Injustice: Year Zero’s first three issues make for a confusing and muddled debut. Set a year before writer Tom Taylor’s original run on the wildly popular Injustice: Gods Among Us, the digital-first series introduces the Injustice universe incarnation of beloved World War 2 superhero team: the Justice Society of America.
These heroes give the series a split identity of reaching for the warm nostalgia of more heroic days gone by while also responding to the rise of real-world fascism in the years since Gods Among Us first debuted. The latter goal likely fueled by the use of fascist and totalitarian imagery and beliefs within Superman’s regime. Unfortunately, neither direction feels particularly well-realized and leads to an unsatisfying beginning for the title.
The world of Injustice, for those unaware, follows an alternate DC Earth where Superman became a nightmarish dictator and ruled the world with an iron fist. Initially launching as supplemental material to the Injustice video game from Netherrealm Studios, Taylor, along with artists including Bruno Redondo (currently working with Taylor on Suicide Squad) and Mike S. Miller (since tied to the hate group known as C****$g@te) turned the seeming cash-in into a juggernaut both in sales and critical acclaim. Injustice has become synonymous with DC’s most beloved alternate realities. Taylor himself quickly rose to become one of the most successful writers in superhero comics with multiple top-selling titles to his name.
Year Zero opens on Batman, in the present day, speculating on what things could have been if the JSA were around to “inspire” the heroes of their world. This specific choice of words is a rough note to start on, as DC’s tendency to lionize the JSA era of heroes without addressing their age’s genuine societal problems is an increasingly glaring issue. Year Zero includes Amazing-Man and a female Doctor Fate, Izma, in a laudable attempt to add more diversity to the overwhelmingly white male-dominated team. However, outside of these additions, no attempts are made to portray the veteran heroes as anything other than celebrated icons and inspirational figures.
The bulk of focus within the trio of issues lands on two plotlines: a JSA/JLA party celebrating the Society on the Justice League’s satellite headquarters with the two generations of heroes bonding, and the escape of an elderly Blackgate Prison Inmate, Andre Chavard at the hands of The Joker and Harley Quinn.
The celebration between the two teams is a fun enough affair. Taylor has earned a reputation for snappy dialogue and character beats, and those skills are readily on display here. Roge Antonio’s art is a charming balance of scratchy kinetic energy and emotion, lending weight to moments like a Batman/Wildcat sparring match that helps bring the issue together. Superman and Batman discuss legacies, while the JSA endorses Superman as a beacon of hope in a scene that feels more designed as a wink to fans of the previous series than anything contributing to the story. Ultimately, the celebration remains too-similar to the dozens of other similar gatherings over the years and, while cute, doesn’t feel particularly exciting or fresh.
In a similar vein, the Joker and Chavard plotline doesn’t do anything new with its over-used clown of a villainous lead. Joker’s violent antics and manic nature feel like something seen before countless times over. To his credit, Taylor does have a few genuinely funny gags for the Clown Prince of Crime, which is more than most modern depictions can boat. Chavard’s tale, the days of his youth in World War 2 and the discovery of an ancient amulet playing host to Apophis, the Egyptian god of chaos, is a clear indicator of where the plot is heading. Unfortunately, Joker, with a mad god’s power, is as well-worn and stale as any of the other concepts present in Injustice: Year Zero and does little to entice readers into picking up the next issue.
While certainly not bad, Year Zero‘s debut leaves me with one question above all else: why does this exist? Injustice has been thoroughly explored across multiple series and two video games. Despite its fan-favorite status, it is not a world that is crying out for more stories.
The use of the JSA and dialogue directly calling out the rise of fascism (as well as a gorgeous cover from J. Totino Tedesco sporting Amazing-Man decking Adolf Hitler with a punch) point towards the title being a commentary on our modern world, but it has done nothing with it. Even the prequel nature seems unnecessary, with multiple flashbacks and past storylines in Taylor’s initial Gods Among Us run spotlighting the events that led to Superman’s rise to power in great detail.
Injustice: Gods Among Us bucked expectations and surprised readers with deft storytelling and meaningful character beats. Year Zero feels closer to the rote video game tie-in that many expected the original series to be. Given Taylor’s history of spinning straw into gold, the chance is there that he will turn the story around and provide a meaningful mission statement and direction for the title. But going off of these three debut issues, it is far less of a guaranteed thing than one would hope.