Injustice is a console combat game based on an alternate DC universe where Superman has become a tyrant. This graphic novel prequel picks up five years before that when he’s still happily married to Lois Lane. It’s her death, early in the book, that begins his path, and Tom Taylor’s plot then sets up plenty of chances to pull back or contemplate, and each time Superman escalates his own fate by making the wrong choice. In some places he’s manipulated, sometimes surprisingly easily, but Taylor ensures this is credibly handled, the ultimate decision process Superman’s alone despite provocation and whispers in his ear.

Superman setting himself and sympathetic colleagues up as de facto world rulers doesn’t happen immediately, nor does it occur without opposition, and the figurehead for that opposition is Batman, cleverly drawn as wearing increasing armour as the story continues. In some ways the twelve chapters are a sad spiral of how a friendship disintegrates over ideology, but cleverly written because although Taylor guides our sympathies toward Batman’s view, it’s hardly uncompromised or unstained.

There’s a slightly disjointed feel to content originally produced as a digital comic in weekly instalments for DC’s website. The busy schedule provided work for plenty of artists, with Tom Derenick, Mike S. Miller and Jheremy Raapack between them producing twice as many pages as the other ten or so. The sample page of Metropolis being destroyed in a nuclear explosion is Miller’s work, but all three produce solid superhero layouts, while their liberties with musculature are par for the genre.

While Batman and Superman are the lead characters, a multitude of other DC characters also have roles, some of them given power upgrades, and others destined not to see this story out. To begin with most of the Justice League align with Superman, but there’s a gradual gathering around Batman as the world situation deteriorates. It will occur while reading that DC has several people able to match Superman’s power, and while it’s not obvious at first, Taylor uses most of them, and provides viable reasons why they’ve not appeared earlier in the proceedings. Among these are several surprising encounters. The use of Aquaman is great, Billy Batson’s solo chapter has a resonance, and Alfred might not appear very often, but his moments are telling, along with one beautifully delivered acidic comment. “Staying for tea Master Kent?” he enquires when Superman visits the Batcave. “I’m afraid not Alfred”, replies Superman, “and you don’t have to call me ‘master’”. “Good”, responds Alfred, “let’s remember that”. Not everything gels as intended, but Taylor’s applied a lot of thought to how the cast might align, what their views would be and how this could surprise in the bigger scheme of things. Mirror Master has a fantastic role, and Robin is a provocative presence throughout, but others are lost in the shuffle. Black Lightning, for instance, who’s among those just making up numbers.

This is a world of superheroes, so the likes of Doctor Fate aren’t seen. They are later as Injustice proved an unqualified success, volume one and two appearing before this combined edition, and the story continuing in Year Two. This prequel proved so successful that it’s now also available as a larger format Deluxe Edition, featuring extra process material.