Monday, May 15, 2017

REVIEW: INJUSTICE 2 - THE SERIES SO FAR

A whole new world...

INTRODUCTION 
With the INJUSTICE 2 video game coming out tomorrow (tonight for some), I thought it might be fun to review the first five issues of the INJUSTICE 2 prequel series which bridges the gap between games. I've been reviewing the original INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US comic volumes and have found myself loving every moment so I'm very happy that there is now a whole new series for fans to enjoy. I don't know if it will be as long-lived as the original, but I wanted to jump in an at least see where they'll go with it. At the time of this review, there are five individual issues out which I picked up digitally. This will be a cumulative review of those five issues that I may expand or perhaps transform into a review of the first volume when that eventually gets released. 

HOW I RATED IT 
4/5 I loved seeing familiar faces from the game all showing up in their brand new costumes and a totally new sort of world. There's nothing quite as grand as the conflict that the first series told, but there are some pretty great and sometimes shocking moments that this story has to offer. 

CHARACTERS
There aren't a whole ton of characters running around just yet. The series kicks off with a conversation between Batman and the now-imprisoned Superman. There isn't a ton of development on Superman's side, he's just as hopelessly lost as he was in the game. Batman on the other hand has a very interesting personal challenge to face. With Superman's Regime toppled, someone has to now step in to usher in new leadership, but no one wants to see Batman's vision of the world realized. This point is reiterated by so many different characters it actually becomes kind of comical and I found myself feeling a little bad for Batman even though he was a good sport about these comments. Harley Quinn has some funny moments, my favorite being where she decides that Batman wants her to be the next Robin. She gets herself nabbed by Amanda Waller who is starting up a pretty large Suicide Squad for herself which serves a good way to introduce series newcomer, Deadshot. I did feel a little worried that this would devolve into a shameless promo for the somewhat recent movie. Fortunately, the story quickly takes a different turn as a new rival for Batman steps onto the scene. I think I already know who this mystery man is unfortunately, but even if I'm right, I still think it's an interesting twist. Ollie and Dinah are brought back into this world thanks to Dr. Fate and they bring their son, Conner, with them. There is also an appearance from two of Batman's close allies which I was pretty psyched to see.

WORLD/SETTING 
The world of INJUSTICE 2 is very different from the original INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US. Gone is the dark dystopia that resides beneath Superman's shadow. There's a newfound lightness to the world, one that teems with hope, but is still weighed down by responsibility to maintain this peace. This weight falls mainly upon Batman, but thanks to encouragement from his friends, he seems consigned to allow others to help him bear the weight. For Batman to admit he needs help with anything is something I'm not sure I've seen before so this was a particularly interesting scenario for me. There are some scenic shots of Superman's Red Sun Cell block, Oliver's home on the alternate Earth, and the facility that houses the Suicide Squad. There isn't a great sense of scale to things just yet though. While there is a lot of talk about the fate of the world, the actual events of the story seem to take place within a relatively tight geographical space. 

PLOT/TONE 
Tonally, things are much different from INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US. This time, it's Batman that's in control of the situation, but not really. The  serenity that's come with the removal of Superman feels like it could crack at any point. Batman must slowly build up the world that Superman ran into shambles. It's a surprisingly low-key plot that I did wish would get a little wilder, but perhaps they are just setting things up at this point. The roster is also fairly conservative though the characters that do show up get ample characterization. It was actually nice in a way to have things scaled back a little bit. The story focuses on characters who seem like they will be the main protagonists in this new narrative so it was good to spend some quality time with them. The Suicide Squad and their new leader make for fun antagonists and I am intrigued to know why the main villain seems to be in favor of freeing Superman. It's unclear as to just where things will go or how they can ramp up while keeping Superman confined in his cell, but I'm hopeful that this series will reach the same heights as its predecessor. 

ARTWORK
The artwork of this series is every bit as good as I'd hoped it would be. The characters are hyper-detailed, the environments are crisp and the action is brilliantly depicted. There's not much more that can be asked for in this department.


CONCLUSION 
Those on the fence about giving this series a shot should definitely consider picking up the first couple of issues. their fairly cheap, but also quite brief. I think it's definitely more satisfying to read them in a graphic novel format, but I'm glad I picked up these first five issues. I think I'll continue to follow this series as it grows and I look forward to how it helps connect the two games.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

REVIEW: INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US YEAR FIVE VOLUME 2

Lines once crossed...


NOTE 
While this review will be relatively spoiler-free, there may be some spoilers for previous volumes in the series.

INTRODUCTION 
A lot has happened since the Series launched. Readers saw the sad decline of one of Earth's most cherished heroes in YEAR ONE. They watched as The Regime waged war with The Lantern Corps in YEAR TWO and were introduced to DC's magical underworld in YEAR THREE. YEAR FOUR brought forward an awe-inspiring clash between gods and heroes. In YEAR FIVE, things have started coming together. In VOLUME 1, pieces began falling into place, but there were a lot of loose plot threads left by the end. I started in on VOLUME 2, excited to see how those loose ends get tied. 

HOW I RATED IT 
5/5 This deeply emotional entry into the series cements Superman's tyrannical identity while also bringing many of the other characters to the point that players found them. This is perhaps the hardest hitting of the volumes so far and even though it doesn't quite wrap YEAR FIVE up into a neat little package, I did appreciate that the story took some time to slow down and savor each heartbreaking plot point.  

CHARACTERS
There are a lot of characters that get some good attention in this installment. The Bizarro Superman and his new buddy, The Trickster, go rampaging around, stirring up all kinds of chaos. Since he was created by Lex, there are some interesting moments where the billionaire mastermind has to outmaneuver the super-beings who might expose his secret plot to take down (and replace) Superman. His scheming ways and the hardened morality of this version of Lex clash in some fun ways. Harley 's therapy sessions with a cardboard cutout were both hysterical and genuinely moving. This volume also introduced the first iteration of the Joker Clan, a group of anti-Regime activists whom Harley follows around. Batwoman finally gets a little more time to take part in the drama of it all. She's largely been an accessory to Batman's war this whole time so I very much appreciated seeing her operate on her own a little. A defeated Catwoman also has a couple of small appearances while  Damian makes a key showing for the volume's finale. Batman and Alfred have some amazingly humanizing moments that were probably the highlight of the whole thing for me. It all comes down to a one on one fight between Batman and Superman with Damian standing by in confusion. The last chapters feature Flash struggling with his allegiances and slowly being pushed to pledge himself to The Regime. The internal conflict was portrayed every bit as well as the external conflict is depicted and I don't think these characters have ever been more compelling.  


WORLD/SETTING 
A shadow begins to fall over the world as Superman and his cronies solidify their iron grip while Batman and others do their best to frustrate those efforts. The result is conflict on a pretty large scale. The Joker Clan gathers in large abandoned buildings. Batman's allies brood and leap from towering buildings. Lex scrambles to protect himself in his laboratory/office building while Bizzarro flies from place to place leaving a trail of bodies and destruction in his wake. There are a lot of ominous references to a new super prison, though with the rate that both Supermen exterminate those who cross them, it's hard to imagine there being anyone left to lock away there. Tragedy strikes in the Batcave and The Rogues have a secret memorial service in a shady bar. The epic Batman v Superman showdown takes place in a simple dark alley but The Flash's journey of self-discovery brings him to a number of scenic locations. By the end, I felt as though I'd gotten a full tour of this world which made it that much sadder to know that freedom no longer reigns here. 

PLOT/TONE 
If lines weren't crossed before, they definitely are now. Even some of the most noble heroes have lived long enough to see themselves become a villain. Although previous years have consisted of two volumes, there appears to be a third part of YEAR FIVE set to come out this June. Due to that fact, not everything comes to a wrap in this one. There are still outstanding questions like whether Batwoman and Batgirl make it through the series and what eventually drives Catwoman to join up with Superman. There's also the matter of how the Joker Clan takes its place in the Insurgency. There are, however, plenty of things that do get tidied up. All remaining signs that Superman has any of his former self left are gone. He's become as ruthless as he was in the game and now that he's crossed certain lines, there will be no coming back. Batman finds himself trying to resist crossing a one of his own when misfortune falls upon one of the people he cares for most and Damian's true allegiances are tested as well. Even though I already knew how a lot of these things would turn out, this didn't diminish the emotional intensity of being in the moment with these characters which speaks highly to the writing. I never knew what would happen next and in spite of how much I wanted things to work out, I of course knew that there would not be any happy endings. 

ARTWORK
The art was definitely on point at just about every turn here. A few of the backdrops are a little sparse at times, but that mostly only happened during points where the action shots hit an extreme angle

CONCLUSION 
While this is neither an ending to the story nor this series, it did do a nice job of concluding certain story points in a satisfying way. I'm only disappointing that I'll have to wait a bit before the next volume comes out. I'm very glad that this series got as big as it did because it's offered a lot of epic super hero entertainment. I look forward to the next (and maybe last?) installment of this prequel series. In the meantime, I'll be diving into the new INJUSTICE 2 series which fills the gap between games as well as of course picking up the new video game as well.

Friday, May 12, 2017

REVIEW: INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US YEAR FIVE VOLUME 1

The villains are unleashed...


NOTE 
While this review will be relatively spoiler-free, there may be some spoilers for previous volumes in the series. 

INTRODUCTION 
The final year of INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US begins. At the end of the previous volume, an entire prison's worth of supervillains was set loose upon the world. Now both sides of the Batman vs. Superman war are recruiting from this pool of new faces. With the story getting very close to the point that players found it in the game I dove into this one excited to see the different pieces fall into place. 

HOW I RATED IT 
5/5 Though it's a little scattered at times, there are a lot of fantastic moments in this installment that help drive the plot forward and define the characters in some brilliant ways. 

CHARACTERS
With the addition of all the previously shelved villains, the roster of INJUSTICE gets much bigger. While there are a lot of classic bad guys and gals that never get much time in the spotlight, there are a good number of them who do get some decent attention. Bane and Killer Frost join up with Superman, much to the distress of team members like Wonder Woman and The Flash. Batman has some fresh blood of his own in the form of some of the Flash's rogues like Weather Wizard, Gold Glider, Mirror Master, and Heatwave under the justification that they have a strict code not to kill anyone. Batman's allies are less than convinced by this distinction which made for some interesting interactions within that squad. Catwoman finds herself at wit's end with fighting for what feels like a futile cause. A Bizarro Superman finds his way onto the scene and starts to wreak havoc with The Trickster and tensions run high as a result. Rounding off the ensemble is Damian who finally gets some character development after being stuck in a perpetual cycle of rage and depression. Dick Greyson and Alfred also make some fantastic guest appearances and help drive some of this character building. It's a strong and varied cast of heroes and villains that did feel a little spread out at times, but was handled well overall. 

WORLD/SETTING 
This installment jumps all over the established world. There's a cool fight scene on Penguin's docks, tension in Batman's hideout, and harsh accusations made in Lex Luthor's tower. From the brutal opening at Wayne Manor to the calm infirmary of Damian's moment of self-discovery, the scenery is varied and each backdrop felt perfect for the given moment. There are even some shots of places like The Batcave which brought me back to earlier moments in the story. The world is definitely in disarray and it's easy to see how that chaos is shaping the way that things turn out. The state of things is in direct opposition to the way Superman wants them to be and it will be very interesting to see how he puts them into the way he wants them. More interesting will be how he creates the buttoned-up dystopia that this world is fated to be. 

PLOT/TONE 
The overall feel of the world is one that's fallen back into chaos. Superman and his allies are kept busy with rounding up all of the escaped villains while Batman and his band of followers are doing their best to ensure that they raise as much disturbance as they can. The involvement of Bizarro only makes things feel that much more chaotic. Even though the villains pick sides, that doesn't mean they are suddenly freed of their own antics and agendas. This added a wonderful layer of unpredictability to pretty much every scene. In spite of Batman's scheming and Superman's control issues, there are just too many loose cannons running around for either of them to really be in control. There's a sense that it will all boil over before the Regime assumes control once more, but in the meantime, it's a lot of fun to simply watch discord reign. There are also some really nice personal moments for characters like Selina and Damian that help keep things grounded.

ARTWORK
While the new character designs were all great and certainly fit in with the INJUSTICE style, there were points where the quality seemed to dip a little or at least where the imagery felt inconsistent. Gold Glider for example looks stunning in some shots and quite bad in others. The Trickster kind of alternates between looking very young and a little older. Make no mistake, the overall presentation is still fantastic. This collection just felt a little less polished than some of the others, possibly because of all the different designs the artists had to keep up with.

CONCLUSION 
There's still a lot of ground to cover before everything falls into place, but this is a solid first part of the fifth and final year of the series. There are tons of great characters, many of which haven't had much face time yet, but there are also some great moments with already established heroes. Very little time is spent in any one place, making the scope of this installment feel much bigger. I loved the chaotic tone of it all as well as the moments of more personal drama. The final conflict between the Regime and the Insurgency promises to be a magnificent disaster to behold and I just hope that the final collection will contain some great emotional moments as well. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

REVIEW: INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US YEAR FOUR VOLUME 2

Olympus has invaded...


NOTE 
While this review will be relatively spoiler-free, there may be some spoilers for previous volumes in the series. 

INTRODUCTION 
Gods and heroes continue to clash in this second part of YEAR FOUR. Thankfully, this volume is more than just a prolonged sequence of swords and fists flying across the pages. The conflict to rid Earth of Olympus's residents brings the narrative forward in some important ways and an issue at the end introduces some new characters into the mix which will likely have a big impact on the fifth and final year of INJUSTICE.

HOW I RATED IT 
5/5 While this installment is still very action-packed, it also has the narrative depth that previous volumes lacked, making it feel like a far more like the kind of collection the series deserves. 

CHARACTERS
Batman seemingly has his way when Superman is forced to relinquish his throne. In the Man of Steel's place, a much bigger problem now arises. The gods of Olympus occupy the planet and there's nothing Batman and his band of mortals can do about it. They take refuge in Themyscira, much to the chagrin of the locals. In his defeat, Superman consults with the scheming Ares and turns to Poseidon for help against Zeus and his followers. The result is a glorious entrance for the god of the seas as he threatens the land of the Amazons with a towering wall of water. This move creates even more tension between Superman and Wonder Woman, putting their relationship on a very thin ice. Batman immediately gets down to manipulating the situation from the shadows, getting Aquaman, Mera, and some very surprising guests involved. Ares has a shocking ally of his own who clashes with Superman in a brilliant display of comic book violence. Harley, a powerless Billy (Shazam), and Hippolyta find themselves stuck in the Greek Underworld, a place that Harley just so happens to be well versed in. Using this knowledge, she leads the trio on a prison break or maybe a hell break. While a little random, it was a lot of fun to see her demonstrate some leadership ability. It was a nice nod to where she ends up in the game and pretty rewarding in general. Zeus was also fairly interesting. While it would have been more interesting for his actions to have a little more motive behind them, I at least found them to be entertaining and I liked his final stand-down with one of the characters Batman calls into the fold. I was disappointed that Raven never showed up, but I  suspect she'll be making an appearance in YEAR FIVE.

WORLD/SETTING 
There's no more standing around in one spot. This volume takes readers to some of the most exotic locations in both DC and Mythological lore. Themyscira takes center stage as Superman and Poseidon act in defiance against the will of Zeus. There are a lot of great shots of this place as well as the mass of water that stands to level it.  There are some glimpses of the gorgeous Atlantis as well as some secret government meetings to keep things fresh. Different parts of the Underworld create a fun backdrop for Harley's Antics. Another fiery locale sets the stage for an iconic fight scene and a serene utopia from another dimension is stunning enough to rival any of the other places that the story has gone so far. Overall, the setting is varied, wild, and chaotic. This was exactly the type of world that this story deserves and I hope the more chaotic aspects of it ramp up before things fall into the ordered dystopia that players find when they play the game.  



PLOT/TONE 
All of the plotting and scheming of the gods remains a huge element of this story. Out of all of the volumes so far, this one feels the most like an epic comic adventure. It's definitely still as dark as previous installments, but there's a lot more moving pieces running wild. The aspect of involving not one, but two different mythologies (one native to the DC Universe) was great and added a lot of good, clean fun to things. I loved that I felt surprised by narrative events again, but could also still enjoy some high-flying action. There are so many super-beings running around and so many different agendas at play and I had a ton of fun never knowing just what would happen next. Things get more and more interesting until the god/hero conflict finally comes to a head, but that's not all the volume has to offer. The final chapter is one that's seemingly random at first, but the ending of it definitely feels like a setup for things to come. 

ARTWORK
The art has really outdone itself this time. Between the varied and elaborately detailed environments and the characters that still look fantastic, this is the best that the series has ever looked. 

CONCLUSION 
In a lot of ways, it feels like the series has returned to it's former glory. The plot is moving forward again, the action and visuals are top notch, and things are starting to fall into place within the context of the game. The gods of Olympus have taken their leave of Earth, but their stay was certainly entertaining and hopefully it's not the last the series has seen of mythological elements. I'm looking forward to finding out how everything wraps up and who survives the inevitable final conflict that is to come.

Monday, May 8, 2017

REVIEW: INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US YEAR FOUR VOLUME 1

Olympus descends...

NOTE 
While this review will be relatively spoiler-free, there may be some spoilers for previous volumes in this series. 

INTRODUCTION 
A new year of Injustice means a new threat to Superman's Regime. This time the theme comes in the form of a different kind of magic...it comes straight from the books of Greek Mythology. The gods of Olympus turn their gaze down to earth and all sorts of discord ensues. Being a big fan of mythology, I've enjoyed the little bits of Themyscira this series shows, but never would I have guessed that it would bring in the entire Greek Pantheon. I'm thrilled that the story took this turn, but given how much I've read about Zues, Hera, Hermes, and company, this collection definitely had a lot to live up to in terms of my expectations.

HOW I RATED IT 
4/5 This installment follows in the pattern of becoming one gigantic battle. I do think there were some more interesting turns than the last one had, but there still felt like there was something a little lacking here in terms of the overall narrative.

CHARACTERS
The cast of INJUSTICE gets a whole lot bigger with the inclusion of Greece's most legendary heroes and gods. If you're like me and love the old tales about gods and demigods, then you will be stoked to see that pretty much all of the heavy hitters come out to center stage. Ares, Artemis, Hermes, Hera, Zues, Hippolyta, Hercules, Atlas and a whole army of Amazons enter the fray. They stand against Superman, demanding he abdicate his throne and leave the planet Earth. All of Superman's allies stand beside him out front of the Hall of Justice and Batman shows up with his team to watch in hopes that the forces of Olympus can finally free them of Superman's tyranny. There's a lot of fantastic tension in the air and little breaks in the conflict offer some great opportunities for interactions between different characters. Wonder Woman was particularly compelling due to being torn between two different sides of the battle. This creates some great conflict between her and Superman as she finds herself having to face off against him. There are other great standoffs between characters like Batman and Robin and Hermes and The Flash. It's these little moments where characters clash and try to reconcile that made this installment feel a little more complete than the last one. I did wonder where Dick Greyson went off to since he just sort of seems to go away. Raven also has a cameo that left me confused as to how she'll play into things to come. I also loved that all of the gods felt true to how I remember them from the myths. Hera is manipulative, Ares has his agenda, Hermes is the dutiful messenger, and Hercules is the hero seeking glory through combat. I did note the lack of presence of Athena and Poseidon, but I hope they'll factor into VOLUME 2. Lex also has some more nice surprises for us including a decision which will likely have some ramifications in the chapters to come. All in all, I did find this area of the volume to be pretty satisfying and the gods' scheming was a lot of fun.


WORLD/SETTING 
Unfortunately, the setting for this volume does feel a little restricted. The vast majority of it takes place entirely in front of the Hall of Justice. Obviously, this is a really lovely and iconic place, but I did feel like that sense of adventure was a little lost here. Leading up to the grand standoff, readers do get to see quick glimpses of Batman's hideout and some city streets, but these are fairly short-lived. There are some gorgeous shots of Mount Olympus and Themyscira to break things up as well. Basically, all of the locations that do show up are carefully selected and visually interesting, you'd just generally expect to see a few more of them in a world as expansive as the DC Universe. 

PLOT/TONE 
The plot itself is pretty simple and doesn't go too much deeper than what I have described so far. Where most of the story-building takes place is in the conniving machinations of the gods. Each one has their own agenda in mind. This divine chess match really brought me back to the myths of old and I love how faithfully they depicted these interactions while doing it in such a way that fit in well with the story.  There are also the great little moments between characters as well as a flashback featuring Wonder Woman, Superman, and Batman which definitely made the conflict between them that much sadder. Leading up to the main conflict are some fairly compelling moments with Damian Wayne. I've felt like his character has been pretty one-dimensional so far so it was nice to get to see some of his personal struggles and understand what it is he hopes to achieve. Along with that is the demise of one of Batman's particularly vengeful friends . It should also be noted that there is a ton of great action shots in this one. The gods look every bit as glorious in combat as they should and there are some fun match-ups between gods and heroes with similar strengths (or at least levels of strength). Batman also finds himself in an interesting position since it was by his doing that the gods were unleashed upon the Earth, but he has no real control over their actions. He finds himself simultaneously in the most powerful and vulnerable position of his life, especially when some of the gods start trying to go Mortal Kombat on Superman and his allies. Overall, I definitely thought this was paced better than the last volume, but it still suffers a little bit from the fact that it's mostly one continuous struggle that doesn't actually even end by the time the last page is turned. The violence is once again pretty brutal, but it was a little easier on the eyes this time around since some of the gore was a bit dialed back, but there's still some blood that's shed and a couple of characters readers will have to say goodbye to. 

ARTWORK
The visuals are probably at the best I've seen them so far. The armor the gods wear is gorgeously rendered. The action shots are dynamic and beyond dramatic. Some of the scenery is really great as well.

CONCLUSION 
There's a lot of fun to be had here between the gods and the heroes and all the action in between. The story does still kind of feel like it's at a standstill, but this is one conflict I was pretty okay with hitting the pause button for. I do kind of feel like maybe the writers have taken things as far as they feasibly can within the confines of the space they had to work with and are maybe saving some things for the fifth and final year of the comic. If that's the case, then that's kind of a shame since I would like to see things advance a little bit more either on the side of the main narrative or even just in the individual character archs that have all been fantastic so far (the comic's just been a little stingy with rolling them out). I want to see Damian make a little more progress with his identity crisis, I want to witness Wonder Woman and Superman's relationship blossom (right now it's sort of disintegrating), and I want to find out what eventually drives Catwoman to change sides. To me, it feels like the story still has a lot of ground to cover and while I understand that things can't be rushed, it also feels like these large scale clashes are slowing down the thrilling pace that previous volumes set.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

REVIEW: INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US YEAR THREE VOLUME 2

Hellfire and impish specters...


NOTE 
While this review will be relatively spoiler-free, there may be some spoilers for previous volumes in this series. 


INTRODUCTION 

The world of magic has been introduced and there's no turning back. The Insurgency dealt some critical blows to Superman and his Regime thanks to the use of magic. Now it is the Regime's turn to make a move. This volume continues the theme of magic and intrigue, but also gets quite a bit flashier than I expected given the last one's grungier take on the conflict. 

HOW I RATED IT 
4/5 This volume lacks the same depth that previous installments have enjoyed. The world of magic is still fun, but things turn into one extended fight that, while epic, didn't move things forward as much which makes the pace actually feel a little slower. 

CHARACTERS
The cast of characters remains largely unchanged from the previous volume, albeit with a couple ofInjustice 2 video games (and probably the new comic series as well). Side issues explore John Constantine's character a little more as well as an obscure mystical character from his world which helps explain Wonder Woman's sleeping beauty act. The other actually shows what happened to the Teen Titans (Wonder Girl, Beast Boy, Kid Flash, Superboy, Red Robin, and Starfire) and why they have been nowhere to be found in this series.
neat swap-outs. One I will not fully spoil, but the other is that Deadman has ... well died I guess and in his place is Dick Greyson (formerly Nightwing) who now takes up the mantle of Deadman. I was very excited to see this character come back, even if in a different form and I thought the scenes with him and a few of the other characters added some much needed emotional depth to all of the action going on. Constantine is still a major player and some of his schemings have landed characters on both sides in quite the magical mess. Two magical superpowers engage in battle while the forces of the Regime and the Insurgency clash. Wonder Woman and Superman are both back in action and they fight with a righteous fury against Batman and his allies. One particularly good interaction is the dynamic between Constantine and Batman. Both men are similar in how expertly they plan, but readers will find that they are very different in their motivations. The tension between Superman and Wonder Woman also made for some nice narrative surprises and there are some good action sequences with Batwoman and Huntress who tend to be more in the background. Swamp thing and Poison Ivy also enter the mix which is exciting since they are both characters who will be appearing in the


WORLD/SETTING 
The locations in which this volume take place are pretty interesting. There are some scenes at the regal Hall of Justice to open, but things quickly move into the Tower of Fate which Dr. Fate distorts into a M.C. Escher drawing with staircases going all over the place. Things escalate quickly here and the heroes/villians are transported to the House of Mystery which is where the rest of the story takes place. It's a pretty interesting location filled with magical energy and there also seems to be two of these manors existing simultaneously in the same spot. This lush locale quickly turns into a fiery battleground and begins to warp as the conflict distorts reality around it. I found the whole thing to be a pretty neat spectacle and liked that the backdrops were much more colorful in this volume. 

PLOT/TONE 
Whereas YEAR THREE VOLUME 1 was dark and mysterious, VOLUME 2 felt chaotic and action-packed. The overall them of magic does carry over, just in a far more battle-oriented way. There's not really a lot to say in terms of the narrative honestly. Much of the volume is spent on one long fight sequence that rises and falls in its intensity. There are definitely still some interesting character interactions as well as a couple of key story moments that would be a shame to spoil. Other than that, there's just a lot more tension that gets built between Superman and Batman, especially since Batman can now go toe to toe with him thanks to the super pills Lex Luthor developed. Most of the depth comes from two issues that act as a bonus of sorts (though not really since I think the number of issues this time was just fewer than usual). One of these returns to that dark noir tone from the previous volume and the other explores the pretty heartbreaking disappearance of Superboy and the rest of the Titans. 

ARTWORK 
The visuals continue to be outstanding in this series. It was impressive just how detailed things remained even when all hell broke loose. Where the art falters a little is in the two additional issues that close out this volume. The art wasn't bad or anything, it just lacked that level of polish and vibrancy that fans of the series have come to enjoy. The style looked older somehow which some might like, but I'm not a fan of.

CONCLUSION 
This wasn't the finest collection in the series, but it was still a pretty enjoyable read. It had some outstanding action and effects to enjoy. There were definitely some more personal moments to be had as well as a couple of key plot points that advanced the story a little, but the volume felt light in terms of both characterization and narrative progression. The side stories were pretty good and did add a  bit more depth to the overall narrative as well as explain a couple of story gaps, but I wish the art had been a little better for these issues. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

REVIEW: INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US YEAR THREE VOLUME 1

A world of magic...


NOTE 
While this review will be relatively spoiler-free, there may be some spoilers for previous volumes in this series. 

INTRODUCTION 
The Green Lantern Corps has been defeated, but Batman's Insurgency managed to capture some of the key figures in Superman's Regime. The truth about Superman's cruelty is revealed to the world, but with the help of a yellow ring, he's more powerful than ever before. Things seem all but lost for the world, but in the wreckage of what's left, the series turns its gaze to a previously under-explored section of the DC Universe, the world of magic.

HOW I RATED IT 
5/5 YEAR THREE VOLUME 1 makes a very sharp turn away from the action-packed direction that the series has taken so far in favor of a more mysterious noir-type narrative. The changes in tone, pace, and cast help keep the series feeling fresh and I think they did a great job with opening up a new corner of this world.

CHARACTERS
Ushering readers into the magical side of DC is none other than the magical bad boy, JohnARROW, but this one seems pretty different), but I liked their inclusion all the same. There's also an unexpected return of a character who I'm very excited to see back in the story.
Constantine. He enters onto the scene amidst the rubble of the epic clash between the Green Lanterns and Superman's allies. Immediately, you feel the weight that this character brings with him as well as the odd sort of lightheartedness. This duality made him a very welcome addition for me, especially since I was a fan of his cancelled-to-soon television show (it's up for free on the CW Seed if you were like me and missed it while it was aired). He joins other magic-centric characters we've already met like Dr. Fate and Zatana to introduce the more mystical corners of the world. Batman hopes that exploring these hidden sources of power will be the key to taking down Superman since he is vulnerable to magic. As it turns out, Superman has some magical forces protecting him and pretty soon, Batman and co. find themselves playing yet another game of  cat and mouse with the Regime. The relationship between Superman and Sinestro continues to develop and these moments reminded me of just how naive Superman really is. Harley Quin has plenty of great moments of her own and there are probably a lot of hardcore DC fans who will be thrilled to see more obscure characters given a little time in the limelight like Detective Chimp, Ragman, and Deadman. I didn't know anything about these characters myself (a version of Ragman does appear on the television show,

WORLD/SETTING 
The world has definitely changed again, both physically and in the way readers will perceive it
. Superman's battle with the Lanterns has left certain places in literal ruins. The tangible consequences of such wide-scale conflicts are visually explored without pulling really any punches. Only rubble can be found where buildings once stood and there's far more gore in this volume than there has been in the past. The world is darker and definitely more desperate. From the ashes, characters who were previously hidden are now exposed and that definitely makes everything feel brand new. There's also a sort of horror element that's worked in this time around. A fiery corner of Hell, Raven's glyph-based prison, and even the inside of a character's mind are just some of the weird and somewhat disturbing locations that readers will be taken to. There's this layer of grime that covers everything (sometimes metaphorically speaking) as the darker side of magic is put on full display. Characters make choices which compromise their morality in an effort to outmaneuver Superman and cope with the new terrain. 

PLOT/TONE 
YEAR THREE definitely seems to be taking a sharp change in direction. Given the cataclysmic struggles that YEAR TWO offered, I think it made a lot of sense for them to switch things up a bit. I'm also starting to understand why the creators decided to split the comic up into years kind of like how a television series has seasons, each having a different theme or source of conflict. This approach feels like a smart one and leaves me feeling hopeful that the series will not become stale. I think I've stated before that very little feels off-limits in this series, but that is especially true now that I have read through this volume. I didn't think the story could get much darker, but when you start throwing in Hell, damnation, soul absorbing, enchanted imprisonment, and mind-control as themes, then the boundaries of what's possible certainly get a bit wider. Between the gore and the outright cruelty of certain sequences, I found myself far more surprised than I expected to be at this point in the story. While I'm happy to still be caught off-guard, I do hope that there are lines which won't be crossed or ideas that don't get explored since things got a little satanic in spots. I am interested to see where the theme of dark magic will take the story though and look forward to more surprises in VOLUME 2

ARTWORK
The imagery continues to be spectacular and this time around it does a nice job of conveying the darker, shadier tone that the narrative takes. There are also a lot of spectacular magical effects that offer a little bit of brightness to the dingier locations. 

CONCLUSION 
While this probably isn't the next installment that people where expecting, that's arguably for the best. The inclusion of new characters, themes, and locations did a nice job of shaking things up while still keeping the main narrative on track. There's definitely a setup for even more crazy magical shenanigans to come which gives me something to look forward to in the next volume.

Monday, May 1, 2017

REVIEW: INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US YEAR TWO VOLUME 2

Lanterns' Light...


NOTE
While this review will be relatively spoiler-free, there may be some spoilers for previous volumes in this series. 

INTRODUCTION 
The conflict between Superman's blossoming Regime and the expansive Green Lantern Corps that started in YEAR TWO VOLUME 1 is far from over. Batman's team of resistance fighters are also far from defeated. This volume fully realizes the conflict that's been building and brings readers along for an exciting conclusion to year two of INJUSTICE.

HOW I RATED IT 
5/5 More amazing art, more brutal superhero combat, and more heartbreaking back and forth between the heroes that used to stand on the same side. This volume definitely follows up YEAR TWO VOLUME 1 in a way that feels every bit as satisfying as it should. 

CHARACTERS
Still struggling with the death of Green Arrow, Black Canary wanders into his former hideout where
she finds none other than Harley Quinn squatting there. Much of this volume focuses on the friendship that develops between these two very different women. Canary's pregnancy helps establish a connection with Harley who, as it turns out, has a child of her own. I loved that even in the middle of all the violence the writers still took some time to establish a deep connection between readers and these characters. Guy Gardner of the Lantern Corps is another major standout here. I had never really heard about him prior to reading this series, but thought he really shined here in this Volume. His struggle to try to restore order when his two fellow human Lanterns stand against him made him an easy hero to route for and I enjoyed every heartbreaking moment of his time on the pages. Rounding out the cast are Barbara Gordon and Jim Gordon who are also trying to move forward with things against ever-increasing odds. Being a long-time Batman fan, I will always have a soft spot for these two, but thought that their tear-filled arch was some of the best of these characters that I've ever seen. There is also a bonus issue that features Hal Jordan and Sinestro which did a great job of helping build the relationship between them and explain why Hal eventually comes to trust him. There are some other good moments with these two throughout the rest of the volume as well. As with previous installments, there are, of course, a ton of other characters who make important appearances in the story. 

WORLD/SETTING 
The story takes two different approaches to it's setting. On one hand, there is the cosmic struggle stemming from the Lanterns' decision to mount a full-scale attack on earth. On the other, readers get to spend some time down on the ground with some of  Earth's foot soldiers who are brave enough to stand against Superman. The duality of these two sources of conflict helped keep things fresh and I was glad a little more time was spent building out the street-level conflict since that was largely sidelined in the previous volume. Other, more exotic, locations like Dr. Fate's Tower and The Watchtower are also visited as the volume nears it's climax and the final battle takes place in a location which Green Lantern fans will enjoy. It's inclusion does a nice job of illustrating that this world is both very similar and starkly different from the one that DC fans have come to know and love. 

PLOT/TONE 
Things somehow manage to feel so much more dire in this volume. Stakes seem higher and the various story arcs were a lot more personal. Superman continues to grow both in influence and brutality as he allows people like Sinestro to advice his Regime. The idea that the Earth is all but lost is explored a great deal here and as a reader I definitely got the sense that Superman has all but won. There were also some devastating goodbyes to characters that broke my heart a few times over. If there's one thing this series excels at, it's driving that literary knife into you and giving it a couple good twists. At this stage it really does feel like anything is possible given that this is not the "real" DC world and the creators have grown more comfortable with exploiting that fact. Having played the game, I know which characters are safe in the comic, but that doesn't really make things any less intense for me since the story still takes some surprising turns.

ARTWORK
The art continues to be crazy detailed. The artist/style does seem to change for one issue randomly, but it was just as good as the one which appears in the rest of the chapters. There's not much to say here other than that this area continues to be one of the major selling points of the series for me.


CONCLUSION 
This volume builds upon those that came before it in a brilliant way. The conflicts that have been building and character arcs that have been developed are brought to a head in this installment. Chaos and heartbreak are doled out liberally, making this one of the heaviest entries in the series to date.