Sunday, June 28, 2015

REVIEW: INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US VOL. 2

INTRODUCTION
As I mentioned in my review of INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US VOL. 1, I generally have a hard time getting into comics. I like it as an art form and I think it's a cool medium for spinning fictional tales, but it is also a really confusing and unapproachable form of entertainment, even with all of the re-branding DC has recently done in order to make their stories more inviting to new readers. So when I decided to try the first volume of the INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US comic series and found it delightfully well done and remarkably accessible, I of course had to continue on by picking up the Kindle version of the second half of Year One.

HOW I CAME UPON IT
Like I mentioned above, the first volume is what really sold me on picking up the second. INJUSTICE is kind of formatted like a television show in that it works in seasons (they refer to them as years). There is no mention of this being Year One until the very back cover in this volume, but that is probably because the addition of subsequent seasons/years was contingent on the first's success. At this point there are two more volumes out for Year Two and I believe there are issues released within Year Three. This might sound a tad confusing, but it's really not, especially  if you buy by the volume and not by singular issues.

Effectively, the final issue of VOL. 1 was kind of like the explosive mid-season finale of a TV drama. It collected issues 1-6 of the Year One sequence. VOL. 2 includes issues 7-12, plus the INJUSTICE ANNUAL issue which essentially functions as a thirteenth issue and a very intense wrap up to the Year One Story arch.

NOTE: While I won't delve into any major spoilers for VOL.2, I will be discussing things that happened within the previous volume, so please do not read on if you wish to avoid spoilers for the first six issues of the comic series.

HOW I RATED IT

5/5  I really couldn't have asked for anything more from this volume. I've openly admitted that I am no comics expert, but for me, VOL. 2 contained everything I ever wanted from a comic series. I gave the previous volume a 4/5 because I did have some issues with the pacing of certain parts as well as the overuse of tiny comic panels that looked a little ugly. This volume is entirely devoid of either of those issues and just seems to nail things at every turn.

CHARACTERS
This was one of my favorite aspects of the first six issues and it continues to be absolutely amazing
this time around. The main cast is back with Batman, Superman, Green Arrow Wonder Woman, Flash, and the rest of the Justice League taking the lead in most situations. Other characters like Catwoman and Harley Quinn are other welcome returners and then there are all the new faces as well as more focus given to characters that resided in the story's background.

A look at some of the members of Team Batman
At the end of issue 6, there were a number of characters that are teased as becoming part of Team Batman. Among them are Black Canary, Black Lightning, Atom, Huntress, and Batwoman. Some of these are used better than others in these seven issues. Batwoman, Huntress, and Black Lightning can be seen in most of the issues, but they are very fringe, background sort of characters. With such an enormous cast, it is completely understandable that some characters do not get as much attention as others and it was really just pretty rewarding to see these characters show up in this volume, even if only in a couple of bad-ass action shots. Other characters, Like Alfred and Robin get some really compelling sequences that were easily some of the highlights for me in this series. I can't even tell you about Alfred's part in the annual issue because it is just too good! If you're an Alfred fan like I am, then you have to read this and find out what I'm talking about because he is simply amazing here.

A page from the issue featuring Lobo
Other new characters were a bit of a pleasant surprise. Martian Manhunter and Lobo are two characters that appeared in the game as DLC fighters. While you could purchase and play as them, they didn't actually have any role within the game's story so it was very cool to see them play a part in the comic. Martian Manhunter in particular, was a really welcome presence for some reasons that I can't really express without spoiling things. Lobo is more of a one-hit-wonder type of character. He shows up in an issue pretty much dedicated to him, which was neat since he fancies himself as the "Main Man." It's in this same issue that Harley Quinn comes out of the woodwork after only making minor cameos in some of the other issues. Having her back and battier than ever was a really welcome aspect of the Lobo issue and seeing her team up with Black Canary and Green Arrow was beyond priceless. Then there is the introduction of Lex Luthor and the return of Mr. and Mrs. Kent. All three of these characters contribute a great deal to the story's plot and were used in some really interesting ways that I wish I could go into.

While it was nice to see so many of the more minor personalities get their time in the light, the main focus on Superman's decent into madness and Batman's cold, calculating efforts to stop him are not at all lost in the shuffle. The heart-wrenching conflict only grows fiercer as both sides fight for what they think is right. By the end of this volume, that conflict comes to its ultimate head in a way that I found utterly stunning.

A tense scene in one of Batman's hideouts
WORLD/SETTING
In my previous review, I expressed hopes that the setting for the narrative would become a bit more interesting. I am happy to report that my anticipation was fulfilled in every way that I could hope for. The world is now largely under Superman's control and while he does not yet rule with absolute authority at the beginning of the volume, he certainly becomes the almighty dictator by the end. What marks the setting of this collection is the conflict between the two hero camps. There's Batman and his followers who believe that humanity has a right to rule themselves and then there are Superman's underlings who think what they are doing is the correct course of action. Then there are those who have picked a side, but are not necessarily sold on which one is correct. Flash, Shazam, and even some of Batman's followers all question the correctness of their leaders actions which really helps convey the fact that the world is now a battleground despite Superman's best efforts to forcibly instill peace. It's still a rather traditional comic-booky setting with lost of sprawling cityscapes and plenty of secret lairs, but the distopic mood of it all is what makes it feel so unique and memorable. By the final panels of this volume, there is reason to believe that these classic locals will seem even less familiar during Year Two.

PLOT/TONE
Cover artwork from one of the issues
Since the very first issue of this series, the narrative has been steeped in blood. We witnessed the
death of Lois, the murder of the Joker, and the catastrophic disaster that killed nearly every living soul in Metropolis. The story has been pretty heavy ever since, but the issues that followed in the first volume were a bit less fatal than the premier. That's not so much the case here. Many of the characters I knew would die because of the game's campaign mode were killed off within the first volume. That left only one outstanding. I won't say who it is, but that person does get axed from the story in a really brutal way that felt genuinely heart-breaking. I also know who survives these events and makes it into the game, but there are a lot of characters in this comic that don't show up in the game's story, nor are they ever mentioned. This left me with a lot of question marks in terms of what would happen to these other characters. Are they being saved for an appearance in the game's inevitable sequel or are they going to be removed from the equation? There really isn't any effective way of guessing who stays and who goes, but what I can say is that each death felt really epic and impactfull this time around. Whereas moments like Nightwing's demise felt all to rushed in VOL. 1, the killings here got the treatment that they deserved.

What's somehow even more brutal than all the death is the mere back and forth between the two sides. Both Superman AND Batman do some pretty shocking things in order to get their way. These men are getting desperate and they make some very interesting leadership choices that don't break from their character, but did leave me in bit of shock. Batman can be inexplicably cold to those both on his side and those who are not, while Superman's flaming temper only gets worse and somehow more child-like as the story goes on. This is the conflict that the first six comics alluded to and it's one that I don't think I'll forget anytime soon.

CONCLUSION
I can't really give this series enough praise. For me, it has become a sort of benchmark by which I will judge any other comic or graphic novel that I read. It's emotionally raw and utterly tragic in some spots. The action shots are breathtaking and the artwork in general is just astounding. This is easily the most beautiful piece of graphic fiction that I have ever read and it is one that moved me throughout all seven issues, often in ways that surprised me. If you haven't gotten into this series yet, then you definitely should, especially if you're like me and have tried in vain to get into the world of comics. You may not be completely sold after reading through the first volume (I wasn't 100% myself), but after reading through this one, there is very little doubt that I will be reading every issue that this series comes out with.

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