Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Justice League Dark 9-11, originally released May 23rd, June, 27th and July 25th, 2012.
Shelby: We’re doing something a little unusual here with Justice League Dark: we are not reviewing issues 1-8. I’ve read all those issues, and there is really no need to do so. Peter Milligan wrote 1-8, and they are not awesome. The story was all over the place and confusing. Even though we’re dealing with magic, the story still needs to be grounded in some sort of established reality, and this story was not. With issue 9, Jeff Lemire has taken over the writing, and there has been a marked improvement. The arc is completely new, even some of the team members have changed. I call it the “reverse Deathstroke” effect, in that a new creative team has made big changes, but for the better instead of for the worst.
The only things you need to know from the first 8 issues are as follows:
- Xanadu forced the team to form up in the first place, to both stop a terrible future she had foreseen and because she thought they were more of a danger to themselves separate than together.
- John Constantine is approximately in charge, and they are not the greatest of teams.
Steve Trevor has asked Constantine to go to Peru to rescue Dr. Myst, an ARGUS magic consultant, and recover some powerful artifact being used by Faust, a sorcerer. Constantine only said yes because Trevor promised him 10 minutes alone in the Black Room. Constantine convinces Zatanna, magician who speaks backwards; Boston Brand, otherwise known as Deadman; and Andrew Bennett, a vampire who got connected to them somehow in I, Vampire; and Black Orchid, another ARGUS agent and shapeshifter. They fight their fight, defeat the bad guy, and recover the artifact: the map to the Books of Magic, books which contain all knowledge, and are maybe the source of all magic.
Constantine and the team decide the map is too powerful to turn over to a government group, so they hold on to it. Meanwhile, Trevor tries to interrogate Faust back at ARGUS. Turns out, Faust got caught on purpose because he needed a key out of the Black Room to unlock the map. The team shows up at ARGUS and fight their fight. Constantine gets a bunch of swag to fight Faust, including the key to the map. He opens it and learns the locations of the books, only to BETRAYED! Dr. Myst attacks him with some sort of magic, which will probably steal the locations of the books from Constantine’s brain. Meanwhile, Xanadu has had another vision, this one even more terrible than the last. If Constantine finds the Books, he will be corrupted by their power and bring her terrible vision to pass. She sets out to find the only person able to handle the books without being corrupted: Timothy Hunter, a child with innate magical powers. Problem is, Tim doesn’t want anything to do with magic, and has actually given his powers away.
I’m really happy Lemire has taken over this title, it has become a lot of fun to read. Lemire has done a great job of folding JLD into the existing DC universe. Incorporating ARGUS and the Black Room was an obvious, excellent choice. I have a not-so-secret-crush on John Constantine, and I love seeeing him in charge of a team because it’s kind of a mistake.
Constantine is a perfect example of someone who walks the line between good guy and bad. He will do what he wants, and if it goes along with what you want, then cool. If not, he’ll lie to you and trick you into thinking that doing things his way was what you wanted all along. Having a character like that in charge of a team is really interesting, and a lot of fun. I also really like the composition of this team, especially the way it mirrors the Justice League. I think the backbone of the Justice League has always been The Trinity: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. We’ve got the exact same thing here. Boston Brand is the virtually unstoppable super man, able to leap anyone’s body over buildings in a single bound. John Constantine is a gadget man, but instead of scientific bat-tech on his belt, he arms himself with the staff of Merlin. I hate to say, “and Zatanna is THE GIRL,” but it’s kind of true. She’s powerful and independent, with a very empathetic and just feminine vibe about her. Even though Black Orchid is also a girl, Zatanna is definitely The Girl of the team, and most certainly the JLD Wonder Woman.
While this title has changed authors, it has kept it’s artist Mikel Janin, and I’m glad for that. Janin has this painterly style with the occasional detailing in the panel layout which frames and compliments the story on the page very naturally. It’s lovely.
It’s the connections to existing stories that excites me the most about this arc. I know I’ve already mentioned the ARGUS connection, but this title reads like a DC/Vertigo Who’s Who. Xanadu’s vision features a dead Swamp Thing and Animal Man, as well as characters I believe are from Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. There’s a direct tie-in to I, Vampire with Andrew Bennett in the first couple issues. Timothy Hunter was star of Neil Gaiman’s mini-series Books of Magic (which is really good, by the way). There are even ties to Sandman in here. It all comes down to John Constantine. He’s the kind of character to wander in and out of any magic-themed story, and Lemire has taken advantage of that by referencing those stories here. It’s perfectly natural to this universe, and super exciting for a mega-nerd like me.
Patrick: I’m a stick-in-the mud when it comes to magic. Not too long ago, I took the position in the comment section of… some article… that 98% of the powers we see superheroes demonstrate are magic. We cook up pseudo-scientific explanations for how Superman flies around or Green Lanterns generate force fields or whatever, but there’s always an impossible force behind these powers. DC’s been pushing Magic (capital M) to the forefront – the Shazam back-up stories to Justice League are quickly overtaking the main story, we’re seeing the magical characters pop up in other titles. With Jeff Lemire at the helm of Justice League Dark — and considering the direction of the DC world generally — I’m ready to invest a little in magical heroes. So, is my temporary goodwill squandered here?
Let me say, right off the bat, that I like this series. The most charming thing about Magic in this universe is the totally arbitrary nature of it. Zatana casts spells by speaking backwards because FUCK YOU SHE JUST DOES. John Constantine owns a house that exists in purgatory and that he can summon previous guests to because FUCK YOU HE JUST DOES. Deadman can’t possess Faust because FUCK YOU HE JUST CAN’T. Thankfully, the specificities of these magical elements are never the crux of the story, but charming details that illuminate the world. The heroes need to solve their problems though methods we non-magical jerks can understand – planning, team work, and doing whatever it takes to save the day.
Shelby, you do a pretty good job of running down the cast of characters, and your comparison between this group’s membership and the Justice League’s is apt. As far as I’m concerned, JLD is John Constantine, Zatana, Deadman and whoever else is around and at least sorta-magical. I’ve had a soft spot for Zatana for a long time – mostly due to her role in Identity Crisis – and I feel in love with Boston Brand through Blackest Night and Brightest Day, so the affection I felt toward them wasn’t really a surprise. For me, the unexpected delight came in reading John Constantine as a charming English bastard with a ton of experience in this magical world. It’s great – like his only super power is having been around this shit forever and ever. Nothing phases the guy.
But there’s also the matter of Steve Trevor. He’s been making the rounds lately, always tap-dancing around the periphery of the main action, while also implying that he’s got more power than he lets on. Both here and in Justice League, he’s mostly asking for favors or being rescued or dying or something. His role as mediator between the government and superheroes or the government and magic uses (and, I suspect some day, superheroes and magic users) puts him in this totally unique position where no one completely trusts the guy, but no one really has a choice. I know it’s not Justice League Dark‘s job to develop this character further, but I just Lemire’s skills with subtly over Johns’. Then again, we’re about a month away from Team 7, and the main Trevoring responsibilities will be shuffled over to Justin Jordan, so the whole thing might be moot.
There’s a lot of fun, colorful magic at play in these issues, giving the pages a less-heavy-handed Green Lantern sort of appearance. There are always brightly colored streaks and webs and puffs of magic, all of which are dynamic and interesting. The color palettes used by the characters are also distinct enough that no one gets lost in the more crowded action sequences. Check out how clear this sequence is:
I too frequently read comics where I can’t tell how the characters are fighting. This manages to tell the whole story of Deadman possessing Trevor and using his acrobatic skills to jump away to safety while the rest of the heroes and demons duke it out in a single graceful panel. The image is well-composed, the colors are vibrant – this is really one of the better action beats I’ve read since we started picking up comics about a year ago.
I have two main gripes with this Lemire-piloted machine. First is that I don’t care about the vampire, whose name I’ve already forgotten. I’m not compelled to pick up the vampire series and I just didn’t get a sense that anyone on the team was too broken up when he left it. (Conversely, with even less information about Frankenstein, I’m considering giving that series a whirl.) My second point of concern is that the third issue (#11) takes place almost exclusively at ARGUS HQ. Superhero comics occasionally get bogged down in their big Boss Fights, and while this issue handled it more gracefully that other titles might, there was still a lot of the same characters running down identical hallways.
Man, how about that Black Room, huh? I set up a little side-by-side if you’d like to compare how it appeared in the New 52 Free Comic Book Day issue to it’s appearance here. This room is shockingly consistent.
JLD is on the top, FCBD is on the bottom. I don’t have anything in the way of specific commentary here, other than to point out that the level of planning and coordination that goes into teasing something like this is pretty amazing.For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?