ACTION COMICS: FUTURES END #1 isn't about showing what makes FUTURES END a story you should consider reading and it doesn't even put Superman front and center. Instead, writer Sholly Fisch focuses on why Kal-El's special. No, it isn't because of his strength, speed, durability, or any of his other impressive powers -- it's because of his morals and how he acts.
With this chapter, Fisch shows that the powers don't make the person and reveals how others would act if they had just a small sample of the Man of Steel's abilities. Not including Clark Kent's time in Africa, this issue revolves around three characters (one of them could possibly be Donna Troy) and the narrative shows how superhuman abilities can help them discover hope, bravery, and even new levels of greed. It's a little heavy-handed at times but it still effectively shows how power can be a wonderful and uplifting thing and not just used to... well, smash stuff. This one isn't about the bigger narrative in this event or hitting us with questions that'll leave you wanting to explore the rest of the FUTURES END material. Instead, it almost feels like a love letter to Superman and exists to illustrate why he's admired by so many. While some may view him as merely an overpowered boyscout, it seems like this aims to show that how he acts is commendable and should be inspirational, not mocked.
Artists Pascal Alixe and Vicente Cifuentes have noticeably different styles, so the transition between the two is jarring, but both of them -- along with colorist Pete Pantazis -- thrive in specific moments. The grittier style works well a the darker tone and more emotionally driven panels; it enhances the atmosphere quite well. Obviously, I have no idea how realistic the damage done to a hand is, but it's certainly cringeworthy and effectively shows just how punishing selfishness and greed can be. Meanwhile, the smoother style being used when someone finds hope again and for the final scene feels appropriate. Those moments aren't nearly as tense or heated, so the more polished approach compliments it well.
While the grainier and grittier style works well for the more intense moments, I wasn't the biggest fan when it was utilized in some of the calmer and more static scenes. It left me feeling like the characters were slightly out of focus
This story isn't new reader friendly -- like, at all. A big part of the story is why Superman has fled to Africa, but the reasoning behind that is only loosely addressed and it'll likely leave new fans wanting more details. I understand someone should know the basics about FUTURES END going into this, but seeing as this is a #1 issue and there's no intro page, a little more exposition would have been beneficial for everyone.
Minor question: what was Nick doing to Carl's face? It looked like he was peeling off his damaged skin or even digging into the guy's face. Was he closing his eyes? If so, that's a little odd since he said the guy was in "bad shape" and not dead.
Is this a mandatory read for FUTURES END? No, it doesn't appear to be, but it's still an engrossing experience which focuses on what Superman stands for without actually having the Kryptonian in a majority of the pages. It can be a little too blunt with its message at times, but it's still a good message overall and well worth reading if you're one of the people who wonders why Superman has fans. People not following FUTURES END will feel a little left in the dark, but overall, it doesn't take too much from the narrative and still feels like a satisfying and mostly stand alone read. However, whether it'll inspire you to continue reading FUTURES END is a whole different story.