Injustice went on hiatus at the conclusion of Year Four in October, but this month we got a belated Christmas present (or early New Year’s gift) in the form the Year Four Annual, which brings Tom Taylor back as the writer of a tale that sets up the forward action of Year Five!  Note: Year Five actually launched digitally two weeks ago, but reading this out of contiguous order won’t ruin your enjoyment.

Truth is, with an Annual that’s this much fun, I’m not only glad we got it, but even more so that it’s directly related to the ongoing action and not just a couple of side stories as we received in past annuals. And if you’re only picking up the floppies anyway, there’s absolutely no foul with regard to the release order.

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This callback to pre-Injustice Times is rather bittersweet

The Year Four Annual offers us a tale that puts in motion the arc-to-come. What’s most refreshing is that we get a break from the gods and demons we’ve been dealing with for the last two Years, and return to more grounded adversaries a lot closer to our primary characters.

Unexpected Guests

There was a good amount of effort, it seems, last week to not spoil the primary guest star of this book. “Guest” is too diminutive, actually; he’s the star, with Superman, Batman, and all the series regulars taking a far back seat in what is essentially a prison break-out story that will bring back all the villains who, up until now, have been deep under the ocean in “The Trench”. I’m so late getting this posted, I don’t think anyone will mind if I spoil it, though. Otherwise, I’d have to drop the whole thing under a cut anyway.

Plastic Man technically hasn’t appeared in this series (though he was in a crowd shot of the “alternate” outcome fantasy that Superman had back in Year Three). And from the looks of it, he would have been perfectly happy to stay out of the fray if only his young son and would-be-anarchist wasn’t “arrested” after a terroristic act of blowing up a superman statue in protest. This brings Pat O’Brian out of hiding. When initial attempts to negotiate with former Justice Leaguers fails (which it does, spectacularly), Plastic Man takes matters into his very versatile hands, imitating The Flash to gain access to information as to his son’s whereabouts and then descending into the Trench to not only rescue hs boy, but do some terroristic damage himself; including liberating the dozens of supervillains who are being kept there under Metamoro’s watchful eye.

The ensuing break is pure classic Taylor from Injustice’s early days: a little humor, a lot of dramatic tension, and characters you genuinely like (and fear for!). And probably my favorite thing about this book overall: it doesn’t end the way you would expect. Injustice has gotten a little predictable this last year and a half, but this story may surprise you!

Three is Not a Crowd

The art talents of Bruno Redondo, Sergio Sandoval, and Jordi Tarragona combine to tell a story that’s seamless and stunning. Part of why it works is that Redondo did the entire book of layouts and Sandoval and Tarragona assisted with inks and finishes, so there’s a wonderful consistency of character and gesture throughout. It also helps that series regulars Rex Lokus and Wes Abbott provide colors and letters (respectively) across all the pages, again, tying it all together.

And the images just shine. This team outdoes itself in every respect from Sinestro’s looks of disdain and Plastic Man’s broad goofy face-pulls, to the rather complex visuals of the inmates’ escape. There’s big action on almost every page and yet still room for quieter, more subtle moments like a brief flashback in which Plastic Man’s son reflects on a complicated childhood (nicely spot-colored by Lokus, who otherwise leaves the memory gray).

There’s so much to look at in this book, you’re want to read it twice at least: once just to examine the fluid visuals, try to pick your favorite villains out of the crowds, and to appreciate that character development is as much about looks and gestures as it is about the words.

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You don’t even need words to know what’s going on in this moment

But 300 Might Be

I feel it’s almost a sacrilege to proffer a quibble given how entertaining and well-put-together this book is, so don’t consider this a quibble, but a question instead.

The “villains” in this story stretch across all the superhero worlds which means you have, in this same prison, people like Bane and Killiwog. The original premise of Injustice was that a formula was developed to give everyone superpowers, but that sort of fell by the wayside since the end of Year Two. The whole point of that formula was to even the odds and make ordinary mortal characters (Bane) equal to the superhuman characters (Killiwog).

Hopefully we’ll get back to that essential premise because now that the villains are somewhat united (though we’re not sure to what degree) by their mutual disapproval of Superman, we need that playing field leveled again if we’re to take any show of force seriously.

Also, things look like they could be very complicated with this motley crew. “Villains”, after all, refers to anyone who opposed Superman originally, so former heroes and actual villains alike are mixed up together now in much the same way Sinestro is now on Team Supes and Harley is on Team Bats.  And while it remains to be seen what this new crew’s relationship will be to Batman, they are de facto on his side just for opposing Superman. But can Batman control them?

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It’s the return of the Lanterns!

Recommended If…

  • You want an Injustice story that’s nearly one-and-done and focuses on something other than Batman and Superman for a change.
  • You’ve missed Tom Taylor at the reins of this series.
  • You’re new to the Injustice world and want to get a jump on Year Five.

Overall

The wonderful cover by Bruno Redondo is a bit misleading, but Year Five is going to have a stellar storyline based on this set-up and you won’t be disappointed. If the gods and monsters of the last year and a half jaded you a little on what this book has to offer, I can’t encourage you more to pick up this Annual and see if you might not be tempted to dip a toe back into the proverbial Injustice pool.

SCORE: 9.5/10