What I like best about annuals is that they are an opportunity to tell stories that can enhance, build on, or deviate completely from the current continuity. In a way you’re getting a little something extra outside of the norm, typically with more pages, and often self-contained.

All of these things are true of Injustice: Year Two’s Annual which offers two tales which take place before the events of Injustice: Year Two No. 8 (Digital First No. 15). The only important thing to know about the chronology is that these stories take place before everyone dies. Simple enough, right?

Both tales are written by Marguerite Bennett from plots created with Tom Taylor.  And yes, I believe these are the only Injustice stories not scripted by Taylor himself.

“Closing Time”

The first story is a story from the Resistance focusing on Jim and Barbara Gordon. We see and hear from a few other Resistance members (mostly Harley and Black Canary–who doesn’t look at all pregnant, though perhaps she should). But the focus of the story is otherwise tightly on the father-daughter team of Gordon and Oracle as they investigate some mighty strange goings-on in the city under lockdown. Because the principal adversary in this story is Clayface, you know that things are not going to be what they seem.

A lot of contributors provided the art for this one-and-done tale that doesn’t really add anything to the regular narrative but is nonetheless an interesting digression with characters we know and love. David Yardin, Daniel HDR, Vicente Cifuentes, and Mike S. Miller all did pages throughout the story with Rex Lokus tying them together through his softly colored interiors and dramatically lit action sequences.

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No idea why Harley’s stethoscope is flying around like that, but it’s totally distracting.

“The Ur-Forge: an Untold Injustice Tale”

In this second piece, we switch over to Superman’s camp as he enlists Sinestro and Hal Jordan to find the not-so-mythical Ur-Forge, out of which devastating weapons may be manufactured. Superman’s premise is that they must keep it out of the hands of the “enemy”. Much of the story challenges the reader to question which enemy that might be. Hal and Sinestro travel to the “evolutionary cesspool” of the weaponers and try to work together to complete their mission. This provides ample opportunity for lots of my-color-is-better-than-yours Lantern tension, amusing quips, and some deep philosophical questions. Ultimately they succeed in carrying out their duty. So who gets the Ur-Forge? You can probably already guess, but I won’t spoil it here: read it for yourself!

Jheremy Raapack provides the art for this complete story (we have mostly seen him doing cover work only for Injustice lately), with David Lopez and Santi Casas of Ikari Studio providing a rich, dark jewel-tone palette of colors.

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Foreshadowing of impending cowardice? Hal wants to run!

The Good

“Closing Time” is a fun story about not-so-fun things: the disappearance of Barbara Gordon Sr.  (which had been hinted about earlier in the series), the impending death of Jim Gordon, and the loss of Nightwing (in a small way). Barbara has had it bad in this series, but even though she has a lot of reasons to be sad and upset in this story, she doesn’t give in to being mopey or go on an internal monologue bender about her frustrations. Instead, she and her father focus on immediate problems. Although the story is somewhat dark, it does have some lighter moments (compliments of Harley Quinn), and it’s just nice to see Gordon one last time before we move on into Year Three and leave him behind.

Also worth noting: Lokus as a colorist always makes the best use of true theatrical lighting. The tones throughout really help give the story some dynamic dramatic movement where the art is less effective. The best part:

Spoiler
Barbara takes out Clayface with the wheel of her chair. Awesome!

“The Ur-Forge: and Untold Tale” is the stronger of the two stories. It stands out especially because it does add a little something to the current continuity by expanding on the relationship between Hal and Sinestro. I can see why this tale wasn’t included in the scope of the regular series (it too is a digression), but I think seeing Hal and Sinestro forced into working together toward a goal they agree on–not only in practice but in principle–helps fill in what some might feel are gaps in the narrative that support Hal’s egregious behaviors on the road to the finale.

Noteworthy in this story are its moments of humor, its big broad action, Wes Abbott’s multifarious sound effects, and the consistency of Raapack’s artwork. There is also a moment at the end when Hal and Sinestro report back to their evil overlord Superman, and his almost ambiguous response to their news makes you wonder what he’s really thinking. The best comic books always engage you in the story at this level.

The Bad

There are a number of troubling aspects in the storytelling and art of “Closing Time”. Not sure if it’s attributable to the fact that so many hands were in the mix, but the first few pages are especially choppy: a lot of exposition needs to get done quickly, but we’re bouncing around as if the story is full of air pockets on the way to getting us to the landing point. There’s an especially weird transition from page three to four where I have no idea why it should matter that it’s a day later since we haven’t changed characters or locations and the action feels like it wants to be contiguous. I have a feeling that “

The Following Night” header should have gone onto page five, which is an entirely new scene and which is, without it, a jarring transition. Maybe editor Aniz Ansari missed this? Another weird moment in the art is when Gordon follows the mystery woman into the Botanical Gardens. She’s only shown from the back and she’s got long red hair. Is it a deliberate red herring (Poison Ivy?), or just an error (the character actually has short red hair). Finally, the story just turns on a dime (perhaps the fault of too much compression?). The transitions just all feel off. What saves it is the coherency of its theme on closure and the emotions of Babs and her dad.

Also: I really miss Nightwing. Not only in Injustice, but in the Batverse altogether.

In “The Ur-Forge: an Untold Injustice Tale”, the only nitpick I have is that even though I like the jewel-tones and they work for the most part, some of the coloring is kind of garish and hard on the eyes. When you have a big bright red monster fighting a bright green guy and a bright yellow guy for a giant glowing yellow weapon-maker–and there are all kinds of eldritch pyrotechnics going on around them–it sometimes gets to be a bit too much.

Was Sinestro kidding about breakfast? Does Sinestro kid? I honestly found that line bizarre.

The Ugly

Is it weird to read a story so far out of the current continuity? On the one hand it’s great to go back and see all the characters you know you will not be seeing again, but on the other hand it feels a little cruel. Can we get more “untold tales from Injustice”? I would totally buy them. It’s also a bit unfortunate that this was released after the initial Digital First of Year Three. I think it would have been better timing to squeeze it in between, but maybe there were factors that precluded this.

Recommended If…

  • You want more support for Hal’s turn to the dark side.
  • You’re a big fan of Oracle.
  • You want to whet your appetite for a new arc featuring Poison Ivy.

Overall

You might feel like you have already mentally moved on into Year Three, but you won’t want to miss these twin tales untold. While the “Closing Time” Resistance story is more about closure and tying off some loose ends you may not have realized were dangling, “The Ur-Forge: an Untold Injustice Tale” does deepen our understanding of the tenuous and excruciating relationship between Hal Jordan and Thaal Sinestro.

SCORE: 8.5/10