Justice League Dark 9-11

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 know you’re reading this at my recommendation, and I am dying to hear what you think. Do I like this series just because I’m a total sucker for this stuff, or is this a solid read?

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?

19 comments on “Justice League Dark 9-11

  1. I hear what you’re saying about Bennett. There was some deal with vampires at the end of 8; the team needed to stop a different vampire, Bennett came to help, Xanadu thought that was the evil she had foreseen, etc. It was confusing, and I wasn’t interested enough to read it again to try to understand.

    Constantine is an interesting character. I think I’ve said this before, but one of his “powers” is literally just the ability to travel through space and time to be where he needs to be when he needs to be there. I love seeing such a transient character bogged down with a “team” and “leadership responsibilities”

    • He does seem to be just thrown in here, but I read the first 3 or 4 issues of I,Vampire and Andrew Bennett was a pretty cool character there. I don’t really remember why I stopped picking it up, but I enjoyed reading it. The first couple issues are mostly the back story of him being conflicted that the woman he loves (and turned into a vampire) wants to conquer humanity but he wants to be a more or less peaceful vampire.

      The book was a cool dynamic of horror and a little romance, with a different take on vampires and their powers than I had seen before. Maybe someday I’ll catch up on the other issues but I would recommend the first three if you ever find them on sale or something.

      • Yeah, I’ve heard good things, I just haven’t gotten around to picking it up yet. I, like Patrick, suffer from finding too many things I want to read.

  2. I love these Alternating Currents! And what I’ll say about this is that I’ve enjoyed JL Dark since its inception although I’m enjoying it now more than ever as Lemire just has that effect on me. What I enjoyed about Milligans run was that the introduction of this series was very unconventional and I absolutely loved how the first arc ended with the team NOT coming together at the end. I’ve never seen that before and I found it a welcome change. I’d also say that I found this Justice League much more enjoyable than the main Justice League book in that not only is it in the present but it actually feels like its much more IN the DCU than Superman’s team feels like it is.

    I guess what I’m saying is while it is better now I still think Milligans run is worth a read and establishes the best Justice League of the NEW 52.

    P.S. Trevor is on the verge of becoming one of my new favorite characters in the New 52. If developed correctly he could become the Nick Fury of the DCU. I can’t express enough how much I’d like to see that but they’d have to make him a character who needs less rescuing first.

    • I was tempted to throw down the Nick Fury comparison as well. He’s not quite as omnipresent as Fury, but I do think he’s a really successful reinvention of a hero’s main squeeze. Anyone feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but Steve is traditionally just Wonder Woman’s boyfriend – sure he has some characteristics and some agency, but never like the head of a big government organization. Geoff Johns has been working on redefining Carol Ferris for the last 10 years or so, but she’s kinda slipped out the spot-light, so a lot of that work seems to have faded. And I don’t totally know what’s up with Lois Lane, but I think her role in the universe is sorta diminished (a shame considered how fucking active she was in Flashpoint).

      I assume with a screen name like that that you’re reading some Superman titles. I read Action 1-4 (and have the hard bound 1-8 (Thanks DC!)) but I’m not sold on it. You enjoying any Supes title?

      • WHOA. You just reminded me that Carol suited up as Hal and Sinestro were picked up by the Indigos. We haven’t seen her in a while, but she may very well be on the hunt for Hal. Her role in the current GL arc isn’t totally clear, but I don’t anticipate it a being passive one.

        • Carol is supposed to end up in the New Guardians book soon. She was in their shot on the Third Army promo,.

        • With all the GL titles out there, it’s sort of amazing she doesn’t have her own. I know she’s on the cover of New Guardians #13, but Carol was like the main Star Sapphire back in the day.

      • I agree with you that up to this point Trevor has simply been Wonder Woman’s boyfriend. I’m happy to see him grow out of that role somewhat and I hope they continue to advance it. And yes, I’m reading all of the current Superman titles. Action is my favorite although I don’t think it’s perfect. I’m interested in the story but I’m not fully invested in it because it’s a flashback. “Superman” is being completely mishandled. It’s just so boring to me. The latest issue is trying to lure readers by teasing the “secrets of his costume.” That is just sad to me. DC needs to find someone who understands how to write the character. Supergirl is okay, I like that she is not an ally of Superman but she’s been rebooted so many times these last few years she’s getting hard to stomach. I’ve just finished writing a review of Superboy 10 (late I know) on my blog but it was surprisingly good and I am NOT a fan of Lobdell. He was always my favorite “Super” character but I’ve not been a fan of Lobdell’s interpretation of his character until this issue. Sooo, short answer, it’s a mixed bag!

        • Lobdell is taking over Superman (either with #0 or #13, I forget which) and I’ve really enjoyed his run with Red Hood, so I’m considering hopping in at that point.

          I’m hesitant to get into Superboy because it’s my understanding that Superboy -> Teen Titans -> Ravagers and it’s sort of hard to un-stick all three of those series. As you might be able to tell from this JLD write-up, every time I pick up something new, it makes me want to read like a dozen more titles, and I gotta cut it off somewhere. It just means I have a pretty big Super blind-spot.

        • Red Hood is definitely his best book. I wasn’t a fan of his Starfire at first but there are threads in place now that could lead her to a good place. I like him dealing with these gruff characters because his writing just seems to flow in that direction naturally. That’s my impression anyway and I don’t think its something that’s appropriate for the YJ books. It just feels like these young heroes are already jaded and that can’t be a good thing for the “next generation” of heroes right? In regards to the tie-in issue, Lobdell is really writing the different books to be read together which is definitely a double edged sword. That being said I read Superboy and TT without having read Ravagers and so far it hasn’t impacted me.

          P.S. I’ve just started to read Frankenstein. I’m on issue 6 now and I’m having a lot of fun with it.

        • Likewise, thank you for the thoughtful comments. I get discouraged reading most the hyper-reductive comic reviews on-line and it’s nice to get a dialogue going with y’all.

        • I know how you feel. The reason I started my blog in the first place was to start a dialogue with people. I lived in Orlando and worked at a place called A Comic Shop. It’s been voted best shop in Orlando for many years now and a big reason why it’s the best is that they have such a great community of fans and friends. I recently moved to Nashville and I missed that camaraderie so I figured I’d start a blog to try and get some of that back! It’s also led me to finding other great sites out there like this one so it’s been a blessing!

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