I doubt that DC, or Tom Taylor, the author of this book, could have foreseen the autocracy Trump is trying to make the US when they came up with the concept of Injustice. (And I believe this is a tie-in to a game, so same goes for those who came up with the concept, or wrote for, the game.) Regardless, here we are, with this more timely and meaningful than ever. This rant/review needs a warning. Because, there will be a political rant and a Secret Empire rant, and comparing and contrasting this to Secret Empire, and there will be bitchiness and sassiness.
First, let me tell you why this is a five star review on its own, and would be even if the clusterfuck known as Secret Empire weren't happening. It's not only dystopian future about Superman losing his shit, and turning the whole world into an autocracy, but it's a hell of a lot of fun. This is serious, grave, and just when it gets all too depressing, Tom Taylor throws in a hilarious scene that is not only relevant, but receives the tension enough to make the next horror bearable. It's deftly handled, and while it's mostly Batman as the freedom fighter against Superman's iron fist tactics, there's a lot more going on here. It's not just the humor: there's a breadth to this story, a lot about what freedom means, and how ordinary people see Superman's takeover, that makes it far more than simply another superhero beatdown. The art is, by the way, lovely. It's not one of my favorite artists, and I in fact wasn't fond of some of the art at first, but it not only grew on me, but made me see that there were details that I adored. (To be a favorite, someone has to do something truly original, or spectacular, or both. If it's just original, it has to be competent at least, although the better the art combined with the originality, the better.)
The storyline is compelling, especially now, and seeing people like Batman, and Green Arrow, and even those closer to Superman horrified by Clark Kent's actions is just a brilliant twist of the knife. (Superman is outted as Clark Kent, although he does the outting himself.) When his wife, Lois Lane, and his unborn child are killed, Superman just loses his cool. Completely. To the point that he not only murders The Joker, who was responsible, in retaliation, he also turns on Batman. He accuses Batman as being equally responsible, for not having taken care of - or murdered - The Joker before this happened. Batman should have at least put The Joker away somewhere more secure than Arkham according to Superman.
When Superman determines that he can't lose more, he also decides that no one else can. He wants to save humanity from itself by enforcing peace, and thus forcing it upon everyone. If they can't compromise, he will compromise for them. Wonder Woman is thrilled: she wants that peace, and apparently will accept it at any cost. Batman stands by his position: not only can he not kill anyone, he can't force people to do anything. (The exception is putting people in prison, but they are taken in, and then he allows them their day in court. He doesn't believe he should take matters into his own, and he doesn't believe the Justice League should act as judges, juries, and executioners, either.) From here on out, the Justice League is divided, and it's small moments, when they choose to comprise, or fight, and how that makes this so worthwhile.
I should note that while this isn't original, it's not because of Secret Empire. This is all kinds of shades of Kingdom Come, except that was depressing as shit for me. This was far more fun, and made more of an impact on me. (There's also a reference to a specific Batman storyline that stunned me, because of how brutal and unexpected it was, to be honest. And then that happened, and I was smirking in amusement again.)
Now the political/Secret Empire rant, and the comparing and contrasting. Secret Empire would have you believe that a superhero fight against fascism kinda had to be done this way to show the way that fascism can only really be shown with Captain America becoming a Hydra agent because it's the only way to show the slow creep of normalization for this. Um, no, let me tell you: this did so, in the way that people in the graphic novel cheered for Superman, without creating that kind of controversy. Marvel, I believe, did so only to get said controversy.
Nick Spencer argues that if a symbol is static, something, something, badness. So, here's the thing: Superman is the apple-pie, good ol' American boy that Captain America is. DC, and Tom Taylor, changed him - without changing what he stood for. And all the arguments about Kirby creating him that way, etc, etc? It's not that I don't believe that Kirby would have been a bit horrified, but who knows? I can't tell with Kirby being dead. What I do know is that Marvel created a symbol that meant something to their audience, and especially to a segment of their audience who had been through a combined trauma a couple generations ago. They can't force the audience, or those who are still dealing with what that trauma meant to their family, to change the way they perceived that symbol. I think the problem is that they thought they could, and that people would simply accept that, and they didn't. Superman didn't cause that level of controversy in Injustice because DC didn't want to manufacture outrage, and so they came up with a plausible way to turn Superman into a fascist without trampling on the way that people viewed Superman.
This also doesn't deal with the specifics of the Trump era - the misogyny and racism - but it didn't pit minorities against each other the way that the reaction to Secret Empire did. (You either were on board, or hated that minorities were fighting fascists. And again, the Jews are blamed for their own trauma that happened in the Holocaust, and reacting to a symbol of hope during the Holocaust and afterwards being used as a fascist to make a point.) I can be a Jew, feel that trauma, and want to read a book that has minorities - not my people, but other minorities - fighting fascism. I don't want to read this particular book because I don't want to relieve decades worth of nightmares. But, thanks, great, what Nick Spencer has done has made my emotional and mental safety mean less to some people than the message. And while I hate Secret Empire, people who read it love it, and good for them. I can't.
I may try to get to some Pymtron and Vision panels eventually, but it's doubtful I'll even read whole issues.
What's really startling, though, is that DC managed to get the same general message across, without the same outcry. They cared more about telling the story than about manufacturing clickbait articles to cause sales. And they did so well enough that Injustice is, I believe, in its fifth year. If the sales weren't good enough, I'm sure DC would drop this title, and yet here we are. DC outdid Marvel, before Marvel even tried, and perhaps if Marvel stopped, took a look at this, and how it was done, and did the same, they'd be better off for this.
But Marvel doesn't, because they're sure they're doing it right and if they do enough events, people will see this. Good luck to them, but, damn, I wish they'd take a page from DC's playbook!