Typically I would relegate my thoughts on Injustice to the Weekly Pull round-up, as it’s just one of many comics I read routinely and as each issue is really closer to 1/2 or 1/3 of a normal issue. But I wanted to highlight this week’s because I think it marks a solid turning point in the series for a couple reasons, the foremost (to me) being that from here forward whether or not you’ve played the Injustice video game will likely have a serious effect on how you interpret and respond to the comic. In order to explain why I think that, I have to “spoil” the opening premise of the game (seriously, it becomes clear in the beginning cinematic), so if you’re seriously allergic to that kind of thing, best move on.
Injustice: Gods Among Us is a game about an alternative DC Universe, as is the comic that shares its name. But while readers are familiar with the concept of an “elseworlds” story, this franchise takes that premise to another dimension; literally. This isn’t just a non-canon story: it’s a non-canon story about canon-ish characters being pulled into a non-canon world and meeting the (sometimes exceedingly) non-canon-ish versions of themselves.
For some fans with whom I’ve spoken, the inciting incident of Superman’s takeover — the killing of Lois and his unborn child, and subsequent destruction of Metropolis via a nuclear detonator tied to her heartbeat — was hard enough to take on its own, but impossible to swallow when it led to Clark Kent shoving his fist through the Joker’s chest and ripping his heart out in return. Sure, they knew this was an elseworlds story, but the idea of Superman actually being willing to kill a villain (or, later, to police the world) was just too divergent from the realm of acceptability.
Fear not: you’re not supposed to accept that. Because even within the world of Injustice, that’s not how Superman acts. That’s how a twisted and misguided Superman acts — and there’s a “real,” good-hearted, clear-minded Superman who will want to confront him about it. Likewise with many of the characterizations with which faithful readers have struggled, perhaps most clearly that of Wonder Woman, whose manipulative and warmongering behavior has rubbed many Diana fans the wrong way. The premise is scary, and a tyrannical Wonder Woman is indeed loathsome. But Injustice, the game, offers a true Wonder Woman as well, and you’d better believe she has some words for her doppelganger. And while it’s unlikely that the comic itself will reach the point of introducing these “real” versions (as it transpires years before the game’s events), knowing that you’re not supposed to accept these characters in the same way you’d usually accept an elseworlds deviation should put some hesitant readers’ minds at ease.
But of course the game has been out for a while now. Why mention all this today?
Because today we are introduced to the first character, in my mind, whose characterization in the Injustice universe is so beyond the confines of canonical that it will force those unfamiliar with the game to completely reevaluate their assumptions about the comic’s fidelity. If something like Superman killing Joker strained credulity, today’s reveal will break it, and leave readers realizing that any attempt they were making to fit these events within the same mental space as the actual DCU must be abandoned immediately.
In short, Injustice #20 is the series’ “We’re not in Kansas anymore” moment.
The story itself is brief and straightforward. A beacon stating “I’m alive” is transmitting from the center of Metropolis (yes, the completely nuked and barren Metropolis), and several members of the Justice League decide to investigate. What, and who, they find — and the reactions elicited — mark a decidedly interesting twist in the narrative (not to mention a great “oh snap” moment on the final page). Moreover, it becomes clear that Batman has a mole or spy keeping tabs on his old friends, though we’ll have to wait to find out who and why they’re siding with him. Could it be the mysterious figure from a few issues back, or one of the many Batman rounded up to form a resistance? Time will tell.