The fighting video game Injustice: Gods Among Us was a critical success upon its release in 2013, earning “Best Fighting Game” awards from Game Informer, IGN, and E3 2012. The comic series, which served as both a prequel and a separate POV on the events of the game, was not so well received.
Touting multiple significant character deaths, alternate universe shenanigans, and a healthy helping of a very well-written Harley Quinn, the series was continued for five years after the release of the game. The story featured in the videogame skips over the fine details of Superman’s ascent to tyranny/descent to madness after killing the Joker, but the comic is delineated into the five years from that moment onward. Some of the major criticisms leveled at the Year One collection were the “average art”, barely believable story arc for Supes, and Chris Sims’ hilarious shots at Superman’s “Sadness Beard”. Some reviewers forgave the rough start of the first four issues for the sake of the Harley/Green Arrow storyline and anticipation of the next volume, but even to the last issue, the series was not a top performer, dropping significantly after the first year. From then until the end of the series. the readership was average-sized but constant- and vocally disappointed by the ending of Year Five.
Injustice: Ground Zero told the events of the game from Harley Quinn’s perspective. Sales dropped significantly compared to the final issues of Year Five, but critical reception seemed benign. Harley’s parts were nearly universally recognized as the best of the series, so that isn’t unexpected. Nor is the decision to preface the release of the Injustice 2 game with another comic series, since the first was a consistent performer if not a big earner.
The first issue of Injustice 2 begins with a defeated Superman having a Xavier/Magneto style conversation with Batman from the confines of a see-through prison cell. They briefly recap the reason Supes went all evil dictator on us, and he takes some cheap shots at Bats re all the dead Batfam. This is obviously a far cry from the debates they’d have in Public Enemies or Apocalypse– Superman never had to defend a psychotic killing spree. But more comparatively, those were conversations the World’s Finest had regarding their outlooks on life and their approaches to their common goal of protecting the powerless from the power-hungry. This, like their talk at the end of Year Five, is all about “Superman, why?” “Because I’m more interesting when I’m evil, apparently.”
Evil Superman isn’t quite enough for DC apparently because, by the end of issue 1, we’ve also got Evil Batman… and a whole bunch of new alternate universe ridiculousness. On some level, I understand the need for all the subplots; you’re dealing with a lot of characters and not every scene can be a big showdown a la the Battle of New York in The Avengers. To be engaging, these characters need to have distinct perspectives on the same event (in this case, Superman’s rise and fall as a dictator) and to be satisfying, each character needs to have some kind of arc. That requires a lot of story, and a lot of individual attention, which means- subplots!
It’s also understandable that for the Injustice 2 game, there have to be scenarios where different pairs of heroes, villains, and Alternate Universe counterparts go head-to-head, one-on-one. It’s a fighting game, every scene pretty much needs to build to that. To accomplish that, there needs to be a lot of reasons that the characters are where they are; splitting up for various missions, different characters being injured, et cetera, et cetera. Understandable… but still kind of irritating.
A friend of mine was commenting on a new cable mini-series, complaining that she couldn’t even go to the bathroom or get something from the kitchen because she’d miss something and be completely lost when she got back. In my opinion, it’s that demand for complete attention that made (and continues to make) sales for Injustice comics as low as they are, and as constant. The inability to miss even a single issue and still be able to keep track of the story results in a stagnant readership; it’s more likely that you’ll lose a reader than gain a new one.
Writer Tom Taylor returns after leaving the series following Year Three. Despite all the twists and turns and the multitude of storylines and character arcs to juggle, Taylor did manage to stay true to many characters and even gave us some of the most heartfelt Harley Quinn moments still acknowledged in every “Top 10 Reasons Harley is Awesome” list. The best thing Taylor does is to keep the reader guessing. After Superman’s defeat, there’s room for anything to happen, especially considering that death isn’t necessarily a permanent state in any comics universe. He manages to bring a lot of humor, too, to a storyline that has the potential to be one giant downer. Also returning are artists Juan Albarran and Bruno Redondo. The duo creates dynamic scenes in which the reader can still clearly follow the action, and create Alternate Universe counterparts that are clearly distinguishable from each other despite being essentially identical.
The Injustice games work hard to give us a semi-plausible reason for our favorite DC heroes to duke it out. The comics attempt to delve into those reasons with more detail and narrative skill. Enough skill to successfully manage the sheer volume of material? That’s up for debate. If you’re interested in the story, though, this is the time to jump in. Grab the first two issues and enjoy yourself! Otherwise, you may be left attempting to catch up via another 3,000-word recap on Polygon.