This week marked the end of Tom Taylor's (Superior Iron Man) run on the digital-first comic Injustice: Gods Among Us. While the exit of a writer from a book is not news in and of itself, Taylor leaves behind a comic that started life as a simple tie-in book to the release of a video game (a 2D fighter of the same name from the Mortal Kombat team at Netherrealm) but over the course of over 70 digital issues became a New York Times bestseller and secured the viability of the weekly digital comic format that paved the way for books based on the CW's Arrow and The Flash TV shows, Batman '66, Wonder Woman in Sensation Comics and more.
The key to his and the book's success to this point might have come in taking advantage of the game's premise, [spoilers follow] that on a pre-New 52 DC Earth where The Joker drives Superman to a fatal extreme by killing Lois Lane-Kent and the couple's unborn child. What follows in the comic is the exploration of the five year gap between this moment and the start of the game, where Superman rules the Earth with an iron (steel?) fist. In that period, Taylor adopts the kind of 'any goes' style that Elseworlds-style comics of the past embraced and delivered week after week single moments that would change the status quo in the 'canon' universe irrevocably.
In honor of the his run's end, we thought we'd catalog ten of the best of these and explain why they were the key to getting readers to come back week after week.
10. Damian Wayne Chooses Sides (Year One, Issue #14)
Not long after The Joker is killed and Superman decides he needs to 'do more' to protect the people of Earth, the heroes of the DC Universe are divided over the support of his action. Naturally the opposition (which includes Green Arrow, Black Canary and others) gravitates to Batman who forms the core of the eventual resistance, but his volatile biological son (and current Robin) Damian Wayne rebels against his father's stance on allowing criminals to live and turns on him when Batman tries to stop Superman and his allies (who at this stage include Wonder Woman, The Flash, Cyborg, Shazam and more) from emptying the inmates of Arkham Asylum to a 'more secure' facility.
This move leads to the first real combat between the two competing philosophies and leads to the accidental death of Nightwing, a moment that puts a permanent divide between a father and his son and between the what was once the World's Finest duo.
9. Billy Batson Vs. Shazam (Year One, Issue #19)
[Note: As he is listed as “Shazam” in the Injustice: Gods Among Us game, he will be referred to as such here.]
After helping him defeat an Atlantean uprising against his nascent rule and helping him again to neutralize Black Adam, Billy Batson is starting to question the actions of his hero Superman and seeks to consult the greatest source of wisdom he knows, himself.
In a clever sequence the twelve-year-old boy has a disuses with mighty mortal empowered by seven ancient gods that he shares a body and a consciousness with by asking himself a question and 'SHAZAM!-ing” into his other form to answer it. The sequence ends with this page, where simple lighting-bolt shaped panel walls streamline the exchange that started with all the flash and the literal and metaphorical noise that the transformation incurs.
In the end even with the wisdom of Solomon at his disposal, Billy can't tell if Superman's course of action is correct and what if anything he should do about it.
8. Harley Quinn Asks The Questions That Need Asking (Year One, Issue #5)
As it was in Batman: The Animated Series, and almost any other media she appears in, Harley Quinn steals the show with her trademark blend of irrelevance and pathos. Complicit in The Joker's actions that trigger the events of the comic and game, Harley spends most of her time in the first year in the custody of Green Arrow, hiding from Superman’s wrath and generally driving the Emerald Archer (and later Black Canary) crazy with her antics and observations, like this one about the infamous Boxing Glove arrow and a runner about the name of Arrow Cave.
Throughout the run of the comic thus far, Harley goes on a journey from villain to valuable member of the resistance movement, applying her skills not only as a fighter but as a therapist who can apply her own personal tragedies to the rapidly deteriorating situation on this Earth. Fans of the character will find some of her best moments here.
7. This Superman Doesn't Have Time For Fifth Week Events (Year One, Issue #24)
Darkseid, in his own twisted way, senses weakness in the 'new' Superman's desire for global peace at any cost. He sends his son Kalibak with a massive army to conquer the Earth. The scale of the invasion even causes Batman and Superman to put their differences aside for the moment to attempt to fight it off, but Kalibak's gloating and hearing the screams of humans dying while he battles the spawn of Apokolips enrages the Man of Steel.
In a shocking display of his true power, Superman obliterates Kalibak and legions of Parademons by using his speed and his heat vision in concert to reduce them all to ashes. The impressive, decisive 'victory' is a boon to the perception of Superman in minds of humanity while his former allies are struck by the brutality of his actions.
6. Superman Leverages New Media (Year One, Issue #28)
After exposing a mole that Batman placed in his inner circle aboard the orbiting Justice League Watchtower, Superman is at a loss with how to proceed against the Dark Knight. That is when Damian Wayne explains that Batman's psychological campaign will eventually defeat them unless they adopt smarter tactics.
Damian convinces Superman to play a powerful card he has over his father: his secret identity. Superman's first attempt to reveal who Batman is ends in failure when Batman brings down the Watchtower to keep them from transmitting a world-wide television signal. However, Damian, with the help of Cyborg, counters this quickly by Tweeting out the information on Superman's (somehow unverified) account setting off another status quo changing event as Bruce Wayne is forced to flee his family’s ancestral home.
5. Alfred Head-butts Superman (Year One, Issue #36)
The Injustice: Gods Among Us game smooths over the divide in power levels between characters like Batman or Green Arrow and Superman or Wonder Woman via the creation of a ‘super-soldier’ pill. When the ‘normal’ heroes (or villains) take them, they’re physicality is elevated to a level where they would be able to ‘duke it out’ with gods and/or aliens. It was created by Superman and his forces to be issued only to the new Regime’s shock troopers but it doesn’t take long though for Batman to get a hold of one and start to analyze it.
In the climax of the book’s first ‘year’ Batman must defend a compromised Batcave against Superman while the Batcomputer examines the pill’s makeup. Even using all the tricks he has at his disposal, including a devastating psychological attack, Batman is barely able to hold off a Man of Steel who is close to cracking up completely. When its revealed that Batman was only buying time for the pill data to upload to the resistance, Superman flips out and it’s up to a pill-empowered Alfred to save Bruce’s life, starting with a devastating head-butt that bloodies Superman’s face.
4. Sinestro Sees A Potential Ally (Year Two, Issue #2)
Year Two of Injustice: Gods Among Us sees the conflict over Superman’s new Regime expand to include the ‘Cosmic’ DC Universe, in particular the Yellow Lantern Sinestro. Seeing a kindred spirit in the ‘new’ Superman, Sinestro (who has some experience using super-powers to subjugate a planet) comes to Earth to ally himself with the Regime. Not trusted at first, his heavily shaded recitation of his own backstory and seemingly selfless acts to aid the Regime win Superman’s trust and a place in his inner circle.
Naturally, this being Sinestro, he is not being absolutely truthful and is able to manipulate the situation to help him rid himself of some troublesome foes including some prominent Green Lanterns and even other ‘Cosmic’ villains like Despero. All leading to a master stoke of manipulation that causes both Hal Jordan and another prominent “Hero” to don Yellow Rings.
3. Why Wasn’t Krypton Saved? ( Year Two, Issue #5)
Ganthet, one of the Guardians of the Universe and leaders of the Green Lantern Corps, has come to Earth to convince Superman to end his Regime and return Earth to the control of its people. However, thanks to Sinestro’s prodding Superman counters with a question to Ganthet’s authority to decide such matters, asking the blue alien where the supposedly omnipotent, immortal Guardians were when Krypton was imperiled.
Unable to come up an satisfactory answer, Ganthet loses not only the argument, but his standing in the eyes of his biggest human supporter, Hal Jordan.
The rift between Superman and Ganthet will eventually lead to an all-out war between the Regime-backed Sinestro Corps and the Green Lanterns. The blood-soaked conflict takes up the last third of the comic’s year and gruesomely ends the lives of many popular characters.
2. The Year of Magic Sets a New Tone (Year Three, Issue #2)
In Tom Taylor's final ‘year’ on the book, unofficially subtitled the “Year of Magic” a scattered and crippled resistance accepts the help of John Constantine when the rogue magic user is beset by a personal tragedy that was a side effect of the previous years’ Lantern War. His arrival in the pages signaled a tonal shift in the comic, his cynical and fatalistic manner put a conflict that was long past superficial arguments about superhero ethics in to a more ‘worldly’ light as the resistance’s desperation grew.
Nowhere was this better seen then the scene just after Constantine and Batman recruit Detective Chimp to their side. The absurdly of a man in a bat suit and a talking monkey sitting in the back seat of a London cab is too much for John and his driver friend to stand, and even Detective Chimp sees the humor in it.
If Batman does, he doesn’t show it, but the visual is clear, he is at a very low point, but he still has room to fall.
1. Batman Makes A Deal With A Devil ( Year Three, Issue #12)
After several other magic-based gambits fail, and great mystic forces including The Spector, Deadman and The Phantom Stranger either align themselves with Superman or fail to bring him down, Constantine and Batman form a desperate plan.
Using again Superman’s vulnerability to Magic, the resistance sics a recently unbound Etrigan the Demon on the Man of Steel. Etrigan weakens Superman with his magical fire breath before beginning the chant that would restore his new human host: Batman.
Using surprise to his advantage, Batman releases a pollen receives from Swamp Thing that sends Superman into a Black Mercy-style sleep, potential neutralizing him permanently as a different version of the death of Lois plays out in his head.