfulness with which Woodman and Smissen have rendered the final stages of terminal illness turn this book from what would otherwise be a sort of run-of-the-mill science fiction story into something more. Murray frequently vacillates between moments of lucidity and unconsciousness and those moments destabilize the reader temporally and spatially. It’s a useful mechanism for both relaying the effects of terminal illness on the brain while also compelling the reader to ask what is really happening? Is any of it happening and does it matter?

Kay reminds me of the hope I had. We’ll find a cure, dad. We’ll do everything we can. We must fight! Of course, the fighting isn’t up to those who will continue to live. It’s not a battle. Sometimes it’s hard to find the language to convey the experience of death, of letting go. That’s the beauty of FUTURE for me, it is a catharsis.

There are beautiful moments where Smissen creates montages of Murray’s memories. It is a journey I could not go on with my father but through Murray, I am able to see death from another side. My dad’s hospice nurse used to tell us that those who die have the harder path to tread. They must let go of us, the living, while we continue to move forward through time.

Murray's memories of Kay, interior art image of FUTURE book

How ever you read FUTURE, as it leaves room for interpretation, its most enduring message is the way in which Murray and Kay are sustained by one another’s love. This is a comic about love and the impossible, unshakeable strength it provides to persevere. A month before my dad died he wrote us a letter on cloud paper. His only hope for our future was that we would take care of and love one another. Our future exists because we are sustained by the ones who came before and the ones who will come after.

Murray and Kay holding hands

 

Andrea Ayres

Andrea Ayres

Andrea writes about comics and popular culture. She loves research into comics as art, visual rhetoric, and fandom.
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