Injustice

When I first heard that NetherRealm Studio was making a new DC comics related game, I rolled my eyes. They had already released Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe to mixed reviews. I doubted this new game would do much better. A year later I got the chance to try out the story mode of Injustice: Gods Among Us. I instantly bought some of the tie-in comics by Tom Taylor. Both the game’s and the comic’s cinematic story blew me away.

In May, both the new Injustice 2 comic and game were released to critical acclaim. As I played through the campaign, I realized that the Injustice story is one of the best that DC has made in some time. It is thrilling, gritty, and cinematic while also being fun, action-packed, and character based. Let’s go over some of the things that the first two Injustice stories get right.

Characters

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Injustice 2 Character Roster. Image Courtesy of Netherrealm Studios and DC Comics

Without spoiling too much, Injustice exists in an alternate universe where Superman and most of the Justice League form an autocratic regime in order to end crime, war, and the rest of the world’s problems. Batman and his insurgency oppose Superman sparking a civil war that ravages Earth. The story is dark and gritty, but that is not what makes it great. Too many superhero projects think making a story dark will improve its quality, but INJUSTICE knows that characters have to be well developed to justify darkness.

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While Superman has become a tyrannical dictator, you understand why he acted the way he did. Superman’s sense of justice and his desire to save people drives him to keep everyone safe at the expense of people’s freedoms. Meanwhile, Batman opposes him due to his stubborn code and moral disciplines. Then there are characters like the Flash who must decide which of his two friends he will side with. The result is a compelling character drama.

It also helps that Injustice has employed some of the best voice actors for their games. Kevin Conroy, George Newbern, and Susan Eisenberg return from Justice League the animated series to play Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman respectively. In Injustice 2 there are over 6,000 variations of voice acted intro dialogue between characters. This allows you get to see what Gorilla Grodd would say to Black Canary or hear Red Hood talk about vigilante justice to Swamp Thing. It’s as if the characters from the comics have jumped out of the page and are bantering with each other.

Story Matters

In the Injustice series, crafting an entertaining but coherent story is of the utmost importance. So easily could this alternate universe ride off the rails, but the story creators (who include comic writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti) understand how to make a sprawling epic. The story follows a through-line: the war between Batman and Superman. That doesn’t mean it’s afraid to cleverly include external factors to expand the story. Major players in Injustice include the Greek Gods, the Lantern Corps, and most notably Brainiac in Injustice 2. But what makes Injustice different than other DC series is the feeling that every event can have serious consequences.

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Most ongoing DC comics cannot make major changes to the world, and when they do make major changes, it is only for a brief amount of time (“The Death of Superman,” looking at you). However, the creators of Injustice can make as many changes as they want due to the series’ separation from the primary DC universe. Major comic characters are killed left and right; relationships shift, the world evolves. Best of all, there are no resets. The Injustice world perseveres through whatever cataclysmic events or deaths come its way. This creates a feeling that the stakes are extremely high and that the outcome of the main conflict is crucial.

Tying it all together

As stated previously, Tom Taylor wrote the tie-in comics for both Injustice: Gods Among Us and the new Injustice 2. I find that many tie-in comics are restricted to telling bland stories which reveal nothing but serve as simple promotional devices for the medium they are tying into. This is not the case at all with Taylor’s comics. The comics are equally as thoughtful and nuanced as the game. Better yet, both comics’ timelines span multiple years before their respective game. In INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US, we get to see the slow fall of Superman into madness and the transition of the Justice League from heroes to a death squad. We get to truly sit back and dissect the characters since the games don’t always have the time to do so.

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INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US #1 pg 10. Image Courtesy of DC Comics

When playing the game, I am always so shocked to see how much the games continue plot threads that the comic set up.  For instance, in the very beginning of INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US the comic, Superman comes to tell Batman that he and Lois Lane are expecting their first child. Batman, being the world’s greatest detective, figures this out before Clark even opens his mouth. In Injustice 2 the video game, Superman directly brings up this conversation to Batman. It’s incredibly satisfying when creators reward fans for reading all the tie-ins, and this is one of the best examples of how creators have done just that.

DC’s Modern Tragedy

What really puts Injustice on a high pedestal is that its themes resonate. DC has always dealt with gods and larger than life individuals. In most DC comics, these gods seek to protect us regular people in groups like the Justice League. But Injustice asks what if these gods were to decide that they didn’t want to protect us? What if the gods decided that the best way to save the world was to rule it?

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Injustice- Gods Among Us – Year Five #40 pg. 11. Images Courtesy of DC Comics

As humans, we seek heroes, and once we find them, we want to make them divine. But it’s important that we remember that all our heroes are simply human. They make mistakes and are not incorruptible. Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman show us that behind every great person there’s the possibility for evil. It’s a cautionary tale of power and what happens when that power remains unchecked.

Meanwhile, Injustice is a tragedy of brother fighting brother. Like Marvel’s CIVIL WAR, ideals and circumstances force friends to fight one another. Batman and Superman want to get along and sing kumbaya throughout the series, but they both realize that they have crossed that bridge and there is no looking back.

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INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US Vol. 2 Cover. Image Courtesy of DC Comics

The themes make otherwise senseless action have meaning. They will help Injustice (much like other great comic book stories) stand the test of time.

What DC Can Learn From INJUSTICE

DC has hit a gold mine with Injustice, but does that mean that it should replicate the series with all of its future projects? Not completely.

For one, DC should not think that Injustice was successful because it was dark.  Great writers crafting great characters and stories with great themes is why Injustice succeeded. These elements can be easily replicated, and in many comics, DC is already doing this.

But one thing I would encourage DC to do is to make events feel like they matter again. After New 52 and Rebirth, DC is in danger of alienating fans with too many resets of their universe that fans have become connected with. My deepest hope is that Rebirth starts a long DC universe which will build on its universe and characters in the same vein of Injustice.

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