The collected issue of Digital Firsts 13 & 14, “Strength of Hercules” and “The Old and the New” brings Shazam back to upset a tentative power balance between Superman’s cranky band of dictators and the gods themselves. Don’t expect it to last, though (nothing in Injustice ever does). Brian Buccellato had a whole lot of dishes in the air with this book right now: the gods, the standing war among the mortals themselves, and lots of personal grudges.

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Justice for Huntress?

Between the Batwoman vs. Wonder Woman battle and the Batman vs. Damian battle, and with Superman and Batman in a very dark place of antagonism, it’s a wonder any of these people can organize or make rational choices at all.

The Good

Who doesn’t want to see Batman and Son get into a brawl? It’s been coming for three years now and we’ve finally arrived? How will it end? You can probably guess, but that won’t make it any less satisfying. I love, too, that Damian has aged along with the story (just as he’s shown in the game to be “full-grown”). Since characters so rarely age in comic books at a pace that would ever be perceptible (or just at all), it’s been interesting to track Damian from a spindly teenager toward adulthood.

Other story points that are sure to please: the return of Shazam from lock-up in the “Arrow Cave”, where Billy Batson had been captured by Harley Quinn. Part of me is still asking the question: what did she take him for? And part of me feels like it was just an excuse to hold him back out of the action before he was able to escape with the help of Ares. But Ares’ role in this is still so ambiguous (he’s just there to incite war war war, but is he double-crossing Batman? Or is this part of the plan?). I might be overthinking it. I guess I’m hoping there may be another twist coming down the pike.

Meanwhile, for those of you who are fans of the pantheon of gods in the DC world, this issue might bring you some horror: gods can be killed, after all, and one of them does bite the dust.

Despite this being a mixed-artist issue (Brundo Redondo and Juan Albarran on the first half, Xermanico and Tom Derenick on the second), the book matches up wonderfully well. I give a lot of credit to the inkers, Derenick and Albarran because a lot of what distinguishes the art of Injustice is the heavy linework, optimized for digital reading on small devices. Rex Lokus is on colors for both halves, so that also lends to a seamless reading experience. Throughout Year Four, editors David Piña and Jim Chadwick have done a really solid job of keeping the look of the book consistent and that’s been a real treat (after so many somewhat lopsided issues in Year Three).

I also want to specifically praise Derenick’s layouts. His is a perfect example of of using angles effectively to help convey the action (rather than just to change up the levels or point of view). The fight between Batman and Damian especially has a cinematic quality to it.

Spoiler
The final image of Damian crumpled on the ground looking like he’s going to ralf is worth the price of admission right there!

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Damian just can’t help but be petty, can he?

The Bad

If there’s not another twist coming down the pike (see above), then I might be a bit put off. I agree with other readers who have expressed some frustration that the characters are just endlessly pounding on one another and not a whole lot else is happening. There have also been one too many incidents of taking characters to the brink of utter destruction and then calling off the wolves in the 11th hour with 59 minutes and 59 seconds already burned off the clock.

Case in point: last issue Superman was knocked into orbit and seemed like he might be out for a count, but he’s back 8 pages later as if nothing happened. Okay, repowered by the sun and all that, sure, but I can see where the inconsequence of it might frustrate some.

Similar, but perhaps even more head-shaking, is the situation with Wonder Woman. She’s right on the brink of being permanently incapacitated (or maybe even killed!). And then:

Spoiler
Batwoman just lets her go. “You’re not worth it,” Kate Kane says to the most powerful woman on Earth who is a threat in every way to the Resistance and who murdered her dear friend. That’s a lot of build up for nothing. Foo.

The Ugly

I’m not a fan of the cover by Jae Lee and June Chung. Batman appears to have morphed into some kind of starfish and Damian’s wearing pants with a crotch that hangs down to his knees. Also, while we do get a battle between father and son in this issue, I’m really not sure the whole “Batman clobbering Damian with a twisted up car” is really a fair characterization of the action in this book. I admit I’m not a big fan of Lee’s sequential work to begin with, but he has done many covers that I’ve found to be stylish, attractive, and exciting. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of them.

Recommended If…

  • You want to see Bats & Son duke it out. This is a big event!
  • Shazam entering the fray again sounds like a ticket to high-action enjoyment.
  • You need more fodder for your “Superman Kills” folder.

Overall

Maybe it’s fair to say that Injustice has devolved a little into tag-team Wrestlemania, with Team Bats and Team Supes trading off fisticuffs at every encounter. Maybe we’ve lost some of the nuance and plotting finesse that made this series so compelling at the outset. And let’s face it: there’s hardly anyone left to die that would have the impact of killing off someone like Guy Gardner or Dick Grayson. All that said, this is a fun book (more fun, still, than some of DC’s flagship titles–for me anyway). So yeah, I’m going to continue to give it the thumbs up.

SCORE: 7.5/10