The final year begins.
DC didn’t necessarily do Injustice: Year Five any favors by relying on the Year Four Annual as a prologue. For one thing, that issue so essential to the reading experience that it really should have been called “Injustice: Year Five #1.” For another, Tom Taylor’s brief return set a high bar for the final volume that the series is going to be hard-pressed to match. This issue issue is a perfectly enjoyable read, but it doesn’t quite continue the momentum of the annual.
The annual set the stage for Year Five as a certain hero’s prison break caused hundreds of incarcerated super-criminals to be unleashed on the world again. With years of hard work undone in an instant, Superman and his allies in the Regime have no choice but to round them up their prisoners all over again. And naturally, Batman has his own ideas for how to take advantage of this new chaos. Thus, the central conflict for Year Five is established.
This initial setup isn’t necessarily as sweeping or dramatic as the conflicts in past volumes, but it does help the series re-focus and renew its attention on the rivalry between Superman and Batman. Where writer Brian Buccellato is most successful in this first issue is highlighting the precarious state both men find themselves in as Year Five dawns. Superman is closer than ever to becoming the full-blown tyrant he is in the game, yet in some ways his frustration over having four years of hard work demolished in one fell swoop makes him sympathetic. At the very least, the reader can understand why the fallen hero would double down on the whole fascism thing. As for Batman, he’s painted as an increasingly desperate man eager to press this latest advantage before he loses all hope of bringing Superman to justice.
There’s a balance to the story and the characterization that has and continues to elevate the comic over the source material. The conflict isn’t as black and white as it is in the game. Appropriately, Buccellato focuses a lot of attention on the more morally ambiguous DC villains (the Flash Rogues, Killer Frost) as he sets the stage for the battles to come. The Flash Rogues scene alone is easily one of the strongest Buccellato has written since taking the reins of Injustice.
That said, this issue still feels like a bit of a letdown after the excellent Year Four Annual. Taylor’s Injustice work has an effortless flow and charm about it that hasn’t been easy to replicate in his absence. The humor level is certainly diminished in this issue. Perhaps once the central protagonist from the annual comes back into the picture that will change.
Series regular Mike S. Miller returns to kick off the series in the first chapter, with Iban Coello tackling the second chapter. While Bruno Rendondo’s work remains the gold standard for the book, Miller is certainly no slouch. His expressive facial work comes in very handy across many scenes as Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman deal with their respective hardships. Miller’s pages do feel a bit cramped at times due to his reliance on short, wide panels, but that’s due in part to the way the print version sandwiches two digital pages together. Coello’s pages open up a bit more, and he renders an impressive dynamic and brutal clash between Superman and Doomsday.