Injustice: Gods Among Us — NetherRealm’s 2013 fighting game featuring the heroes of the DC Universe — opened with Superman murdering the Joker. Things just got darker and bleaker from there. The game was a hit, but for many comics fans, the authoritarian take on Superman and the Justice League was a step too far, earning Injustice a reputation of being home to a twisted version of the DC Universe.
And yet, the digital tie-in comic to the game spent its recently wrapped five-year run morphing into a love letter to DC Comics. The Injustice: Gods Among Us comic is one of the best superhero comics of the last five years. Yes, really.
Superman versus Batman and beyond
After the murder of the Joker, the Injustice: Gods Among Us game jumped forward five years into a future where Superman and the Justice League had become the “One Earth Regime,” an authoritarian world government that was opposed by a Batman-led Insurgency. The comic tie-in to the first game filled in that gap, revealing how the world fell so quickly to Superman’s rule.
The long scope of time, combined with the blank canvas of an out-of-continuity DC Universe allowed writers Tom Taylor and Brian Buccellato to do pretty much whatever they wanted — they introduced dozens of characters and plot-lines absent from the game.
Organized in long story arcs that were each set in a different year, featuring a different sub-section of the DC Universe standing against Superman, the book was a whistle-stop tour of DC’s every corner. From the Green Lantern Corps in space to the magical side of DC with Constantine, Zatanna and Detective Chimp and even the Gods of Olympus clashing with the New Gods of the Fourth World.
Tom Taylor (All-New Wolverine, X-Men Red) isn’t the only writer to work on the Injustice comic, but he has spent more time in this universe than anyone, writing most of the prequel comics for Injustice: Gods Among Us and the entirety of the ones for Injustice 2, which are set in between the first and second games. It’s with Injustice 2 that Taylor and his collaborators — including Bruce Redondo, Daniel Sampere and Xermanico — really explored their version of the DC Universe, by digging into the aftermath of the first game.
More than just a tie-in
Where the Injustice games were grim and dramatic, Injustice 2’s comic adaptation is hilariously funny; whether it’s Batman naming each item in an empty room that is actually Plastic Man’s son or a Green-Lantern-ring-wielding Lobo drop-kicking a Red Lantern cat across the galaxy, Injustice 2 doesn’t take itself too seriously. Particularly in the case of Batman, Injustice 2 embraces the Caped Crusader’s role as the straight man in a world of weirdness, especially when paired with the likes of Green Arrow, Harley Quinn or Booster Gold.
In many ways, Injustice 2 is reminiscent of J.M. DeMatteis, Keith Giffen and Kevin Maguire’s 1987 run on Justice League International, famous for being the “funny” Justice League book. Justice League International could be absolutely brutal to its characters, and the highs of the comedy only helped to make the lows of the tragedy that much more painful.
Injustice 2 follows proudly in that tradition; Booster Gold is often the comic relief, but you’ll cry as he grapples with the knowledge that even a time machine can’t give him the power to stop his friend’s death, only to be there for him at the end. Taylor follows Hal Jordan as he works through the guilt of his betrayal of the Green Lantern Corps, and makes it a genuine and sincere look at the effects of PTSD on a person with the ability to instantly create anything their mind can imagine.
Above all else, Injustice 2 feels like DC’s experimental and hugely successful weekly series 52, which placed D-List characters like the Question, Elongated Man and Steel in a world without Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Each issue built a feeling that the DC Universe was a living, breathing place where things kept ticking even in the absence of its greatest heroes. Injustice 2 does the same thing. Some issues might focus Superboy’s attempts to redeem the “S” shield — and some issues might focus on the blossoming romance between Killer Croc and Orca the Whale Woman. And there’s never a sense that Injustice 2 isn’t going somewhere or that what is happening doesn’t matter; a rare feat for the format.
Injustice 2 casts aside any preconceptions you might have about the game franchise and the DC Universe, and boldly moves forward with a creativity and inventiveness unmatched in most mainstream superhero tales. Most of the stars of Injustice 2 don’t even make it into the video game, allowing Tom Taylor and his collaborators to do whatever they want, a freedom that drives the series’ best moments.
If you judged the world of Injustice based on what you knew about when the first game came out, I don’t blame you. I had no idea the comic was one of my favorite kinds of stories: A DC Universe filled with a network of superheroes who have friendships, relationships and a living history. Injustice 2 scratched that itch for me in a way nothing has in a long time. As a reader for whom the New 52 universe still lacks the shared history its previous incarnation, Injustice 2 hits that sweet spot. It’ll feel instantly recognizable to any longtime fan of the DCU — and instantly lovable.