*Spoilers for Injustice: Gods Among Us Year 5, Issue 23 *
The first gameplay reveal trailer for Injustice: Gods Among Us 2 — the follow up to NetherRealm, Warner Bros. and DC's widely popular 2013 video game of the same name — just landed at E3 over the weekend, and dang if it hasn't gotten us excited to pick up the controllers and get smashing with the DC Universe heroes once again.
Check it out below if you haven't seen it yet!
The Injustice: Gods Among Us Comic Book
The original Injustice: Gods Among Us game had an interesting affect upon the wider DC Universe. The comic book prequel series of the same name — which charts the five-year run up to the events of the video game — became a surprise hit with fans and critics alike, and is currently sitting pretty 24 issues into year five of its run.
The Injustice continuity is, of course, separate from the baseline Earth-One of the comic books. In case you've missed the overall story, it involves Superman and other characters such as Wonder Woman, Flash and Green Lantern staging a worldwide coup after the Joker tricked Superman into killing his wife, Lois Lane — who was pregnant with his unborn child — and destroying Metropolis.
After Superman murders the Joker and attempts to kill Harley Quinn, his Regime then takes over the world to put a permanent stop to war and other conflicts that cause loss of human life — with Superman at the head of the group as a brutal, increasingly-unhinged dictator.
Killing The Joker
The Joker pushing a hero to the brink of their control isn't a new concept, it's pretty much what he's been all about throughout his comic book run. There's an instance quite similar to the moment when he pushes Superman over the edge in the Batman graphic novel Hush, where Batman almost kills the Joker after the Clown Prince murders his childhood friend Tommy Elliot (or so he believes).
Remembering how the Joker killed Jason Todd, how he paralyzed Barbara Gordon, and fearing that he'll kill Catwoman (with whom Batman has a blossoming relationship), the only thing that stops the Caped Crusader from finally putting the Joker down for good is when Jim Gordon shows up and takes him down.
The last pages of Injustice Gods Among Us year 5, Issue 23 saw Batman hunting down Victor Zsasz after he *spoilers* murders Alfred — possibly on Superman's orders — but whether or not this will mark the moment Batman gives in and kills in Injustice is yet to be decided.
Injustice V The DCEU
Both the games and the comic book prequel series have become incredibly popular both with fans and critics, which is curious when you consider that in many ways the themes and characters of Injustice are similar to those of the DC Extended Universe — the dark and brooding DC cinematic movie universe that, thus far, has not been all that well received critically.
And Injustice can, in many ways, again be boiled down to a case of Batman versus Superman. The Knightmare Flashforward of Batman v Superman seemingly mirrors the future we see in Injustice, as Batman leads a rebel insurgency in a future ruled by Darkseid and a cruel, murderous Superman.
Now, one of the main problems addressed by critics concerning the DCEU movies is that they're simply too dreary. Not an unfair point to make, though there are of course counter arguments to this.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with having darkness in superhero movies and comic books, and it's unfair to say that the genre is one directed mainly at children — but, unlike the comics, the DCEU thus far has been almost utterly devoid of hope.
The Elephant In The DCEU
Being a long-time DC reader, I thoroughly enjoyed Injustice because of how dark, violent and altogether nihilistic the tone is. As a story arc, even one in an alternate universe, it's incredibly visceral; it takes these shining heroes that we've known for a long time and turns them on their heads, making them do unthinkable things.
Superman becomes a cruel dictator, blinded by his own faux-morality, and even Wonder Woman — traditionally a champion of truth and justice — believes in and aids him in his oppressive regime as his second in command.
These elements don't work as well in the DCEU because all we've seen so far is this darkness. When Superman kills someone on screen we aren't shocked, it's not affecting, because the Superman of the DCEU has always been that way.
When he reaches the limit of control and morality and finally snaps, we don't really care because he's not yet been shown to be a good man. When he murders General Zod in Man of Steel, he's not presented as a shining beacon of hope finally broken, he just comes across as a bit of a douchebag.
[Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice](tag:711870) ends as *spoilers* Superman sacrifices his own life to stop Doomsday. Alongside the tragedy, this moment should also have been heroic and affecting, as the instance of his death was in Doomsday!. But many fans and critics alike simply don't care about the DCEU Superman (for good reason), and thus the ending squeezed out like a deflating balloon.
Why Does Injustice Work?
Even though Injustice is certainly tonally dark, it still has its moments of joy. A good example is the brutal death of the Insurgent Green Arrow at Superman's hands — a bleak and affecting moment.
But then Black Canary's near-death and subsequent reunion with the alternate-universe Green Arrow is perhaps one of the great moments of the comic, because it builds off the tragedy of Oliver's death that comes before it. The DCEU thus far has failed to do this, there's no happy moments of relief in Batman v Superman, and so the darkness becomes normalized and — thusly — ineffectual.
Another difference: the comic books can get away with bleakness because they're building upon years and years of character development that have come before it. None of what is happening in the DC movies really works without the greater context, and that context just doesn't exist.
The DCEU Isn't All That Heroic (Yet)
The DCEU has arguably jumped too fast into the deep end, unlike Marvel Studios who spent eight years building towards the critical darling that was [Captain America: Civil War](tag:994409), in which their two flagship titans — Iron Man and Captain America — clash. The backstory and the build up works, because we see characters rise and fall, and it certainly paid off both critically and in terms of box-office pull — Civil War not suffering from the same huge second weekend drop-off Batman v Superman did.
In Injustice, even though the teams have been split down the middle in terms of morals and what constitutes the greater good, the iconic DC characters we've known and loved for years still have ample opportunity to be heroes — even those who have traditionally been villains or antiheroes. For example, Harley Quinn joins up to work as part of Batman's Insurgency against Superman.
Especially in the case of Superman, this is something we've yet to see explored properly in the DC movies, and it is the shame that is still pulling them down.
How the rest of the slate plays out, we'll just have to wait and see, and hope that the more humorous looking Suicide Squad will be the one to shatter this established and frankly altogether too depressing, mould.
Suicide Squad is set for a August 5, 2016 release in the USA.