Imagine you’re an ordinary person in the DC Universe. Your world is a scary place, buffeted by bizarre forces you barely comprehend and constantly threatened by extraterrestrial megalomaniacs. The only thing that stops your emotional landscape from becoming a whirlpool of existential terror is the knowledge that you’re ultimately being protected by the moral paragons over at the Justice League. Sure, Superman sometimes goes a bit evil but that’s probably just Kryptonite poisoning, and if things get really bad maybe the Sandman can organise a massive sleepover to bend reality back into the right shape. There’s a MLK saying Superman scribe Elliot S. Maggin seemed very fond of, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”, which applies particularly well to the DCU.
Anyone who believes that in the world of Injustice: Gods Among Us is headed for a breakdown. This prequel comic to some fighting game I’ve never played applies Murphy’s Law to the Justice League in the most heartbreaking way possible, by showing how Superman becomes determined to enforce world peace after the Joker tricks him into killing his wife and their unborn child, and the dire lengths Batman goes to to oppose his reign. It’s brutal stuff.
Yet somehow the well-written characterisation makes it feel that this dark scenario is possible for these classic characters. I feel that too many modern Superman adaptions darken the character to make him more appealing to the audiences who loved The Dark Knight trilogy, and by that I’m referring to the more recent Zack Snyder films. Going dark misses the point of Superman. While his stories aren’t necessarily childish, they do generally have an optimistic view on humanity. And they’re silly, especially Jimmy Olsen’s bizarre transformations and anything involving bizarro, and that’s really an essential part of what makes Superman fun. Tom Holland understands this, and instead of writing his heartbroken Superman as a Frank Milleresque angstlord, his Superman takes his simplistic and intuitive approach to morality in a horrifically different, tyrannical direction. It’s a believable evolution from his classic persona.
Batman is the same as he ever was. Really, someone as grim as him hardly needs any adaption to the new status quo. Although his butler Alfred really steps up to the plate in this book, beating up evil Superman thanks to the strength he got from a reverse-engineered Kryptonian medical technology. But we didn’t know that at the time, so it was awesome.
You can tell by the way I’m raving on about these books that they had a profound effect on me. Maybe they’ll do something similar to you.