Injustice: Gods Among Us proved Marvel characters aren’t the only spandex-wearing comic book crusaders pliable enough to top-bill a fighting game, and with two installments already killing it, fans want more. With 29 years’ worth of moneymakers under its Johnny Cage belt, Ed Boon’s NetherRealm Studios is an arcade fighting game grandmaster. Boon has cultivated a rich legacy of complex, rated-R fighters with the enduring success of Mortal Kombat, beating out Tekken, Soul Calibur, Virtua Fighter, and Dead or Alive as the only fitting analog to Capcom’s long history of fast-paced 2D PvPs. And now NetherRealm hopes to do the same with Injustice, channeling decades of inexhaustible lore into an entirely new parallel universe of DC characters. The last Injustice game came out in 2017. NetherRealm released Mortal Kombat 11: Ultimate Edition last year and green-lit a live-action Warner Bros. movie that came out recently, but offered zero updates on a third Injustice installment. Entertainment insider Daniel Richtman posits NetherRealm is playing hard to get on purpose, and that Injustice 3 is indeed already in the works.
The first Injustice, aptly taglined Gods Among Us, showcased an evil Superman taking over the planet as its one sovereign, flanked by superpowered villains and heroes that happen to share his autocratic inclinations. Clark Kent shed his moral restraints after the Joker played a cruel “prank” that resulted in Lois Lane’s death; Superman punched a hole through the Clown Prince of Crime’s chest Fatality-style and has only slaughtered more since. The storyline is basically a video game sequel to a slew of comic books released concurrently in 2013; it featured Batman and his struggling band of rebel misfits trying to outwit Superman at every turn, only to lose ad nauseam. Being his longest and most trusted friend, Bruce Wayne initially tries to redeem Clark; when that fails, he resorts to more assaultive measures to take him down, much to the irritation of Superman, who still sees Batman as his very dear friend and the best of his former allies. The first game ends with Batman enlisting the help of the Justice League’s alternate-universe equivalents and the Man of Steel being escorted to his jail cell in kryptonite-imbued chains.
The second game introduces Brainiac to the Injustice universe. His desire to colonize Earth forces Batman to release the Last Son of Krypton (and his One-Earth cohorts) for a temporary alliance, realizing Brainiac couldn’t be defeated without Superman’s assistance. Injustice 2 concludes with another overdue civil war; with Brainiac captured, the two parties scuffle among themselves trying to decide on the best course of action. If the player chooses Superman, Clark Kent reinstates his Regime, restores the cities, eliminates Brainiac, and blackmails Supergirl into potentially defecting from Batman’s side. If the player chooses Batman, Brainiac is kept alive a while longer, Superman is depowered and banished to the Phantom Zone, and Supergirl joins the newly reformed Justice League. The story of Injustice 3 depends largely on whichever ending NetherRealm decides is canon. If Superman wins, the game will probably involve Batman and the Insurgents rising up one more time against the One-Earth Regime. Gods Among Us already did that, however, and NetherRealm isn’t known for repeating old storylines. Mortal Kombat 11 introduced time travel to the franchise, so Injustice 3 is more likely to offer something new.
The Batman ending arguably leads to more options. Darkseid, who was an unlockable playable in Injustice 2, could feature in Injustice 3 as the main villain, finally rousing Superman from his despotic aspirations by serving as his terrifying parallel. This means Injustice 3 could round out an entire trilogy, emphasizing largely on the rise and fall of Superman — his corruption and much-awaited character redemption. Though ending the series on a definitive note would serve Injustice best, story-wise, NetherRealm is unlikely to end their second most lucrative franchise after only three games. There’s nothing more absurd than a video game company throwing in the towel knowing fans are always clamoring for more. Injustice could then function as individual arcs. Superman’s Greek tragedy is one arc, and NetherRealm could come up with others. Unlike Capcom’s “one game, one arc” formula, NetherRealm could settle for one arc per trilogy, once again injecting Mortal Kombat mechanics into DC Comics storylines.
NetherRealm’s Injustice 2 broke records upon release as indefensibly the best fighting game of the last five years. The developers of Mortal Kombat bested Capcom in 2016 and 2017 following the critical failure of Street Fighter V and Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite. NetherRealm is hitting home runs left and right, practically hegemonizing not only fighting games but also box office trends. Simon McQuoid’s live-action reboot of Mortal Kombat is the most successful launch item in HBO Max’s short history, with fans praising the casting choices, set design, special effects, costumes, and fight choreography. We don’t see Hollywood making any Street Fighter movies anytime soon, and Marvel’s growing ascendancy has less to do with Capcom and more to do with Disney’s stellar management and astute creative choices. But with Injustice, Capcom’s Marvel games finally have a worthy rival. Injustice 3 may just be the most hotly anticipated sequel to a fighting game there is, next to Street Fighter VI and a vastly improved successor to the Marvel vs Capcom franchise.