BEST BETS: "Jessica Jones," "Big Trouble/Escape from New York" & More October 2016 Highlights
The first issue of the improbably titled Injustice: Gods Among Us includes a dystopian future featuring a fascist Superman, a half-dozen or so superheroes, a handful of supervillains, a pregnant Lois Lane, the deaths of multiple characters, a submarine hijacking and the detonation of a nuclear bomb.
I was most interested in what everyone was wearing.
Injustice is the print version of the digital-first comic based on the upcoming fighting video game from the makers of Mortal Kombat. The game is, of course, based on DC’s characters, so with the release of this issue, the circle is complete: This is the precise part of the tail where the transmedia ouroboros chomps down.
The aspect of DC’s overall New 52 refurbishing — from the de-cluttering continuity reboot to the costume redesigns — that has most fascinated me is that the timing seemed to indicate it was part of a transmedia strategy, which of course has led to months of trying to figure out why particular changes or decisions might have been made, and what that indicates about the publisher’s priorities.
This deep in to the New 52, it’s clear DC eschewed making its comics universe more closely resemble that of the popular, all-ages cartoons like Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans, the decades of assorted Batman shows and even Young Justice, which seems rather remarkably able to synthesize aspects of complicated comic-book continuity. And it’s clear the publisher has instead focused its energies on the older teen/adult audiences of video games Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City and, to a lesser extent, Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies and their DC Universe Online video game.
So here’s a comic book based on the company’s next big video game, which was being developed and produced just as the New 52 line was being developed and produced: What will this comic look like? What will it be like?
Those of you who read comics digitally already know, but the old-fashioned among us had to wait until Wednesday to find out, when DC published the paper version of the comic, in the same format and fashion of other digital-first titles like Ame-Comi Girls, Legends of the Dark Knight, Smallville and so on.
The character designs don’t quite scan with those from the New 52, although there are obvious parallels. Rather, they do seem to take some of their inspiration from the same sources that informed the New 52 redesigns (the Arkham games, the Nolan movies, theoretical live-action adaptations that never got made). And like the New 52 redesigns, pains were taken to come up with realistic costume, all seams and plates and armor to suggest something made on a movie set rather than swathes of flat, bright color to suggest Spandex and tights or body paint.
The book is set in the “Present”, the dystopian future, and “5 Years Ago …,” when the majority of these first 30 pages of story are set, which would actually make that the present (but let’s not argue with comic book captions; it’s a losing battle).
Future Batman is the only futuristic character we see, but his costume is the same as it was/is “5 Years Ago …,” an all-black suit of armor like the one they built around Christian Bale, with a more stylized helmet that gives him a cyborg-like look. Depending on who is drawing him (three pencilers produce these 30 pages), he either has traditional comic and cartoon white triangle eyes, or movie Batman (or Alex Ross Batman!) visible irises.
The Joker looks pretty much the same as he did in the Arkham games or DCU Online (he’s even wearing a bulletproof vest, as in the trailer for the latter), while Harley Quinn has her hair dyed red and black and in ponytails instead of wearing her jester’s hat (as in her New 52 design), and is dressed as a sexy nurse, with her lingerie visible. (Why they didn’t similarly attire The Joker is beyond me; that was the best part of that movie!)
Superman has the high collar, lack of shorts and armor-like plating of his New 52 costume, but his cape and shield are much more old-school in design, and there’s some red patches around his torso.
Wonder Woman’s costume is most evocative of the one Adrianne Palicki was wearing in the photo for David E. Kelley’s rejected television pilot, with minor adjustments here and there. (I like the Mercurial wings on her boots.)
The Flash’s looks a bit like his New 52 costume, only with a lot more bulk to the plating, making him look more like a football player than a runner.
Green Lantern Hal Jordan seems to be wearing his original Silver Age duds.
Other characters appear only briefly: There’s about a panel each devoted to Green Arrow, Cyborg, The Scarecrow and Doomsday, of which the most noteworthy element seems to be the presence of Green Arrow’s prodigious goatee, which he’s missing in both The New 52 and TV show Arrow (and, of course, the comic book Arrow, the paper edition of the digital comic based on the TV show Arrow, which is based on the comic book Green Arrow … another ouroboros!).
Based on the visuals then, this certainly suggests a bit of synergy with the New 52, even if it’s hardly slavish. As for the tone and content, it skews darker and older, but, this far at least, not terribly violent or gory, nor as brutal as what the game itself appears to contain in the trailers for it. (The game won’t be released until April, but it is a fighting game from the makers of Mortal Kombat so, you know, there might be a bit of violence in it.)
How is it as a comic? Well, I was frankly rather surprised by it, and enjoyed it quite a bit more than the first issues of DC Universe Online Legends or Batman: Arkham City.
The plot and script are exploding with overly familiar elements taken from (or at least innocently repeating) previous DC stories from various media, most notably Kingdom Come and the DC Universe Online game and comic. Tom Taylor’s scripting, however, has a remarkably light touch, and there are some genuinely funny bits among the sort of sturm und drang necessary to get Superman into position to pull a King of The World routine. (Hint: It’s pretty much the same thing that caused him to quite Supermanning in Kingdom Come, only here taken further.)
I liked some of Lois’ barbs toward her husband Superman here (oh, yeah, also like the pre-New 52, Lois and Superman are together), and particularly enjoyed the bits regarding Batman riding piggyback on The Flash.
Some hand-waving is of course engaged in, as when the guy whom we’re reminded is faster than a speeding bullet and whom we’re told will be keeping his eyes on his colleagues with his telescopic and X-Ray vision doesn’t intervene when one of them is shot to death, or when the guy with the magic wishing ring capable of doing anything doesn’t even attempt to contain the nuclear explosion. But then, this is a prequel to a video game that’s already finished, so some “This happened, because the outline I had said it happened” from the writer is perhaps forgivable.
I’m less inclined to be generous regarding the artwork, which is all over the map, style-wise. Each of the three artists involved in this issue seems to be doing rather competent work — Wonder Woman’s mind-boggling gigantic breasts aside — but their respective styles don’t mesh together at all, and they veer in different directions in terms of how on-model they stay with characters.
Jheremy Raapack’s grittier, scratchier lines and tendency to draw everything in medium or long shot leads to visual whiplash when the art team of Axel Gimenez and Marc Deering replaces him, only to then be replaced by Mike S. Miller for the end of the book. Those last two teams have smoother styles with less lines, and favor more dynamic angles and bigger panels with tighter close-ups. Everyone has his own takes on the characters and their costumes, too, which doesn’t really help sell this as any sort of distinct, cohesive universe of its own.
So it’s rather far from perfect, but not so far that it’s by any means an unpleasant place to be. And while its aesthetic and tone might be similar to those of The New 52, and inspired by some of the same muses that moved the designers of The new 52, it’s characters all feel more familiar, it’s about-to-be-altered history more like that of the pre-Flashpoint DCU.
Whether it’s of interest at all, or enjoyable, will likely depend on what you showed up for in the first place, though. Like I said, I came to see the costumes, but ended up enjoying the comic itself a bit.