The collected issue of Digital Firsts 15 & 16, “Exile” and “God of War” develops the intrigues between gods and mortals and provides some background on Ares, including insight as to why he is playing both sides (aside from just the sheer love of creating chaos through war).

The Good

There’s a lot that happens in this book, which is great because the story felt like it was stalling out on matched fights for a while there. We finally see a conclusion to the confrontation between the superheroes and the gods on the steps of the Hall of Justice. We also get to see Lex Luthor mediating his schemes behind the scenes. There are a lot of alternating allegiances happening in these pages and some readers might find these switchoffs to be unmotivated, sudden, confusing, or various other unflattering adjectives that insinuate that the book has gone off the rails, but I a reminded that we’re looking at a story that, from the start, has made a lot of leaps in time as well as huge compressions in order to keep things moving. Is it a flaw of the storytelling? I don’t feel like it’s a huge detriment to the action or the entertainment of the series. Frankly, I prefer that it moves quick than just focuses on the action, so this was a welcome change of pace from people just wailing on one another for 22 pages.

I also like that Ares was given a more personal motive for involving himself in all of this: it raises the stakes for all sides.

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And Harley Quinn plays with  fire–think she might get burned?

And speaking of stakes, we had a major character death in this issue–one that surprised me so much I had to keep flipping back wondering “did that just happen?”

Spoiler
Yes, Harley Quinn just ate a thunderbolt. If that really did just happen and she wasn’t merely zapped into another dimension then Buccellato might be straying from what we know in the game (where Harley is very much alive). And if all bets are off as far as Year Five is represented in the game, maybe there are other big surprises yet in store!

The Bruno Redondo and Juan Albarran team of the first half of the book is well-matched with Tom Derenick on art in the second half; the inks are very similar and the panel composition is shares a layout sensibility that helps create a seamless continuity.

Derenick especially does a good job of handling the lengthy Ares war narrative, providing a panorama of battles (old and new) throughout time, which leads into a flashback that provides some interesting background on Ares’ relationship to Zeus and Hera. Under Derenick’s pen (or, more likely, stylus) Zeus looks pretty formidable for a guy in robes and sandals. Redondo’s Zeus is similarly powerful, particularly in a close-up where we see a wicked glint in his eye, but something about the costume design for the present-story Zeus perhaps feels a little softer.

But Redondo’s work is still full of interesting details, like Superman’s craggy face: he came back from being punched out into the atmosphere, but he’s clearly not 100% in that moment. Also really love the downward shot of Sinestro laying in the street surrounded by cars and pedestrians: just nice cinematic moments in which you can almost feel the camera pan. This shot is also echoed nicely as our heroes abandon the Hall of Justice.

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Ares gives us a slideshow crash course in War 101

Lastly, but definitely not least: Neil Googe and Rex Lokus turn in another awesome cover this round. Okay, the designs are a little strange and the composition begs the question where Superman’s allegiances lie, but it’s still beautifully rendered and gloriously colored. I especially like how Lokus fogs in the characters in the foreground. It’s subtle, but a nice detail that provides depth and a hint of mystery.

The Not Great

As mentioned above, there’s a lot of movement in the plot all of the sudden and some readers may get whiplash with some of the shifting allegiances. I was especially surprised to find Wonder Woman returned to Themyscira (and in whose company!). This raises a lot of questions for me that I doubt Buccellato has time to answer as we wind down Year Four. Some may find that frustrating.

Recommended If…

  • You like stories about the gods; their relationships and interactions. This book features Ares heavily.
  • You want to see the standoff at the Hall of Justice finally come to a close.
  • You’re one of those people who have character-fatigue for a certain someone and would revel in watching them get bumped off (see my spoiler above).

Overall

Last issue I was conceding that Injustice had maybe lost its plotting mojo, but this issue brings the storytelling back to the foreground and crams in a bevy of character interactions that are definitely buzzworthy, even if some might find them perplexing. We also get up close and personal with Ares and Buccellato does a nice job encapsulating the causes of war throughout humankind down through the centuries. Come for the philosophy and also the great artwork: Redondo and Derenick don’t disappoint!

SCORE: 8/10