Injustice: Gods Among Us was, essentially, DC’s answer to Marvel’s Civil War storyline. It isn’t hard to imagine why they felt the need to do this, not only it is a fantastic idea it was also a huge commercial success for Marvel. The sad truth about attempts to copy another company’s success is that they tend to fail, at least in comparison to the original. That was not the case with Injustice as it turned out to be just as a big of a success as, and was arguably better executed than, Civil War.
The question has long been asked, what would Superman do if he wasn’t bound by his boy scout styled principles. A man of such power could easily become the unquestioned ruler of Earth, but would that be a good thing or not? On the one hand you have this paragon of virtue fighting to stop every conflict across the globe and eliminate the strangle hold that crime has on humanity. That’s no bad thing and it allows ordinary folk to live their lives without having to look over their shoulder all the time.
On the other hand, you have to worry about how far Superman would go in his fight against deviance. Once major conflicts were sorted he would be able to zero in on small time crooks, people who are committing crimes due to their circumstance not out of any malice. When this happens you have fundamentally good people being lumped in with the worst of the species by a tyrannical alien who is overlooking the complexities of human existence.
If that all sounds like fairly heavy stuff, it’s because it is. Ultimately, this book did a wonderful job of not shying away from these sociological arguments and, whilst they weren’t the key to its success, they did create a more complex and weirdly realistic scenario than can be found in Civil War.
More than just tackling large questions like those set above, Injustice dealt with the core characters in a way that had not been done until that point. To see Superman driven to point of punching through The Joker’s heart was a shocking and instantly iconic moment. Joker took his wife, child, and city from him in one fell swoop so it is not exactly hard to empathise with him from the beginning. Still, he took a life and became judge, jury, and executioner which is something that most of these heroes swore against doing.
Wonder Woman takes on a very different persona as she slips more poison into Superman’s ear, driving him down to the path to his fascistic regime. She seems to revel in the new found power they have and where Supes shows some restraint, she charges in full speed ahead with little to no regard for the lives of those who oppose her. The writers do a magnificent job of getting you to abandon past character allegiances and instead root against the faces most beloved to you.
Beyond these two heavy hitters are a team of heroes at their side including The Flash, Green Lantern, and Cyborg among a few other notable names. Each of these previously well-defined characters goes through a major attitude adjustment as they find themselves compromising their morals and belief systems to stay in line with Superman’s new direction. Flash finds himself questioning the mission after Supes and Wonder Woman paralyse a young protestor in Australia. The young man idolized Flash and all of the other heroes but they treat him with brutality rather than compassion, something they were supposed to oppose.
Shazam finds himself at odds with the new rule after Superman orders his team to lift Atlantis out of the ocean and drop it in the desert after Aquaman dares to defy his claim to power. The move is one that causes Superman to stop and think until Wonder Woman again convinces him that they are doing the right thing. Shazam again considers the ethics of their actions when they force Black Adam to return to his non-super form, a move which could have killed him due to him being ancient when in mortal form.
On the other side of the fence you have such names as Batman, Green Arrow, and Captain Atom. Batman is the leader of the opposition as one may expect and believes himself to be fighting for a just cause. You may well agree with him but at the same time you are forced to confront the fact that he is merely trying to save the status quo. He is not trying to find a better alternative to keep the super villains down but is instead just looking to get back to business as usual which would mean more needless suffering at the hands of men like Bane and Two-Face.
Batman’s methods are hardly squeaky clean as he imprisons Hawkgirl and uses technology to plunge his opponents, particularly Cyborg, into danger more than once. That being said he draws the line at killing just as he always had. He truly is operating with a working moral compass and is not willing to betray his code in order to fight his former friends.
Superman and Wonder Woman have no such quibbles and rack up a worrying body count of beloved names. They claim the lives of Captain Atom, Green Arrow, The Joker, and any number of other unnamed characters who threaten them. Their arc in this comic series lends credence to the saying that absolute power corrupts absolutely as two of the most moral individuals in the DC Universe succumb to their own hubris.
On top of all of this you have a bevy of side stories at play as characters such as Lobo, Harley Quinn, and Damian all have notable narratives. The Damian portion of these leads to a heartbreaking moment where the impetuous teen takes a shot at Nightwing in a moment of rage, killing him instantly. The broken look on Batman’s face as he carries his best friend and first apprentice out of Arkham in his arms is one of sheer devastation. It is one that cuts through the drama and super battles, leaving just a palpable sense of sadness and loss. It is a human moment in an inhuman war and that is the beauty of this series, it didn’t ignore the fallout of each little action and each character got hurt in some way over the course of the issues.
The look on Batman’s face is indicative of the art as a whole on this title. It was nothing short of sublime the whole way through. Colour was used intelligently and each person had their own distinct identity on the page. No one looked cut and paste and each expression told a story all of its own.
This may have all began with a decent video game but it became something so much more than that. The blend of serious, hard hitting action and genuinely funny humour (Harley’s moustache anyone?) was perfect. So yes, it was better than Civil War for all the reasons stated in this review and a million more that aren’t. All that can be said is that you simply must go out and buy the complete Year One collection for yourself, you will be in awe from cover to cover.
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