Disclaimer: This column is an opinion formed by an author who does not have an omniscient knowledge of comics. It also contains spoilers for the titular comic.
“Injustice: Gods Among Us” is a popular fighting game based on the DC universe released last year. The game takes place in a world where Superman killed the Joker after the Clown Prince of Crime managed to kill Jimmy Olsen and trick the Big Blue Boy Scout into killing Lois Lane and all of Metropolis. These events convince Superman once and for all that he has not been doing enough to protect his adopted planet and he successfully takes over all the world’s governments, establishing himself as ruler in order to maintain peace and safety among Earth’s people. Batman establishes a resistance and heroes choose sides. The player enters the story five years after the death of the Joker. However, given that this is a game based on a comic book world, it seems only natural that expansions to the story in the form of comics would exist and indeed, DC began releasing a series of prequel comics a few months before the game came out. Without further ado, it is time to explore the first volume of comics that made the unthinkable a reality.
The story begins with Superman waking up in the middle of the night, startled by the sound his super hearing picks up: two heartbeats coming from Lois. She’s pregnant. Shortly after this revelation, Lois gets called out on an anonymous news tip and Superman flies off to help Batman with a mission. Unfortunately, the tip turns out to have been from the Joker, who shoots Jimmy Olsen and kidnaps Lois. Superman finds Jimmy dead and Lois missing several hours later and begs Batman to help him find her. Batman calls in the Justice League to help with the search and they soon establish that Joker is aboard a stolen submarine. Superman tears into the sub with previously unknown fervor and finds Lois strapped to a table with Joker and Harley Quinn standing over her. Before he can free her, Doomsday appears. (For those unfamiliar with the Superman mythos, Doomsday is one of Superman’s most powerful enemies, is among the few who can outfight him, and has, in prior continuity, actually managed to kill him.) Terrified for the safety of Lois and his unborn child, the Man of Steel attacks Doomsday with everything he has. Meanwhile, the rest of the Justice League continues their investigations and makes their way to the submarine. Between the evidence and Joker’s taunts, Batman realizes what happened a split second before Superman does: Joker combined Kryptonite and fear gas to make Superman see something that scared him out of his mind. Just as Superman manages to fly Doomsday into outer space, Batman’s message reaches him and he is able to see through the illusion: he was never fighting Doomsday in the first place. It was Lois. To make matters worse, the Joker has rigged a nuclear warhead to explode in Metropolis as soon as Lois’s heart stops. At the moment of Superman’s greatest horror, realizing he just killed the love of his life, his city explodes.
While some of the other members of the Justice League work on the clean up after the disaster, Superman mourns in Metropolis. In a flurry of emotions, he hands Lois’s body to Wonder Woman for safekeeping and tears off to Gotham Prison. Easily bypassing and dispatching members of the League, Supes busts through the walls of Joker’s cell and right in front of Batman, puts his fist through Joker’s chest. Meanwhile, Harley Quinn breaks out of prison, though she is soon captured by Green Arrow. Arrow takes her to his hideout and keeps her there, saying he does not believe in executions and that he wants to protect Superman from the consequences of killing her. They have an oddly touching scene together before Arrow heads back out to deal with the ongoing chaos. The scene switches back to Superman in the Fortress of Solitude, listening to news reports about the recent destruction. Upon hearing another report about the ongoing violence in another country he flies over and forcibly strips the foreign man responsible of his power, then heads off to a United Nations press conference. At the conference, he calls for an “immediate world-wide ceasefire” and promises to stop anybody who does not comply. He begins enforcing this order with great effectiveness. As a counter, the U.S. president has Superman’s parents kidnapped and threatens to kill them if Superman does not stop interfering with world governments. This rallies the majority of the Justice League behind Superman and they quickly locate the people responsible for the kidnapping. Superman is able to rescue his parents and Batman warns the President how stupid that move was, though he indicates that he does not support the actions of the Man of Steel. With Superman’s parents safe again, the efforts to enforce the world-wide ceasefire continue with Wonder Woman taking on an entire army by herself. Ares, Greek god of war appears before her and questions her eager role in this conflict, as she usually considers herself an advocate of peace and a diplomat. Wonder Woman realizes that Ares is afraid that this quest will succeed and he will be left a god of war in a world without conflict. Superman arrives and punches Ares in the face before Wonder Woman leaves him pinned to the ground with his own sword.
Superman arrives at the Batcave some time later and chews out Batman for not helping to locate his parents. Batman retorts by berating Superman for allowing himself to start down the path of killing people. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman and some other Justice League members approach Aquaman, attempting to make peace with the Atlanteans. However, due to some miscommunications, the talks quickly devolve into conflict. Superman starts to leave to go help the League and Batman stops him, saying that he would do the same thing in Superman’s position but imploring him one last time to stop anyways because Superman is a better man than him. Supes asks Batman to come with him and Batman apologetically turns him down. Superman arrives at the Atlantean combat where Aquaman reminds the League of the strength of his people by having his people march on the surface dwellers from all directions. His attempts to stop Superman from taking over fail completely though when the Justice League pulls Atlantis out of the ocean and strands it in a desert. Aquaman surrenders and Superman cuts Batman’s access to the Justice League.
There is a brief interlude where the reader gets to see the Flash confronted with the reality of what he and the League are doing and watch him question whether or not it is the right thing to do before Superman announces that he and the League will be raiding Arkham Asylum and taking its inhabitants “far away from Gotham” where they can no longer threaten the people of Earth. Batman and Nightwing go to stop them but Robin (currently Damian Wayne) refuses to help, siding with Superman’s reasoning in this case. Green Arrow shows up with Harley Quinn just as the other heroes arrive. Harley Quinn frees herself and breaks out the rest of the inmates, making for a ton of massive and awesome fight scenes as the squabbling heroes fight to stay alive, including an excellent fight with Solomon Grundy, whose regenerative powers mean that the heroes don’t have to pull their punches. In the midst of the fray, Robin accidentally kills Batman[a]. Superman later finds Catwoman and asks her to go be with Batman after Nightwing’s death. Catwoman agrees, but asks Superman to remember that governments are not the only parties responsible for human suffering. She goes to Wayne manor and comforts Alfred and Bruce as best she can. Later, she and Batman are seen recruiting heroes and the comic ends with Batman beginning the work of the resistance against Superman’s regime.
This is a good example of a tie-in comic well done. Certainly not perfectly, as there are plenty of easy-to-spot flaws in this series, but overall, this is a convincing and engaging story. For one thing, it does not make the mistake of trying to cram too many events into too few pages or attempting to skim over major events to try and cover the full range of time. This volume contains six of the twelve issues of the “Year One” series and with “Year Two” in full production, this looks to be a long series indeed. While this could be turned into a shallow, lazy, money-grabbing opportunity in the future, it is a good idea as long as the production team continues putting out quality work, as the transformation of Superman from the ultimate super-powered goody two-shoes into an uncompromising dictator takes time and should not be rushed, lest readers find themselves unable to believe that Superman could ever sink to such depths. The length could easily be turned into a simple cash grab in the future but for now, it helps to make an unbelievable premise plausible.
The art ranges from good to mediocre in these issues, though the printed collection is a significant improvement on the art from the original release of the issues, which was very obviously rushed and sloppy. It’s nothing spectacular, but especially in the printed collection, it is not half bad, especially for a tie-in series that was somewhat rushed out the door to meet game release date deadlines.
The plotline is believable and decently constructed, ranging from carefully thought out and logical to moments of convenience that happen to fit into what the author had in mind for the story and it draws from age-old “what if X happened to Y superhero” arguments and new ideas alike. This is also one of the rare instances of “what if” storylines done well, with a compelling and believable plot that shows the readers how the characters change, rather than just starting the story with the new perspectives. However, as with many comics, the real strength of this story lies in its characters and their interactions with one another as well as their reactions to the events unfolding around them.
Some of the characters are a bit sidelined in these issues, such as Green Lantern, Cyborg, Shazam, Raven, and some of the other lesser known members of the Justice League and superhero community, though many of them get some deeper character exploration in later issues. The main characters of these issues are the Big Three (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) and they and the people most closely linked to them get the brunt of the character exploration and interaction, though there are a few interludes that revolve around other side characters. Wonder Woman is the only one of the Big Three that tends to fall short, as she is portrayed as more willing to initiate and relish combat than her character normally does. The reasons given for this are sometimes understandable, but often fall short of really explaining her actions.
The interactions between characters is overall top-notch. The relationship between Batman and Superman is a completely believable one of two good friends who both fully understand each other’s positions but cannot agree with their choices. The conversations between Nightwing and Robin communicate a plausible brotherly relationship. Wonder Woman’s peaceful discussion with other characters, particularly Aquaman, are her best in-character moments for this series. Flash’s introspection as a result of watching the other heroes’ behavior and Aquaman’s move from confidant leader to humbled victim of war are powerful and convincingly human displays of emotion. Every interaction between Green Arrow and Harley Quinn is pure gold and Superman’s actions towards other heroes are always understandable, if occasionally over the top. Even the villains, who are usually only present for a couple of panels, have so much character and personality thrown into their few lines that they instantly feel like a part of the universe and individuals rather than just caricatures.
The dialogue is usually pretty solid, though there are moments where it feels juvenile, flippant, and sometimes out of character, but there are also some moments of great humor. Lines like Harley’s suggestion that Green Arrow should change the name of his hideout from “the Arrow Cave” to “the Quiver” and his admission that her idea is better as well as Ares’s surprise at Diana’s sudden bloodlust encapsulated in his question “Did you just headbutt a tank?” make for great laugh-out-loud moments that provide the levity needed to offset the effects of how serious the story can get at times. There are some amazingly powerful lines in this story as well, from Superman’s quiet “No more” when he first resolves to stop world-wide conflict to Batman’s shocked “my son is dead” when Nightwing falls. However, the most powerful scenes in the whole storyline are those of Alfred, despite the fact that he is in the comic for a grand total of five panels: once near the end, where Catwoman finds him neglecting his usual duties in favor of sitting in shock with a bottle of alcohol after Nightwing’s death and once in the middle of the story as Superman is beginning his conquest of the world. As Superman is leaving the Batcave, Alfred carries a tray down and asks, “Not staying for tea, Master Kent?” Superman replies, “I’m afraid not Alfred, and you don’t have to call me ‘Master.'” Alfred, who has no powers, carries no weapons, and almost never picks up any of Batman’s toys looks Superman, one of the most powerful beings on the planet square in the eye and says, “Good. Let’s remember that.” There are plenty of more impressive fight scenes and bigger displays of power throughout the story but that moment is unquestionably the most impressive display of human will in these issues, if not the entire series.
There could be many more lists of the good things about this comic, but in the interest of not decimating a rain forest to talk about one comic series, the prattle shall end with this: the first volume of “Injustice: Gods Among Us” is by no means a perfect story but it is a fun and gripping breath of fresh air for both the comics industry at large and the DC universe. It is certainly a dark storyline, but readers who can handle comics that are not all fun and games should definitely check out this series.