Small details in Injustice 2 only true fans noticed

Injustice 2 is more than just a fighting game. It is, like Injustice: Gods Among Us before it, a full-on love letter to everything that makes the DC Comics universe great. Sure, the main storyline might focus on a Superman who's turned bad, flying in the face of nearly 80 years of the Big Blue Boy Scout's history, but don't be fooled: the folks at NetherRealm Studios, where Injustice 2 was developed, are among the biggest DC fans out there.

Every member of the cast, even the uncharacteristically evil ones, feel like their pen-and-paper counterparts. The world's surprisingly deep lore is like a greatest hits compilation of DC's long and storied history, with elements from different eras blended together into one fresh, seamless whole. And then there are, of course, all those Easter eggs and other references—the small details which you may not pick up on your first, second, or 50th time playing the game, but which make Injustice 2 feel like one of the deepest, richest DC Comics experiences ever put on a console. Don't be put off by the post-apocalyptic setting: NetherRealm loves DC just as much as you do. Maybe even more.

Supermen of all eras

If you want to understand just how packed Injustice 2 is with DC Comics trivia, look no further than the Metropolis stage, which effortlessly combines elements from practically every decade of the Man of Steel's long and storied history into one cohesive whole.

Like many of Injustice 2's levels, Metropolis is split into two parts. The first is the Ace O' Clubs bar, where the establishment's proprietor, Bibbo Bibbowski, watches from behind the bar as the world's finest duke it out right in front of him. That's a pretty deep cut. Bibbo, Superman's number one fan, and the Ace O' Clubs tavern were a big part of the late '80s and early '90s Superman comics, back in the days when Doomsday, ill-advised mullets, and Lex Luthor clones plagued the Last Son of Krypton.

There's more. As a respectable sports bar, the Ace O' Clubs is full of banners celebrating local sports teams, and each one refers to a different piece of Superman lore. The Tigers, for example, were Metropolis' football team in the '90s rom-com Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. The Metropolis University Bulldogs appeared in the Superman prequel series Smallville, while the Meteors are Metropolis' football and baseball teams in pre-Crisis Superman comics. The Metropolis Mammoths, the city's hockey team, has appeared in various pieces of Superman lore over a number of a decades.

Meanwhile, over at Metropolis' Memorial Station, statues pay tribute to the events of the first Injustice game while referencing a number of classic Superman storylines. One sculpture depicts Superman holding Lois Lane in a pose that directly recalls the cover of Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, when Superman wept over Supergirl's lifeless body. In another, Superman holds a massive globe, echoing one of the most memorable scenes in Superman Returns, as well as countless comic book covers from throughout the ages.

Maid of Might

It's not just the levels that are full of small details for fans—Injustice 2's characters are also chock-full of subtle (and not-so-subtle) nods to comic book history in the form of lines of dialogue, various plot elements, and special gear, which players can earn by beating rotating challenges, competing in online multiplayer, or leveling up characters via Injustice 2's story mode.

With over 6,000 lines of dialogue and hundreds of pieces of gear to collect, cataloging every reference in Injustice 2 is practically impossible, but you can get an idea of the game's scope and depth by focusing on one of its new characters, Supergirl. Injustice 2's story mode kicks off with the destruction of Krypton from Kara's point of view, which, in this iteration, is propagated by the villain Brainiac—just like it is in Superman: The Animated Series. One of Supergirl's combos is called "R'E'L," which is the Kryptonian name for Ariella Kent, the Supergirl of the 853rd Century in the DC One Million storyline. Another is called Matrix—in the '90s, Supergirl was actually a protoplasmic life form named Matrix whom Superman rescued from a pocket dimension. One of Supergirl's pieces of gear is called "Linda Lee's Cape," which is a salute to Supergirl's pre-Crisis secret identity.

Even Supergirl's supporting cast appears. When fighting the Red Lantern Atrocitus and his evil feline companion Dex-Starr, Supergirl namedrops her Silver Age pet, Streaky the Supercat. In Injustice 2's story mode, the Flash passes a billboard promoting The Cat Grant Show on WGBS. Not only is Cat Grant Supergirl's mentor on Supergirl (and a longtime Daily Planet employee in the comics), but WGBS is the channel where Clark Kent and Lois Lane worked as news anchors back in the '70s.

That's only the tip of the iceberg, and we're only talking about one character. Every single member of Injustice 2's cast has received the same level of care and attention, and with almost 30 characters on the roster (so far), fans will likely be discovering Easter eggs for years to come.

Return to the Burtonverse

Most members of Injustice 2's roster haven't made their way to movie theaters quite yet (although this fall's Justice League is going to change that). Batman is different. With leading roles in 15 feature films—and counting—in addition to cameo appearances in movies like The LEGO Movie and Suicide Squad, Batman has been one of the world's biggest box office draws since the '40s, and Injustice 2 pays homage to almost every actor who's ever put on the Dark Knight's cape and cowl.

And yet, while Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy is probably the most popular of all of Batman's big-screen adaptations, the folks at NetherRealm Studios seem to be particularly fond of the '90s Batman quadrilogy, which started in 1989 with Tim Burton's Batman (a classic) and ended in 1997 with Batman & Robin (not so much). Not only does Michael Keaton's iconic batsuit get its own, special display case in the Batcave level (check the left side of the stage), but the game is crammed full of nods to Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman & Robin.

During Batman's super move, the Bat of Gotham, the Caped Crusader straps his opponent to a balloon and sends them to the stratosphere, where the Batwing arrives in a shot lifted directly from Tim Burton's first Batman adventure. Occasionally, Catwoman quips, "I feel so much yummier now," which is one of her lines from Batman Returns. After depleting an enemy's life bar, Poison Ivy quotes Batman & Robin, saying, "So many people to kill, so little time," and she taunts Robin by saying "One kiss for luck," just like in the film (sadly, so far there's been no sign of the Bat Credit-Card, although it's early days yet).

Dare to defy

While Batman and Superman are DC's biggest names at the box office, it's Flash and Green Arrow who rule on the small screen. Over the past five years, the CW has transformed from the home of teen dramas like Gossip Girl, Hart of Dixie, and One Tree Hill into a one-stop shop for the adventures of DC's second-tier superheroes, and naturally, Injustice 2 is getting in on some of the action.

If the Flash clears Green Arrow's first life bar in one-on-one combat, the speedster will say, "That's for breaking Felicity's heart." For those not in the know, Felicity Smoak is a character who debuted in Arrow's first season (the name was borrowed from an existing comic book character, but otherwise, the two have very little in common), who helped Team Arrow fight crime with her elite hacking skills. She also spent the better part of two seasons as Oliver Queen's girlfriend and, later, fiancée, although she ultimately dumped the Emerald Archer after he lied to her about having a son (because it's not the CW without a little bit of soapy drama).

In addition, after beating Green Arrow for good, sometimes Flash will tell his on-again, off-again ally that he needs to spend more time on the "salmon ladder," referencing Arrow star Stephen Amell's impressive on-screen workout routine. Occasionally, Flash will also tell both both Green Arrow and Supergirl—who also has her own CW show—that they should "cross over," just like the three shows do every year on television.

Fight for the future

The CW's Legends of Tomorrow, which features a team of DC's second-tier heroes and villains as they travel through time and fight evil, plays an even bigger role in Injustice 2 than its single-hero siblings. After all, with a cast of six or seven team members and a number of notable guest stars, Legends of Tomorrow has more superheroes per minute than almost any other show on TV—and that gives NetherRealm Studios more opportunities than ever to sneak in a few Legends-related Easter eggs.

For example, Flash nemesis Captain Cold, who appeared in both seasons of Legends of Tomorrow, is absolutely brimming with small, off-handed nods to his silver screen counterpart. One of Captain Cold's epic gear items, a souped-up version of his freeze gun, is called "Legendary Tomorrow Cold Gun." When Captain Cold and Black Canary face off, they flirt—"Trying to steal a kiss, Leonard?" Canary asks—referencing the brief romance between Cold and Sara Lance, the Arrowverse's first Black Canary, on Legends of Tomorrow.

Finally, one of Captain Cold's combos is called "Prison Break." That's probably not a coincidence. Before he appeared on The Flash, Captain Cold actor Wentworth Miller rose to fame as Prison Break's co-lead, alongside fellow Flash and Legends of Tomorrow actor Dominic Purcell.

A blast from the past

It's hard to imagine these days, but over the years, DC Comics has published a number of non-superhero comics, and while Injustice 2 is all about the metahumans, a few of DC's retro science fiction and adventure titles snuck into the game as well, although you'll have to look carefully in order to find them. Specifically, the second half of the Gotham City stage takes the fight to the attic in an old, run-down movie theater, where old one-sheets advertise some pulp adventures—a few of which are based on existing DC properties.

Most obviously, the spacefaring hero Adam Strange graces a poster for a fictional film called Mystery in Space, which is the title of one of DC's two long-running science fiction magazines, and the place that Adam Strange called home for about 75 issues (he also appeared via reprints in DC's other sci-fi comic, Strange Tales). The other adventure hero cameo is a little more subtle. One of the posters on the theater wall hawks a movie called Return of the Pharaoh. That's also the name of a 1951 story in DC's Danger Trail, which starred the globetrotting secret agent King Faraday, who later entered DC's superhero continuity as a member of the covert spy agency Checkmate.

A hint of things to come?

Injustice 2 has a huge roster, but even so, there just isn't enough room to include all of DC's characters in the game. In order to help alleviate the pain, NetherRealm Studios stuffed the game's levels full of as many side characters as possible. Two-Face and Solomon Grundy hang in cages in Arkham Asylum. Aquaman's arch-nemesis, Black Manta, attacks during a scene transition. Sometimes, the characters don't even physically appear. During a challenge in Injustice 2's single-player Multiverse, for example, players can call on Suicide Squad's El Diablo, who shoots fire from offscreen.

Still, in some cases, a few players are holding out hope that a few small in-game references will lead to full-fledged appearances of some fan favorite characters down the line. After all, the Teen Titans' Starfire is only mentioned a couple of times during Injustice 2's story mode, but before release NetherRealm announced that the exiled princess will be a part of the game's first round of downloadable content.

As a result, many Injustice 2 players are collecting every reference, no matter how small, to their preferred characters, and presenting them as evidence for upcoming downloadable content. A Multiverse event that name-dropped Zatanna and Constantine convinced some that the latter will be making his big Injustice 2 debut sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, when Joker and Black Adam fight, Joker asks Adam if he's met "that other lightning guy." "With the bamboo hat?" Adam replies. "Yes." That's pretty clearly Mortal Kombat's Raiden, who is voiced by Joker actor Richard Epcar, and who is quite likely going to end up on Injustice 2's final roster—at least if NetherRealm's silhouette-filled teaser is anywhere close to accurate.

Honoring the legacy

Legacy characters are a big part of DC's history—after Crisis on Infinite Earths, Wally West took the Flash mantle from Barry Allen, while Black Canary assumed the identity from her mother, and Batman cycles through a new Robin about once a decade—and Injustice 2 carries this tradition forward. While a number of DC's older characters don't appear directly in the Injustice 2 (in part because many of them are dead in the franchise's canon, although that didn't stop the Joker from joining the game), their legacies live on through their proteges.

When Batman depletes Black Canary's life bar, he quips, "What's Wildcat been teaching you?" throwing shade at Canary's boxing instructor, crusty old Ted Grant. Wildcat also appears in the Ace O' Clubs bar, gracing old fight posters promoting a match between Grant and the tavern's owner, Bibbo Bibbowski. In the Gotham City movie theater, a Kord Industries sign shines through the window—Ted Kord was, of course, the first Blue Beetle, before he passed his scarab on to Injustice 2 star Jaime Reyes. The Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick, is an unlockable skin for the Flash. During Injustice 2's story, Tim Drake abandons the name Robin and calls himself Nightwing, just like Dick Grayson, the first Robin, did years before.

Get over here!

If Injustice and Injustice 2 feel familiar to you, there's a very good reason. NetherRealm Studios creative director Ed Boon co-created the Mortal Kombat franchise, and NetherRealm developed both of Mortal Kombat's latest entries. Given that NetherRealm is the primary force behind both series, its developers couldn't help but sneak a few references to their other big game in Injustice 2.

The most obvious link—for diehard Mortal Kombat fans, anyway—occurs in Injustice 2's story mode. When Cyborg and Catwoman team up to bring Batman's spy satellite, Brother Eye, back online, Catwoman hacks into the machine using the security code LK-4D4. That also happens to be the serial number for Cyrax, an android fighter in the Mortal Kombat universe. Cyrax made his debut in Mortal Kombat 3, in which he was charged with tracking down the ice-powered ninja Sub Zero.

Another Mortal Kombat Easter egg is a little bit harder to find. In Injustice 2's Gotham City stage, players battle in front of a decrepit movie theater. Throwing your opponent into the theater marquee three times will knock off some of the letters, until the sign finally reads "Finish him." That is, of course, what Mortal Kombat instructs players to do at the end of a match, giving competitors the chance to pull off one of the game's ultra-gory Fatalities. If the reference isn't quite clear enough, discovering the Easter egg also unlocks an achievement or trophy called, "Dr. Fate-Ality," a puntastic mash-up of both Mortal Kombat and the DC Universe.

Beyond DC

It doesn't end with DC Comics and a smattering of Mortal Kombat, either. While Injustice 2 is first and foremost a superhero game, observant fans have caught brief nods to everything from Star Wars to Back to the Future.

Just like Marty McFly, the Flash doesn't like it when anyone calls him chicken, while one of the customers at the Ace O' Clubs wears a puffy orange jacket that looks very, very familiar. Robert Englund, who's most famous for bringing Freddy Krueger to life, voices the Scarecrow, which is the closest thing that Injustice 2 has to a horror movie villain. Gotham Hunter, one of the shaders that can be used to customize Batman's costume, makes the Dark Knight look an awful lot like that one bounty hunter that lived a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. One of Cyborg's alternate color schemes makes him look like Metroid star Samus Aran. Joker calls Green Arrow "Brave sir Robin," and Green Arrow counters by saying that he's definitely not running away.

All this, and people are uncovering even more Easter eggs, comic book references, and other fun tidbits every single day. It's almost too much. Congratulations, NetherRealm: not only did you make one of the best fighting titles in recent memory, but you've also found a way to drive detail-obsessed geeks absolutely insane. For that, we salute you.