Review: Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Two, Vol. 1 hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Two, Vol. 1 feels, pleasantly, a bit smaller than the two "Year One" volumes that preceded it. There is, in contrast, one of Injustice's largest-scale battles here, and of course a gruesome death (because what would Injustice be without one?). But ultimately there are not as many storylines packed into this half as there have been in the others, and this has the result of making the start of "Year Two" feel less frenetic, more controlled, and therefore makes it easier for the reader to find their place in it.

Tom Taylor's Injustice books have improved with each volume, and Year Two Vol. 1 is the best, and most accessible, so far.

[Review contains spoilers]

I finally understood two things while reading Year Two, Vol. 1. First, I finally understood the perspective with which to bring to Injustice such to not be by and large disgusted by the characters. Superman, in these pages, begins taking counsel from Sinestro, of all people, much to the consternation of the Flash and Lex Luthor, among others. If we ignore that Superman is Superman, then he begins to emerge here not as hero or even anti-hero, but as villain-protagonist, the corrupt king, a figure like Tony Soprano or House of Cards's Frank Underwood. This is buffeted largely by the fact, in these pages, that Superman faces more direct dissension from his allies than he has in the past. Injustice becomes more readable when viewed through the guise of a Greek tragedy -- the point here is not for Superman to be heroic, but rather for the Super-king to continue to make mistakes toward his eventual downfall.

Second, it becomes clear to me again what the attraction is of reading the often unredeemingly dark Injustice -- that Taylor balances the more oppressive parts of this story with some impressive wish fulfillment. We wouldn't want a DC Universe where Superman and Wonder Woman act the way they do here, but at the same time Taylor brings back Oracle Barbara Gordon in these pages, and teams her both with the classic Birds of Prey and with Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Bullock, and Renee Montoya of the Gotham City Police Department (Taylor even sneaks in a reference to Green Lantern Corps's much-missed Soranik Natu). These characters are fan favorites, hands down, and that's even besides other cool moments like when Taylor confirms Commissioner Gordon has almost always known the Bat-family's every secret  and also before Gordon becomes the latest to take one of Lex Luthor's super-strength pills, promising Super-Gordon action to come

Injustice speaks to warring sides of me -- the side of me glad to see Oracle, the Birds of Prey, and Renee Montoya is not the side that approves of Superman murdering Lois Lane and their unborn child as a plot catalyst. But, if this makes sense, I think what continues to engage me in Injustice is this push-and-pull, the juxtaposition of things that are just so right with things that are just so wrong.

It's notable that this volume of Injustice largely succeeds in the absence of Batman and Wonder Woman. Reasonably the dialing back of the Superman/Batman conflict here better allows for the Green Lantern Corps to take a larger role as Superman's antagonist. Taylor's Wonder Woman has long been this book's weak link, a too-stereotypical manipulative succubus and also too far removed from her standard portrayals to be believable; Sinestro, as the demon on Superman's shoulder in this book, makes for a more subtle and multi-dimensional figure.

The plight of Gordon and his crew on the ground offers the reader a more relatable view of the conflict, and I wouldn't mind at all if Batman and Wonder Woman continued to sit the book out in favor of the "normals" versus Superman's regime.

I thought the book stumbled just a little in the sudden appearance of Superman's enhanced human army in Gotham, without any real explanation where these people came from or how they were chosen. Perhaps this is to come (I don't doubt, even, that Lex Luthor has a failsafe implanted in them somehow), but it was hard to fully appreciate the struggle of Gotham's citizens without knowing who they were fighting. In a separate sequence, Kyle Rayner's violent murder fills Injustice's blood and guts quota, but it felt like a too mustache-twirlingly evil move for Sinestro and without much purpose other than "Sinestro being bad."

Taylor also devotes some pages to the Justice League locking the US Congress in the Capitol until they come to an agreement that avoids a government shutdown. I haven't checked my dates, but perhaps by virtue of a weekly, digital series, Taylor was writing this of a time, and surely there's some wish fulfillment present here, too. But the reference, read now, emerges a little dated, and moreover it's hard to believe with Metropolis destroyed and Superman taking on dictatorial peacekeeping powers, that the US Congress would still be having debates about debt ceilings and shutdowns instead of turning to the new world's major crises -- though maybe not.

Irrespective, in its parallel stories of the space-faring police force the Green Lantern Corps rising up against Superman on one hand, and the everyday men and women of the Gotham PD rising up against Superman's army on the other, Tom Taylor tells a clearer story in Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Two, Vol. 1 than in previous volumes. The "cuts" between different scenes, a by-product of the digital "shorts," are lessened here, making for a smoother reading experience (even if there's an abundance of two-panel pages by the end). I'm eager to read more Injustice, but maybe the worst part is we kind-of already know what's going to happen; for a while though, I'll keep on believing that Oracle and the rest of my old DC Universe favorites might win out in the end.

[Includes original print and variant covers; pencilled pages]

Next week, Wonder Woman Vol. 5: Flesh and more. Thanks!
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