Wednesday, June 3, 2015

REVIEW: INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US VOL. 1

INTRODUCTION
I've always been massively into all things superheroes. I love the Marvel movies, and was blown away by the DARK KNIGHT trilogy. I'm also obsessed with THE FLASH, ARROW, and GOTHAM (network TV shows). As you can see, there's no brand loyalty with me, I just like whatever happens to be good. I think a lot of this obsession comes with how much I have always loved mythology. It's not an exact match, but superheroes aren't so dissimilar from the demigods of ancient legend. The ironic thing about my fondness for both Marvel and DC products is that I don't actually read comics - like at all. I've tried several times, but I can never get into them. I respect the art form immensely and even like the idea of it as a medium for telling a compelling piece of fiction, yet I have yet to be able to get into even ones that feature mainstream characters whom I'm familiar with from movies, shows, and video games. For some reason, I just find the world of comics to be needlessly confusing and complicated, but I gave it another go with INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US because this is a series that serves as a prequel to the video game under the same name. I loved the game and was amazed by its compelling narrative, so I figured that if any comic series was going to be able to connect with me, it would be this one.

HOW I CAME UPON IT
Basically, I literally picked this up because I played the video game and loved it. I'm obsessed with super heroes, and I want to like comics, so I finally just went out and snagged this volume which collects the first six issues in the series. Having them in a volume was of great help to my decision since individual issues are kind of annoying to me, especially on a Kindle device which is the medium that I bought this in. 

HOW I RATED IT

4/5  This was absolutely everything I could have hoped for in a series after so many failed attempts into getting into this type of fiction. Its every bit as action packed as I wanted it to be and had moments where I really cared about the characters in the way that I needed to. I found it completely accessible and had only a few really minor gripes with how things went. I should note that this rating is for ALL SIX of the issues combined as a single work. I realize they are technically separate stories and should probably be reviewed as such, but that seems like an awful lot to go through considering how long it actually took me to read them.

CHARACTERS
Harley Quinn's psychotic silliness
The core of the cast is pretty much the primary figures from the Justice League of America cartoon
that I grew up with. There's Superman, Flash, Wonder Woman, Batman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and others that even a passing fan of these stories will recognize. Each one, whether they are high profile or more obscure, get introductions of sorts. The relationship between Batman and Superman as well as Superman and Lois Lane are introduced in the first few pages and were probably depicted clearly enough for anyone to understand. The same is said for just about everyone except for  maybe Damian Wayne. I knew who he was prior, but they never really explain his deal. That said, he's wearing the iconic Robin costume and his character is portrayed well enough where strangers to him would at least understand that he's Bruce Wayne's (Batman's) twisted lovechild.

 All of the characters are really well depicted. Some stand out more than others,sure, but each felt distinct and I connected with many of them quite easily. It helps that there is some fantastic artwork depicting these heroes, but I'll get to that later. 

This story is about the fall into darkness that starts with Superman, but ultimately involves  many other cherished heroes. I won't go into specifics, but the story plays up the idea of these super-powered beings deciding that they should assume control of the world for the good of humanity. With Superman leading the charge, things get intense very quickly. It's a beautiful destruction of one of the most famous superhero teams of all time and I found it heart wrenching to see Batman and Superman go from friendly rivals to actual enemies. The fallout doesn't stop with them either. Many characters find themselves at odds with one another and watching it all break apart left me feeling far more moved than I expected to.

WORLD/SETTING
As of this volume, there is nothing altogether irregular with the world. It's a pretty typical setting for comics that doesn't really change all that much despite the drastic developments that the heroes set into motion. That doesn't mean there  aren't big, world shaking events, it simply means that the full effects of a world ruled be super-beings have yet to be extensively explored. It's more of an introduction to such a place.

What we do get is a world that certainly is in need of great change. The heroes think that they are the answer to global problems like war and general human cruelty. It starts off slowly with heroes simply demanding global ceasefires, but more insightful minds see where this sort of things lead. There is very clearly a dystopia in the works and by issue six, I started to see the inception of that kind of society. 

It was definitely interesting to watch the world's reactions to these heroes assuming a position of higher authority, but the main focus of this  volume is definitely on the characters themselves so I'm interested to see what volume 2 brings to the table in terms of world-building

PLOT/TONE
The tone of all six issues is a decidedly dark one. I mentioned above that what the story largely concerns itself with is a scenario where all of our trusted heroes suddenly decide to play gods. It is the inception of a dystopia so the tone is quite dark. The darkness is only accented by the fact that these are HEROES that we know, love, and probably grew up with. Watching these icons fall onto a path of self-destruction and world domination is quite heartbreaking. The way the dialogue is written and the way that certain characters like The Flash respond to the situation only makes it all the more tragic. There are some lighter moments, however. Harley Quinn is a standout toward this end as she provides a bit of psychotic comic relief, while also doing her own part to add to the sadder tone. Her own life was affected by the heroes' downward spiral and while her banter is funny, her lines of remorse were the ones that hit the hardest for me because they are dropped so unexpectedly. I expect to see more of her in future volumes, partially because she's a big part of the game's narrative, but also because there are some plot points concerning her which are hinted at in this volume, but not really resolved. 

There are characters that get killed off a lot sooner than one might expect and the plot escalates rather quickly. It is actually this pacing that brings me to the weakest point in this volume. Essentially, this story's main gimmick is that it is showing us heroes that we think we know and portraying them in a radically different way. While I appreciate that the writers wanted to jump right into this, I also would have preferred if certain moments lingered for just a few panels longer. Obviously comics move quickly, but still there were some moments that just felt so on point while there were others that really could have used either a greater buildup or a more drawn-out climax. Tonally, this volume works all the way through, but the pacing wasn't always the best since some of the moments that meant a lot to me were really just brushed over seemingly for the sake of moving the main story beat along. I hope that now that the big ideas are in place, the rest of the volumes will give each and every moment the time that it deserves. 


A page filled with sweet Batman action shots.

THE ART
This is a crucial aspect of any comic since this type of fiction is mostly visual. I don't love every single style that gets used in comics but I really enjoyed the visuals in INJUSTICE. Its one of the main reasons I picked it up in the first place really.

That's not to say that each and every panel is a masterpiece. Some of the really zoomed out shots look really half-hearted and rather amaturish. Its possible that I only felt this way because Kindle blows up the panels for you, so I may have been looking at it closer than intended. As a general rule though, I don't like it when the micro sized panels are employed. I understand their use, but there were points where I felt they were a bit overused. Despite this, at its best, and even at its most average image quality, INJUSTICE is an incredibly gorgeous comic with artwork that strongly compliments the narrative being told.

READING IT ON KINDLE
It's worth mentioning that I read this using my Kindle app since I get the impression that most people either buy the hard copies or use comic specific e-readers like the one Comixology offers. There are also a ton of converted comics on Kindle that just don't seem to be optimized for e-reading enjoyment. I've tried a bunch of samples and found that many don't make proper use of the panel view feature. This is not one of these cases as I found that INJUSTICE was immensely enjoyable to read on Kindle. I stayed in panel view pretty much the whole time and loved being able to scroll through the expanded windows that were set up in such a way that I felt like my eyes were always being directed to exactly what I was supposed to be looking at. I don't know if I endorse Kindle comics as a whole, but I can definitely say that this one is fantastic in this edition.

CONCLUSION
There are some moments that could have been a bit more dramatic or drawn out, though it's hard to give non-spoiler specifics. Still, it was an excellent collection of six issues and I'll probably continue onward now that I'm hooked on the alternate universe story-line. It's heart wrenching to see relationships break apart and to bear witness to the downward spiral that many heroes take. It is also really entertaining to see how new bonds are formed in response to the rising tension. Some of the pieces weren't done as well as they could have been, but as an overall package, I can't help but be impressed. I'm not really any more of a comic guy than I was before, but I think I will be seeing this particular series through to it's eventual conclusion. 


Artwork from one of the issue covers
(without the text)

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