A futuristic Batman, masked Superman and a cadre of colorful characters all play roles in weekly series.
The DC Comics weekly series The New 52: Futures End concerns multiple worlds, various timelines, a huge cast of characters and story lines and four writers to make sense of it all.
A few months in, Futures End scribe Dan Jurgens thinks of it like a grand bit of genius stage direction. "How do you move all the characters on stage so they don't bump into each other and knock over the fake fireplace you have in the corner?" says Jurgens, who works with Jeff Lemire, Brian Azzarello and Keith Giffen to keep it all straight.
Like the comic-book equivalent of The Terminator, Futures End began with the Batman Beyond from 35 years in the future, which is a post-apocalyptic landscape where the world's superheroes have been turned into horrific cyborgs by the sentient, Skynet-like Brother Eye.
He was sent back in time by Bruce Wayne to stop Brother Eye before it comes online and avoid a terrible dystopian world, but missed his mark and ended up five years ahead of current DC Universe continuity.
Stuck in a strange time, he teams up with a trio of criminals — Coil, Plastique and the Key — to investigate the tech company of A-list celebrity superhero Mr. Terrific, who created Brother Eye with Batman.
Terrific "is in that strange role where he might be simultaneously both responsible for what's up there in the sky and what happens in the future and perhaps even part of the answer for what comes later," Jurgens says.
That's just one of many story lines moving forward in Futures End No. 14 (out Wednesday).
A key locale in the series is Cadmus Island, where the heroes of Earth 2 are being kept following the events of a cosmic war between Earths. Big Barda is in hiding after this interstellar conflict, but she knows she is being hunted by folks for one reason or another — and she runs afoul of Deathstroke and Fifty Sue, one of Jurgens' favorite new characters.
Cadmus Island is a powder keg waiting to blow, and according to Jurgens, there are some surprises in store coming up about where it came from, who else is there and who else is yet to arrive.
Ryan Sook's designs for the issue covers are important to the Futures End saga — "Every bit as much as the story we have going on between the covers," Jurgens says — and his artwork for issue 14 shows Barda plus two hints as to what's coming with Lois Lane with a green triangle and Red Tornado.
In the last bunch of issues, Lois has been one of the characters Jurgens has focused on writing, and she was gifted with a mysterious package of items. In addition to a matchbook for the Wounded Duck Bar, an establishment owned by Tim Drake (the former Red Robin), the box contained what seemed to be map coordinates and a green triangle.
There is "a major development" in regard to these in the new issue, Jurgens says. "We finally start to find it what that green pyramid is and what it can do, and it ties into Cadmus Island."
Plus, the Lois Lane of Earth 2 is Red Tornado, he adds, so "it builds to an explosive end."
The duo of Frankenstein and Amethyst and their adventures in an odd place play an integral role, there are the two bickering halves of Firestorm and also Madison Payne having more prominence coming up in Futures End.
"If you look at where these stories are going and who the cast members really are right now as well as who they end up being as the story changes, it's a pretty disparate cast in a variety of different places," Jurgens explains.
"Despite all of that, the idea is to turn all the gears just so the teeth on the gears interlock perfectly and it all comes together and makes sense at the end. So we've been able to get it done."
The rest of the DC books will catch up with the Futures End timeline in next month's "Five Years Later" line-wide event.
How certain series tie into Futures End depends on the characters and their books — Green Arrow died very early in the weekly comic so his "Five Years Later" issue will reflect that, according to Jurgens, as will Superman's new masked uniform.
The Man of Steel's wardrobe situation has been arguably the biggest mystery so far of Futures End, and the reasoning to how and why he's wearing a mask is one of the huge revelations coming in issue 17, in which John Constantine also comes to the fore.
Jurgens hopes the Superman unveiling will freak fans out out.
"As you put a story together, you try to anticipate what the reaction might be among the readers," he says. "Sometimes you're right on the money, sometimes you misgauge it somehow.
"My thought on this one is it's going to be a pretty big surprise."