There is often no stranger advertising partnership between a comic book movie and a car manufacturer. Not just because the thought of superheroes who can run at superhuman speeds or fly being used to shill a car is weird, but because it often means a completely insane comic tie-in to go with it. And they’re often pretty bad.
Case in point both Marvel and DC decided today to flog car-based comic-tie ins for both Black Panther and Justice League today. Marvel, partnering with Lexus, has launched Black Panther: Soul of a Machine, an eight-part—eight-part!—series by Fabian Nicieza, Andrea Di Vito, Joe Sabino, and Sotocolor, that sees T’Challa turn to the engineering might of the Lexus (and not, say, the engineering might of his highly technologically advanced fellow Wakandans) to save the day.
Meanwhile, DC has teamed up with Mercedes to launch a six-part digital comic by Adam Schlagman and Jason Badower that sees the various members of the League interact with Mercedes-Benz vehicles, starting with Cyborg and the Flash. You know, the guy who doesn’t need a car because he’s the fastest man alive?
At first, it’s hard to tell which one is more absurd—Black Panther is an eight-issue story about a goddamn Lexus that’s being released in two separate chunks, while Justice League is more of an Instagram video than a proper comic. But after reading both—for content’s sake rather than anything else—I think ultimately Justice League’s comic ends up as coming out the better of the two.
This is not to say it’s really a superior offering, but at the very least “Joyride”—involving Barry and Victor swiping one of Bruce’s Mercs for a spin that turns into them rescuing people from a burning building—embraces the inherent silliness of having these superhuman characters hype themselves up over a car. The car is right there, they use it, then they do actual superhero stuff, and it’s over.
Soul of a Machine, on the other hand, is a remarkably overwrought story. It follows Black Panther as he goes about teaming up a bunch of Wakandan students with some Japanese tech-masters at a summit, only for z-list villain Machinesmith to show up and wreak havoc across Wakanda’s security systems. Four issues in, very little of import has happened other than occasionally someone will look at a picture of a Lexus—be it a drawing or a hologram, because Wakanda—and describe the vehicle as “the ultimate expression of form and function.”
Which seems wrong coming from a society of people that are already rolling around in hovercars and building spaceships like it’s no big deal. “Joyride” at the least knows that it’s sort of silly and just rolls with it, getting it over and done with. Soul of a Machine tries to take itself far too seriously, so it ends up being both dumb and boring.
So who comes out better in the end? Probably Justice League, but let’s be honest: nobody wins in the silly world of car-based comic book tie-ins. No one.