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Mild Mannered Reviews - "Injustice: Gods Among Us" Comics

Injustice: Gods Among Us - Chapter #10

Injustice: Gods Among Us - Chapter #10

Released Digitally: March 19, 2013

"Injustice: Gods Among Us" - Chapter Ten

Writer: Tom Taylor
Artist: Mike S. Miller

Reviewed by: Marc Pritchard

Click to enlarge

Nightwing and Robin are training in the Batcave. Robin has a chip on his shoulder, but Nightwing is showing near-infinite patience. Then Superman arrives without warning, startling Robin and intercepting his unsportsmanlike shot at Nightwing. Superman is looking to talk with Batman - the Man of Steel is not happy that Batman did not help in the effort to rescue the Kents. Batman redirects the conversation and tells Superman he has to stop what he's doing, that he's scaring people. Superman, yanking Batman's mask off and leaning in aggressively, retorts that this is good, that it was Batman who taught him the value of fear, that people should be too scared to hurt each other and that Batman would be doing exactly what Superman is doing if he had Superman's powers. They talk about Superman's killing of the Joker, Batman's guilt over all of the murders that could have been prevented if only Batman had killed the Clown Prince of Crime years before, and how, says Batman, it's easy to justify further killing after you've already justified it once. Like Superman has done.

Cut to a whaling ship in the Southern Ocean, which has just landed another whale to add to the few already lying on its deck. Enter Aquaman, who proceeds to tip the ship over in an effort not only to save the whales (if they aren't already dead, as at least one appears to be) but also to punish the whalers. But Cyborg is monitoring the situation from Watchtower and dispatches Green Lantern, Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman to the scene. By the time they get there, a full-scale Atlantean force has emerged from the waters and is attacking the whalers. Aquaman is asking one whaler why he should receive the mercy he failed to show the whales when Wonder Woman appears and asks Aquaman to stop the attack. Aquaman says she doesn't "get" to ask that, arguing that the cease-fire Superman has called for doesn't apply to the oceans. Wonder Woman says she doesn't want to fight, but a laser blast to the face from one of the Atlantean soldiers quickly changes her mind, despite Aquaman's reprimand of the soldier. Aquaman tries to ask her if she's ok, but Wonder Woman, striking him so hard across the jaw that he is launched out of the water, says, "Shut up! I am so sick of words" as Green Lantern, Captain Marvel and Hawkgirl form ranks behind her, poised to fight the Atlanteans.

2Story - 2: Yeah, I'm quickly losing patience with this thing. It no longer feels like a well-planned narrative that was going to end with a clear perspective on why all the insanity from the first few issues had to lead to Superman's transformation and why that transformation is ultimately bad for the world (beyond the Third Reich design sensibility seen in the opening chapter). Notwithstanding the too-convenient initial details of Superman not getting to Jimmy and Lois in time to save them and then both panicking when he finds Jimmy's body and not being able to locate Lois, some of the developments in the first three issues, I thought, were startling and brave, especially considering all the people like us out there who often rush to condemn writers who take certain liberties with our beloved heroes, whether or not in any particular instance we are logical and clear in our objections. Since pretty much the murder of Joker, however (who, somehow, is going to have to be resurrected if he's in the game), the story has gotten weirdly convoluted and seems far more interested in trotting out new (presumably "playable") characters than in having any of the characters already introduced behave in recognizable or even sensible ways.

Except for maybe Batman. (Discuss.)

As I've said before, I'm not bothered that Injustice wears its influences on its sleeve, even while I agree with those who argue that it pales in comparison to those influences. Nor am I bothered that Batman seems set to come out in the end as the primary arbiter of all that is good and true, reinforced probably most clearly to date here in issue 10 - and note that's two issues now where Batman is seen to be laying out the truth to someone else of recognized power (first it was the US President, recall, in real life popularly known as the "most powerful person in the world") while the most salient bits of his moralizing are juxtaposed with otherwise silent but thematically parallel scenes. Sure, here at the SUPERMAN HOMEPAGE we all tend to agree that Superman is the best and everything, but let's not pretend that we have a monopoly on what comic book readers in general want or think, to say nothing of the rest of the attention-paying world. It's our right to voice our objections and our criticisms (and our privilege to do so here) but none of us has a similar right to be heard or listened to.

And this is not, after all, a "Superman story" (and not least because the Superman in it is, at best, "lesser" than the one we tend to associate with). It's an advertisement that wears a DC Comics narrative disguise and that, more and more (and more and more clearly), aims not to make us think about the implications of concentrated power or the comparative value of the lives of criminals and innocents (as I've been yearning for it to do but getting, frankly, easy platitudes instead) but to prepare us for a game in which we (if we play it) will spend, from what I can tell, all of our time fighting.

If the comic book has a rhetorical objective, it is to rile us up. And, for better or worse, it seems to be succeeding. If it has an existential objective, it is to be the literal comic book justification for disruptive events set to occur in a separate medium.

In the beginning, I was hoping we would get both. That would have been something - a good, solid story that compelled me to accept the deviations from canon leading to what is being hyped as a good game that I might have been compelled to play. Taylor seems to be trying to serve us some steak along with the sizzle, but the further I get into the meal, the tougher that meat is to chew. I couldn't really care less about the game, mind you, and my views on Injustice as advertisement would be much the same if, instead of a video game, this was leading to a Magic: The Gathering style trading card game. Or whatever. My basic consternation isn't with the product being advertised, it's with the fact of the advertising for a story like this to begin with. Full stop.

It's a Catch-22.

On the one hand, it is said, because this is an "Elseworlds" universe, there will be no effect on canon; dissenters (comes the frequent corollary advice) should just relax and go with it. The counter-response to this usually cites the wider-than-comic-book-reader audience the game is sure to have and laments the potential havoc in the collective unconscious this kind of reimagining might wreak. Imagine some youngster raised on "professional" wrestling à la WWE earnestly thinking, "Oh, Superman is a bad guy now? Cool!" Do you find that prospect frightening or absurd?

On the other hand, in general, comic books are already (because they always have been) advertisements. The difference, however, is that the object of their advertising is themselves. Look especially at any "cross-over" event, the guiding objective of which is to get us to buy more titles than we probably already do. It doesn't always work, of course. In my case, I already buy all four of the Superbooks, so "H'el on Earth" was a no-brainer, but I did not extend beyond any but the three Batbooks I already buy (Batman, Detective, Batman and Robin) during "Death of the Family." You surely have your own examples (and these are just my most recent... in contrast, I bought every single issue, excepting variants [which in principle I abhor], of Flashpoint.)

The implication of that difference, meanwhile, is that comic book properties are simultaneously their own means and ends. It's why death has no real meaning in these universes - to have killed off Superman for real back in the 90s would have been to kill off a major revenue stream. The kind of perverse flipside to that is, having killed him off temporarily, DC managed to boost its Superman-associated revenue, at least temporarily (while also demonstrating that good ideas simply can't be killed). If that doesn't faze you even a bit, I don't see how the premise of Injustice ("You can't do that to Superman!!!") can faze you. (And maybe it doesn't.)

Injustice is merely this dynamic risen to a new degree and flipped on its head.

What we're left with, then, is whether it's any good, whether it qualifies as Art in the "proper" sense. For me, that depends on answers to questions like these: Does it pleasantly surprise me? (I'm Nabokovian like that.) Does it show more than it tells, or at least in some kind of happy balance? Do the characters behave in ways consistent with norms established in the narrative? (Here's where Superman in particular doesn't make sense in Injustice: he is initially presented as the hero we know but then doesn't quite behave like that hero, even before the calamities that are supposed to lead to his transformation.) Does the interplay of image and text work for mutual reinforcement or is it unnecessarily redundant and convoluted?

With the Death and Return of Superman storyline, I would have answered positively in all of those cases. With Injustice, I'm finding myself getting more negative the further in we go. Take Wonder Woman, for instance - last issue, she's extolling the virtues and necessity of conversation as the end result of conflict. She reminds the immortal God of War that he knows (read: it's vital to her character) she "prefers words over violence" and yet, next issue, she's "sick of words." The technical term for this narrative device is "beat the reader over the head": the game will be about fighting, not character or whatever else.

Or take Superman here in the scene with Batman, with the attempted guilt trip about murdered parents and the crotch-gripped look of surprise on his face when Batman tells him he has to stop. Traumatized by recent events or not, has he really misunderstood Batman all this time? I'm not much interested in whinging about the market's current preference for Bats over Supes, and if the moral division widening between them here is predicated on that expectation, then so be it.

It's not what's really accounting for the declining grades I've been giving this book.

What has the increasingly obvious single-mindedness in the way it is establishing the set of conditions under which everyone has to always be in combat, which to be sure speaks to a definite set of skills and talents (i.e., because that seems to be what the game will be, it's a logical approach) but which, to me (because I don't pretend to be anybody else), mostly only underscores the advertising factor and thus (here it is) cheapens (if not destroys) any deeper response I'm going to have to it.

If I'm wrong to be biased in this way, then I don't want to be right.

Because if the objective isn't to show why a Superman who wantonly murders even the most evil of villains (e.g., Joker) would be horrible for the world, then it is merely gratuitous. But if the only way it can show that is through convenient plot holes (Superman can't find the submarine and freaks out) and cliché ("power corrupts"), then it is merely superficial.

Maybe it was always unrealistic to expect otherwise. But I don't think so. And I'm still open to pleasant surprises.

Personally, I think it unlikely the world's understanding of our boy will be much altered by this comic or its video game counterpart. He embodies ideas too powerful and tenacious for that, much the same way that neither George W. Bush nor Barack H. Obama could either, in any way, "destroy" "America." Indeed, the political analogy is apt: much of the "debate" about this book has proceeded along essentially inflexible partisan lines.

Life imitating life, I guess.

3Art - 3: While I can appreciate the demands a weekly publishing schedule would place on a single illustrator, the regularly changing pencil hands do tend to lead to a bizarrely fractured reading experience. Here, it seems to me that too many people have the same face, which is most jarring indeed. Heck, even Wonder Woman when we first see her in this issue appears to be modeled on Superman's jaw structure. That or a Picasso. Just weird. Otherwise, I can, you know, pick the characters out from their backgrounds and distinguish them from the whales, so it's not a total loss. (LOL. No, seriously, it's better than that, and the two panels of whale eye close-ups are actually quite good, but it's not the best work I've seen on this book.)

3Cover Art - 3: Kind of boring, really. Interestingly, though, it aligns with the evident digital-first trend to show on the first instance of a three-issue cover something that isn't actually going to happen until the second issue. I continue to find this fascinating, in a maddening sort of way.

Mild Mannered Reviews


Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

January 2013

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