I'm not sure how many more times Tom Taylor needs to audition for the main Justice League title — seriously, DC, just give him the damn book already — but Injustice: Year Zero #1 (opens in new tab)-3 might just be the next best thing. Serving as a prequel to the dour and oppressive video game universe (opens in new tab) where Superman became a bloodthirsty fascist, Injustice: Year Zero instead acts as an all-you-can-eat buffet across the DC Universe, covering a surprising amount of ground with engaging characterization and just enough stakes to keep us hooked.
Written by Tom Taylor
Art by Roge Antonio, Cian Tormey, and Rain Beredo
Lettering by Wes Abbott
Published by DC
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
The first two chapters of Injustice: Year Zero feel more like a comprehensive whole than its third installment, but that doesn't make this series any less engaging. Despite Taylor's pedigree with dark high concepts like DCeased (opens in new tab) or the upcoming Dark Ages over at Marvel (opens in new tab), I've never gotten the sense that he's ever been truly comfortable with the grim-and-grittiness that the Injustice games espoused — there's always been a subversive streak of hope to Taylor's other Injustice comics (opens in new tab), but with Year Zero, that winds up feeling like the actual meat of the book.
Even with the threat of the Joker looming quickly in the background, Taylor gives readers a special treat by bringing the Justice League and Justice Society together for a long-overdue reunion — whereas Geoff Johns and Scott Snyder have had the JSA in the context of big event books that haven't necessarily given readers a chance to just marvel at their return, Taylor brings us back to a different era of DC history, with these two legendary super-teams just enjoying each other's company. (Granted, that includes Batman and Wildcat sparring, in one of the book's best moments, while Barry Allen and Jay Garrick get the popcorn ready at superspeed.) But even in the small moments, you see a great sense of scale to this story — even blink-and-you'll-miss-'em cameos from Nightwing, Huntress, and Robin all shine through with characterization.
Of course, the story can't just be about superheroes having good times together, and Taylor does strong work seeding in the impending threat of the Joker — who will wind up eventually tipping the dominoes and leading the DCU into Superman's authoritarian regime. But for now, the Joker feels menacing and malevolent — definitely more violent than, say, the iconic Mark Hamill version — but not at the cost of throwing the tone of the series out of whack. It's when we get to the third issue that the pacing gets a little wonky, but that's due more to DC's release schedule than Taylor's writing — his action sequence featuring Hawkman and Hawkgirl packs plenty of punch, painting the two characters as Nick and Norah (opens in new tab) meets Indiana Jones (opens in new tab), but you can't help but want to know what comes next. As far as critiques go, that ain't bad.
Both artists in this book, Roge Antonio and Cian Tormey, are both underrated gems, united by colorist Rain Beredo, who imbues all three chapters with a wonderful sense of consistency. Antonio sets the bar high with the first two issues of the book, occasionally evoking that Bryan Hitch/Nick Robles solidness to his character designs. (If this guy is angling for a Nightwing book, he's earned it, since even a quick cameo from the former Boy Wonder leaves an impression.) Antonio does terrific work juggling all the various designs of the Justice League and JSA — there's an angularity to his characters that gives his pages some personality, but he's also surprisingly reserved with his shadows and rendering, which makes his artwork really inviting. When you see Batman and Superman talking, they look like genuine friends and true icons — which makes their inevitable falling feel that much sadder and out of reach.
Tormey, meanwhile, goes a bit heavier with his inks, which fits the Joker framing device of the third issue well. He and Taylor are able to tip-toe across that fine line between humor and homicide with the Clown Prince of Crime, with a genuinely funny gag between the Joker and his two henchmen (one an arsonist, one an assassin — you can guess how well that turns out). Once Tormey transitions to the Hawkman and Hawkgirl storyline, however, his style shifts to something evocative of classic Scott McDaniel, very stylized with the rendering and very kinetic when it comes to a sense of motion. He doesn't necessarily get a ton of real estate to pull off his big action sequence with the Hawks, but he punctuates them with these bursts of movement that make the fight stand out way more than it has any right to.
You'd think that given the books Tom Taylor writes, he'd be considered one of the bleakest writers in mainstream comics — but reading books like Injustice: Year Zero would remind you that even the grimmest high concepts can show off some surprisingly heartfelt moments. This book honestly reads better than most Justice League books I've read, in that Taylor is able to juggle a wide cast of characters without sacrificing any of the likability or characterization that made them so popular in the first place, and Antonio and Tormey both pass the baton smoothly to portray some particularly well-done artwork. If I'm being honest, the only Injustice this title evokes is why no one has called Taylor to the flagship title already.