Because in February, the main story for the game was widely revealed via the tie-in comic. In order to drive Superman insane, Lois Lane and her unborn child were killed. This began the war between heroes, with Wonder Woman lurking around to pick up Lois' sloppy seconds. The whole thing struck me as an incredibly gross, pertinent example of how women are sacrificed for the sake of men in mainstream comics literature. The plot was so widely reviled (and poorly justified), I didn't even think to write about it. Probably, I was just so tired of commenting on the fridging problem over and over, I didn't see the use in clacking away at my keyboard.
But a new development this week shoots me straight to my laptop now. A few days ago, Batgirl was revealed as a downloadable character within Injustice, via the following backstory video:
However, DC keeps bringing the incident up. Over and over and over again. And that makes me suspicious. Now, in some cases, I think Babs' memories of her attack and her attacker are worth dramatic examination (see: Gail Simone's current run on Batgirl, which allows room for Babs to confront her personal nightmares). But to put it front and center as a motivator for a video game-ish, round 1-2-3 fight? That's cheap. And unnecessary. There's already more than enough violence going on in that world. Do we need more vengeance? Especially when Ms. Gordon has already tangoed with the Joker multiple times in multiple books. (My favorite scene was brought to you by Chuck Dixon; he has Barbara kill the Joker with words alone.)
This probably all sounds hypocritical, given that I love superhero books, all of which contain violence in some form or another. The funny books started as madcap cartoon strips, after all. But they boomed once they became power fantasies. Like Superman tossing wife-beaters across rooms, like Batman slinking around at night without suffering the consequences during the day, like Wonder Woman conquering man's world with nothing but a lasso and a LOT of innuendo. That stuff is fun, but since the power plays have been going on for so long, I think it's worth examining how much violence plays into them. When someone takes something away -- a beloved character, for example -- do we reevaluate its value? Do we ponder the consequences? Or do we just spend the money, take what we're given, and lower expectations later?
Injustice: Gods Among Us has proven pretty popular. I haven't played it. I don't know if I will. In real life, I'm a pacifist. When I read, I often accept violence. Why is that? ... I can immediately tell you why I think violence doesn't often work in superhero books:
1) So much flights and tights stuff revolves around bank-robbing and bomb-planting. This often makes the caped crusader involved reactive, instead of active. He/she responds with fists first, and considered action later. Such a formula makes plot a dirty word in comic books; it makes plot seem like it has nothing to do with character growth. Problems are only there to be solved, and any punch thrown is meaningless, i.e., it costs the hero nothing. Which leads to my next issue ...
2) It's very hard to make the cost of violence clear, when it's splashed on twenty of twenty-two pages. When I'm told Daredevil's ribs are breaking in the recent Daredevil issue 25, I have a hard time believing it. Sure, the fight is more brutal pictorially than any other in the title so far. However, in the last volume of Daredevil, Matt Murdock endured such a huge number of beatings, I have a hard time hanging stakes on anything that physically happens to him ANY time I watch him take a pounding.
3) Extreme violence is a big problem in comic books, one that makes the actual storytelling in comics pale in comparison. I feel like it keeps me writing stuff like this.
Now as to why violence can work within a story, outside of examining victimization and goosing tension in some way? I look to musical theatre/movies for the answer. Stick with me on this. When you watch Fred Astaire dance with Ginger Rogers in that gazebo scene from "Top Hat," you're actually watching their entire courtship happen before your eyes. You're watching love emerge in "Singin' In the Rain," when Gene Kelly walks home from a date. When Audrey Hepburn goes nuts in that weirdo Beatnik scene in "Funny Face," she's communicating her anger to her unhip partner. She's translating her emotions into something more meaningful.
I think violence can offer that translation. I think in the best comics, violence is the representation of a deeper conceptual conflict. Let's take a for example. One of my absolute favorite Superman stories is Darwyn Cooke's Superman: Kryptonite! Cooke took an old, old idea -- Superman's first discovery of kryptonite -- and flipped the script. In Cooke's world, when Superman doesn't know what could kill him, EVERYTHING could kill him. Unlike the rest of humanity, he doesn't have the security of knowing his own pain receptors. It not only separates him from people he loves (like Lois), it keeps him constantly vigilant, constantly on guard. Once he's exposed to kryptonite, he gets the tar beat out of him by common street thugs. The images involved are brutal, as are the images of him struggling to escape a volcano for fear of death, earlier in the series. But there's a purpose to all this. Every hit Superman took before discovering kryptonite, he was afraid; we see his fear escalate over the course of the story. Each bout sends us on a journey. We reach our destination when he realizes a bit of rock is his weakness. Watching him identify his vulnerability and manage it (through some punches, it must be said) is the purpose of the story, and it allows him to feel human. It allows him to ask Lois out as Clark, not as the strongman. It allows us to learn something about Superman, and about ourselves as human beings.
Take this another way. Violence is part of the human experience. Most myths, in fact, involve violence -- use it to create translation, to come to an understanding. Daphne prays to be turned into a tree so Apollo will stop chasing her. King Arthur's legend revolves around violent retribution, the endpoint of which is the destruction of his own legend. Grimm's fairy tales include a horrifying eye-gouging in Cinderella! Every society has creation and destruction stories. Violence can be well-used from a dramatic standpoint, but using it as a way to trump up motivation is the laziest way to employ it. It can be used to transform both ourselves and characters, like it was with Barbara Gordon. But going back to that violence well in a new medium without changing the story, that's irresponsible. It's not worthy of us. And it's not worthy of our Ms. Gordon.