When it comes to the Injusice: Gods Among Us tie-in series from DC Comics, there are a few inescapable truths.
For one; this is a tie-in product for a video game, which invariably means there's some consideration given to the new audience it will hopefully attract. By extension, it's impossible to ignore the word-of-mouth success the series has already claimed in just a few short months. Gamers are flocking to digital chapters to learn more about the playable characters; while comics readers are intrigued by a corporate comic dwelling on the fall of its greatest hero.
Injustice: God Among Us #2 [released February 27] is written by Tom Taylor, with shared art chores by Mike S. Miller & Bruno Redondo. Mortal Kombat Online is reviewing the digital version of this issue, which encompasses weekly Chapters 4 through 6 [read more]. Much moreso than #1, this is an episodic collection, each chapter much more readily isolated as a stand-alone read.
The issue picks up immediately where the last issue ended -- following the fall-out of a bombshell twist that saw Superman - acting under the influence of Scarecrow's fear toxin - inadvertently kill Lois Lane and trigger a nuclear bomb in Metropolis. Anyone who has been following promotion for the game knows that this is the pivotal moment that sets up the Gods Among Us beat 'em up universe.
The murder plot is the work of The Joker: not traditionally a Superman opponent, but certainly no more partial to The Man of Steel than he is The Dark Knight Detective.
You get a sense that there is - or should be - more to this story than we know. Joker's reasons for being in Metropolis -- a trip that includes the casual, quickly forgotten murder of Superman's pal, Jimmy Olsen [see; Issue #1] -- aren't explained. To think a comic focused on backstory would gloss over this catalytic detail seems like a discredit to the creators involved. Joker may have a reputation for being a wildcard, but his actions are rarely so incongruous or shallow, particularly in a story that derives from them. There are enough masterminds in play to suspect manipulations by someone more motivated, like Lex Luthor, but doubt lingers. Depth, detail, and causality certainly weren't strengths of the first issue.
Even with the benefit of a grander conspiracy, there are those inescapable truths about the series. It's difficult to ignore the sense of reverse-engineering that is the plot of a tie-in. The high concept of the lead product is a world where Superman has turned tyrant, leading to superhero civil war. Without the fundamental alterations of a story like Red Son, it takes the death of Lois Lane (and Metropolis) to turn Superman heel and no more than that. It's the ends that are most important here, not the means. It feels that way throughout.
If obligations to a conclusion have robbed the story of any of its own complexity, then it becomes troublesome that there is an obvious eye for a new reader, as well.
Rather than sell the virtues of enduring characters and their developed history, the popular wisdom of the day is to pitch lobbed soft balls. Deft writers can weave layers that satisfy new and old readers with the right sense of familiarity beneath a scene, but that isn't the case in Injustice #1 or #2.
At times, the script rings untrue, offering shadow versions of scenes you'll recognize from other stories, without any real sense of referencial wisdom. They depict characters as slightly unfamiliar with each other, presumably to the expectation of an unfamiliar reader. This is evident in a bizarrely restrained interrogation scene between Batman and arch-nemesis Joker. Set immediately after the total annihilation of one of DCU America's biggest and brightest cities - Metropolis - it's all a bit shallow.
Joker, like the first issue, meanders through frustratingly uncomplicated observations of what is about to occur. Batman is surly, but accomodating and ineffective. They'd be cartoon versions of themselves, if the cartoons hadn't already set that bar higher.
The counter-culture appeal of both characters makes them easy targets for a gaming audience, but these heavyhitters usually demand more on their home turf. With a structure built around bombastic reveals, it all becomes killing time, rather than Killing Joke. It must be said that this is undeniably valid and successful for attracting unfamiliar eyes, but even they will notice everything feels a little inconsequential as things develop and the game arrives.
Bad Cop: Superman gives Joker a hand during interrogation.
Where issue #1 had a flowing sense of belonging in a printed complete issue - the value of digital chapters becomes evident through issue #2. Things take a harsh detour as soon as the big reveal is delivered at the end of Chapter 4 (the first third of the print issue) -- a super-hand through the Joker's chest [pictured above] gives way to a tangent starring Harley Quinn.
The brief episode has the risk of tripping on the same oh-so ironic cutesy dialogue of earlier chapters, but in isolation, plays its hand much funnier, and as a better orchestrated skit. Taken completely on its own, it's an enjoyable introduction to both Harley Quinn and Green Arrow. It doesn't go much deeper than the elephant in the room: the slight absurdity of Green Arrow's origins as an arrow-themed Bat-knockoff -- but it tackles the subject well.
In keeping with the Bat v Arrow theme, the chapter is very The Killing Joke! It must be said it's much less brutal and intricate than the famed Alan Moore story, but works toward the same objective of a laugh from the stoic hero.
Bruno Redondo gives the chapter the look of the kinds of comics you might've been reading throughout the last decade, much moreso than Rhaapack or Miller. Redondo's layouts are key to the success of the chapter, showing skils as a comics workman, versus the style of the other Injustice artists. The contrast works in its favour, earning the time of the episode, with a tighter urban space. When Miller returns, the slick hyper reality hits strong.
Punchline: Harley Quinn Gets the Last Laugh out of Green Arrow.
The third segment [Chapter 6] brings us back to the important bits and is perhaps the strongest to date. It's fast and familiar, rooted in popular cliches, but it gets the job done. We're confirming the change; the definitive turning point that takes Superman from hero to tyrant, truth and justice still in tact. Its slow to start, but it's got the meat of a good action sequence.
Superman as villain has become a stock standard of the independents, who've always had the freedom to commit to the idea more than the corporates. The fact that this has the illusion of an on-going story where it's really Superman is attractive. As a DCU like the most recognized version - even moreso than the current New 52 version - it has impact! It's surprising we're heading there so soon, but it feels like things are hitting their stride. We're in territory characters like Black Adam and Iron Man have dwelled in, but it's neutral territory and has us on our way.
The ghost of Kingdom Come shrieks for attention during Superman's address to the world. Flanked by Wonder Woman; Superman has a less poignant message to spur in the final scene, but fair enough. It is what it is and as much as it would be nice to feel a sense of knowing in every panel, that's not what new readers want.
The noise made about this series' distinction as removed from the usual tropes and habits of tie-ins and gaming fodder works against it. It isn't earning those accolades just yet. It is, however, connecting with an audience and bringing a strong readership in. Dominating sales charts on stores like Amazon Kindle, this is one of the most successful digital outings for comics. It's working and that's worth something.
It will be interesting to see where Injustice: Gods Among Us goes from here. The first issue dwelled in a thin First Act, this issue brings us through the Second. How they're going to sustain a series that doesn't completely overlap with the game - I have no idea! I'm intrigued to see what they do! I'm wondering if the pace slows from here, or if we really will get more detail about the backstory to the backstory.
You can find the full print issue at all good comic stores! If you'd rather go digital, pick up the individual chapters for 99c each via; DC Entertainment, Comixology or Amazon Kindle Store! Find purchase info, previews, reviews & forum discussion in the MKOmmunity Injustice Comic Book Index. Injustice: Gods Among Us hits home consoles in April.