Written By Cadeem Lalor
In 2013, NetherRealm Studios (best known for Mortal Kombat) released Injustice: Gods Among Us. In an alternate universe, The Joker tricks Superman into killing Lois Lane and his unborn child. The Joker uses scarecrow’s fear toxin to make Superman think he sees Doomsday. Superman responds by pushing Doomsday into space, and it is too late by the time he killed a pregnant Lois Lane. Superman kills The Joker and then establishes a new world order. Five years later, Batman summons the Justice League from the mainstream continuity in order to defeat his Superman.
The game also had a related comic book tie-in that details the five years leading up to the game. When I first heard about the series I thought it would be a cheap cash-in, but a friend recommended the comics and I was soon hooked. The comics are currently in year five, but the writing has been weaker since writer Tom Taylor left the project mid-way through year three. Taylor’s work is sorely missed and I want to take a look back at what made his work on the series so great, namely the characterization of Superman and Batman.
Firstly, the writing itself was amazing. Like The Walking Dead, I found that the artwork took a little getting used to, but it was this line that convinced me I should give the comic a chance: “Our world is now ruled by the iron fist of a Man of Steel.” Maybe it’s simple, but it’s also an eloquent way to introduce a version of Superman that is so far removed from the one we are used to.
The strength of the prequel hinged on the believability of Superman’s transformation into a murdering dictator, and Taylor’s work captures it well. I remember watching Batman: Under The Red Hood and hearing Batman say why he chooses not to kill The Joker. Batman knows that if he allows himself to kill just one person, even someone as despicable as The Joker, it becomes too easy to justify making the same decision for every other criminal: “If I go down that road, I’m never coming back.”
I never really understood Batman’s point at the time. I thought it would be easy to make an exception but I see the moral of the story play out with Superman. The Joker had been playing games with Batman for much longer, trying to get Batman to snap. Superman was “easy mode”. While Superman has faced loss, it is implied that Batman may be mentally tougher. In the comics, Superman has lost his biological parents, his adoptive father, his cousin and an entire planet, but he does not have memories of those people to mourn. Meanwhile, Batman was a witness to his parent’s murder from a younger and highly impressionable age.
Taylor’s work also demonstrates how Superman doesn’t initially become a dictator due to the desire for power. Ultimately, he feels betrayed by Batman. He blames Batman for not killing The Joker earlier and even accuses Batman of loving The Joker. Superman feels as if his best friend cares about a psychopath more than him. Even when the two come to blows over Batman’s attempts to bring the regime down, Superman can’t bring himself to kill Batman, opting to paralyze him instead.
In this fight, we also see Superman resort to torture to get information out of Batman. This was always one of the biggest differences between the characters, and Batman is quick to point out how far Superman has fallen.
Superman and Batman have always differed in their methods of crime fighting, with Batman being the morally grey figure who was open to torturing criminals. This conflict between the two characters also seems to imply that while Batman may embrace his anger and vengeful side more often, that is what prevented him from truly becoming like the criminals they fight against. Batman had his outlet for his issues, while Superman held himself to a higher standard that only made it easier for him to fall.
As the series progresses, we see that Wonder Woman is eager to step in to replace Lois Lane. She is a key figure that whispers in his ear and guides him to embrace his violent tendencies. Her ancient military background makes her more open to the idea of a dictatorship and her admiration for Superman, as a warrior and friend, makes her more likely to support him. Overtime, we see Superman’s unresolved grief for Lois, and his anger towards Batman transform him into a fearsome dictator.
Since leaving Injustice, Taylor has worked on Superior: Iron Man and several independent titles. The current state of the comics makes it clear that DC suffered a big loss, especially since Taylor could have also transitioned into working on other titles. Fortunately, the first two years of Injustice will always be there as a testament to his work.