Tom Taylor likes to play with our emotions.

We know this.

He’s killed off untold favorites since the dawn of Injustice: ripping our hearts out with every distress-filled death since Lois Lane was taken out by a narcotized Superman in the very first issue. So it should come as no surprise (though still may be some disappointment) for fans to read this book wherein Plastic Man breaches the Phantom Zone in a search and rescue attempt of the Teen Titans only for it to go horrifically wrong.

Digital Firsts 37 & 38: “Zod Unleashed” dangles hope and happy reunions in front of our face only to snatch them away again (I can almost hear the creative team’s maniacal laughter). And in the meantime introduces us to more curiosities in the land of the lost.

Like Imperiex.

He’s been trapped her for at least a decade by my calculations

It’s fun to find some old somewhat forgotten Superman villains in the Zone! And the device of having Plastic Man stretch through the boundary, tethered to the outside in order to be able to escape again works both in a practical fashion but also as a comedic point (the stretching can only go so far, ultimately). There’s also a fun reunion between Plas and the Titans who have been trapped here practically since the beginning, but are ready to join the fight.

Unfortunately, those long-lost and mostly forgotten Superman villains include one very outraged Zod, who does not hesitate to make things very very messy. He not only manages to exploit Plastic Man’s thread to the outside world, but emerges none-too-pleased to find a welcome committee on the other side.

So just as Batman and Robin are about to become a team again, the fickle fangs of fate snatch the possibility quite literally out of Batman’s hand.

Against Zod, the Bat Team puts up a good fight. Oliver even brings a bit of the little green poison to the fray, but it’s not quite enough to keep Zod from running roughshod over our crew, who are outmatched and overpowered. In the end it’s Batman who once again suffers the biggest loss, and this time the vengeance he appears to be turning toward seems somehow darker than ever before.

Maybe this is it: the moment in which Batman finally just gives in and starts taking off heads. It certainly seems a high possibility at this point.

I will say that I didn’t like the final panel in this book. I like the confrontation well enough and it’s rendered nicely (who doesn’t love scary bats?). But the final line with the asterisked curse word felt kind of cheap and silly. It undercut the emotion for me and is the kind of too-cool-for-school quip I would have expected in a really bad action movie, not a quality comic book. And certainly not out of the mouth of Batman himself.

The Kents vs. Zod: this goes about as well as you’d expect

Daniel Sampere goes all-out with the action throughout this book. Everything from Plas’ romp through the Phantom Zone to the knock-down drag-out with Zod ripples with great energy and even some implausible aspects of the battle are easily brushed aside just because the choreography and the panel composition pushes you forward rather than letting you dwell too much on where all the individual players are and what they’re doing at a given time. There’s great close-ups, too, of key moments in the battle so that we can see how the characters feel about what’s happening.

Too often there’s too many wide angles and the emotional impact gets lost in the explosions and big sweeping punches, but Taylor’s script and Sampere’s rendering always reminds us that the fight is personal. I do feel like the overall Injustice design for Zod is a bit lacklustre, especially since he looks nothing like the video game version (which is peculiar). It’s a minor point and perhaps he will evolve, but the red and blue felt like a strange and slightly confusing choice to me. It draws attention to the fact that Zod and Superman are basically the same angry Kryptonian murderer at this juncture in the story.

Maybe that’s the point after all.

Recommended If…

  • Reunions! And not the good kind!
  • You can’t get enough of the Phantom Zone and all of its possibilities.
  • Some crazy Zod action and kryptonite weaponry with the promise of more to come!

Overall

Tom Taylor doesn’t waste time getting sentimental: he just drops nice things in and then rips them out again as Batman’s plan to liberate the Teen Titans from the Phantom Zone doesn’t quite go to plan. This time we have Zod to blame and the Batman team are culpable as well since they’re the ones who have unwittingly released him. What Zod intends to do with his newfound freedom is up for grabs, but after the tragic events of this book, Batman is sure to dog him every inch of the way!

SCORE: 8.5/10