Justice League Dark 0

Today, Shelby and (guest writer) Dave Werner are discussing Justice League Dark 0, originally released September 26th, 2012. Justice League Dark 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.

Shelby: John Constantine is an enigma. He can wander in and out of any magic-based title with no problem. He has a power-set which basically consists of “do whatever you need to do at the time you need to do it.” He’s a perpetual loner, mostly because everyone close to him tends to die, but also because he likes to be a loner. He has the loosest morals of any “hero” I’m reading, which is what I find most intriguing about him. I’ve always just assumed he’s your standard “bastard with a heart of gold;” he does what he wants, when he wants to, but deep down he’s a good guy, and will do the right thing in a pinch. The zero issue for Justice League Dark, however, focuses on a part of Constantine’s past that makes me think he’s ultimately not such a good guy after all.

The issue opens with a young Constantine arriving in America to learn some real magic from the best in the occult biz. Looking a proper punk in his leather jacket, he makes his way to an underground club for occultists, where he sees the enchanting Zatanna perform and meets Nick Necro. Interesting thing about Necro; in his black tie and trench coat, he looks oddly like a brunette version of the Constantine we know and love. And he’s hooking up with Zatanna.  Anyway, Constantine saves Necro and Zatanna from an assassin of the Cult of the Cold Flame, a group of black magic occultists, which earns him the right to tag along and learn some real magic. The three become real chummy as Necro teaches them everything they need to know about being magical badasses. He even gives them matching tattoos of his personal rune. D’awww. As Necro becomes more and more obsessed with finding the Books of Magic, Zatanna and Constantine become more and more obsessed with each other. They hook up, which provides Necro with the perfect opportunity to reveal he’s working for the Cult of the Cold Flame, and plans to send Constantine’s soul to Hell. A fight ensues, and Necro is the one who ends up in Hell; Constantine pauses just long enough to take his jacket on the way out.

I think Jeff Lemire has been really smart with this issue. He’s given us some insight into Constantine’s character while at the same time tying the action of this origin to the series proper. Last month, we were all speculating on who the mysterious “evil twin” of Constantine might be, and why they would both have the same tattoo. Now, we see that it’s not only John’s magical mentor, but also that John sent his soul to Hell after driving him mad by taking everything of meaning from him.

This is really where we get to…maybe not learn something new about Constantine, but reinforce character traits we’ve already seen, and reveal just how deep these traits go. It’s no secret that Constantine is only looking out for number 1; he takes what he wants. He’s been talked into saving people before: he formed the Justice League Dark in the first place to help placate the Enchantress, he had a very active role in the Books of Magic mini-series helping teach magic to Timothy, and he worked with Morpheus in Sandman to help restore to him his bag of sand. Lemire’s Constantine, though, is motivated less by “it’s the right thing to save the world,” and more by “I’ll save the world because it’s where I keep my stuff.” He came to America to take as much magic for himself as he could. He took Zatanna from Necro, and immediately wondered if he had made a mistake and lost his chance to take the Books of Magic. He killed the man who taught him everything he knew, and took his damn jacket! Instead of having a candy-coating of selfishness over a nougaty center of goodness, this Constantine is just selfish, through and through. That’s a dangerous trait for someone as magically powerful as John, and explains why Madame Xanadu is so concerned about keeping the Books of Magic out of his hands.

Lee Garbett is new to the art on this title. While I miss Mikel Janin’s fanciful panel layouts and painterly style, Garbett’s straight-forward approach is clean and easy to follow: an important quality for a title meant to introduce new readers to a character. I especially liked his panel of Constantine’s first introduction to Zatanna.

The stunned, “deer in the headlights” look so accurately expresses the thoughts running through his head at that moment. Paired with the simple dialogue from Necro of “my girl…” we’ve got a perfect setup for the conflict that will eventually break up the band.

I’m really excited to introduce my friend Dave; we used to work together, and when we discovered our similar tastes in books, spent more time at work talking about what we were reading than anything else. He’s read Sandman and Lemire’s Underwater Welder, so I know he has a passing familiarity with John Constantine and Jeff Lemire; Dave, what did you think of this issue? Were you able to keep up, or was there too much DC universe stuff for a new reader?

Dave: Five panels in and I realized how much I didn’t know about this universe, but understood immediately that I liked this guy Constantine. I remembered the name from Sandman, but his appearance was early on and I refused to do any research before I read this issue so that I could experience it cold.

Being a rookie to this (and just about any DC series), I knew that I was picking up a book about Superheroes. Constantine: Super – yes, but Hero?? The kid’s got skills and a cocky single-mindedness about building them. Well, single-minded until he saw Zatanna. I knew that piece of plot would commence before we reached the staples. Nicky’s obsession with the Books of Magic was not the reason that Constantine and Zee hooked up; it just provided the opportunity. I don’t think anybody’s girlfriends, wives or daughters are safe from that bit of his magic. From this issue I understand that he’s doing good, but his heroism seems to be a by-product of his journeyman’s exploits into learning more magic and protecting his mentor long enough to learn all he needed. Doesn’t make him bad, but he’s nowhere near altruistic about his motives. I want to see how that plays out in the issues to follow.

Some confusion on my part regarding Necro’s involvement with the Cold Flame and the Brooklyn ambush. Is Nick motivated to eliminate Constantine because he stole his girl or because he’s a threat to derail to the goals of The Cold Flame? Think I’ve got more reading and learning to do. At this point, the most I know about The Cold Flame is that they’ve got cool weapons and boring lines. These guys have qualities reminiscent of the “Black Sleep of the Kali Ma”!

I always thought that what made classic Superheroes were innate abilities or great gadgets, not learned skills. In my mind, magic was relegated to a different realm. I like the potential Badass Hero that contains Constantine’s abilities, charisma and cockiness. Don’t let his goofy grin on the cover fool you.

David Werner credits Shelby with expanding his reading into new worlds.  Although a longtime fan of Neil Gaiman’s novels, Werner resisted picking up Sandman for years because it was just beyond him.  After a number of cube-wall discussions Ms. Peterson suggested that he start Sandman and he was hooked.  His writing over the last dozen years has been relegated to answering the eternal customer question, “Where’s the truck with my stuff?” 

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?

20 comments on “Justice League Dark 0

  1. I really like the idea that Constantine was even more reckless as a kid. There’s something very real about his pilgrimage to New York City to learn his craft and just being so exciting to gather All The Information that he hurts those that are best to him. It’s similar to that pursuit of an acting career or a music career – find your idol hanging out in a club in NYC and make them hang out with you until you’re part of their inner circle. Oh, and then betray them as soon as an attractive opportunity to do so comes along.

    I’m just saying, it’s a great way to ground what could have been the IMPENETRABLE story of how John Constantine learned magic.

    • I totally agree. I also really like seeing how Zatanna fits into all this; I knew they dated and then broke up, but this is a really believable way to have them get together.

  2. I’m out of my depths with this book, I just started picking it up at 9 because of the new creative team being a jumping-on point and because of the inevitable connecction to the Trinity War. However, this issue and the House Of Mystery issue in particular have made me particularly happy that I’m pulling it and now I want to go back and read all of that Vertigo stuff that usually is outside of my wheelhouse

    • Right? I normally shy away from ‘magic’ stuff because… you know, I’m not a 12 year old kid playing D&D anymore. But damn it all, if it doesn’t attract some interesting talent from time to time.

      • LOL, I totally still play AD&D (as in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition from the 90’s – the last edition published by TSR instead of Wizards Of The Coast). Or at least I would if I hadn’t just moved across the country and broke up my weekly game

        • Hahaha, I don’t mean anything by it. I likes me some complicated games, I just haven’t run with a role-playing crowd for a very long time (ditto M:TG). Moving across the country takes a toll on the ol’ social life – I know: I moved out to LA from Chicago about 13 months ago. It’s amazing how being removed from your friends changes what your interests are. EXAMPLE: I wasn’t reading comics or doing comedy before I moved here, and now that’s almost all I do.

        • Not standup so much as sketch and improv. I’m interning at the Upright Citizens Brigade theatre and taking classes and basically spend all of my non-comic time with those people. It’s a blast.

        • Yeah, Amy’s a founding member. She still shows up for the odd ASSSSCAT show on Saturday nights. (She’s similarly one of my heroes, so I have yet to muster the courage to say anything to her but “Hi Amy.”)

        • Of course we’re big SNL and Parks & Rec fans, but what’s cool is that she’s showing up in other parts of my geek universe now; I’m a gigantic Studio Ghibli fan and she’s one of the main voice actors in their last flick Secret World Of Arrietty. Well, I couldn’t be farther from your performances since I’m in Florida, but if there’s ever a web-stream or anything please let me know

    • There’s the Trinity War stuff, Rotworld tie-ins, Sword of Sorcery connections, and probably JLA connections: basically, it’s a good time to pick it up.

  3. I have to admit, after reading this issue, I’ve never hated a character as much as I hate John Constantine. And my liking of Zatana went down the tubes too. I mean, after everything they’ve been through and learned from him…they sent him to Hell and left him on the floor like a dog’s discarded chew toy, with zero emotion. This doesn’t mean I dislike the series – I think we’re all allowed to have characters we despise, am I right?

    I mean…John just used him for everything he was worth and took everything from him and just does not care. at all. It pushes all of my buttons. I guess I need to stop getting emotionally involved in fiction XD

    Anyway, considering I’ve only read issue 9 and some of the first issues, would you say it’s worth me hanging on for more? I really adored Janin’s art, but I don’t know if it’ll be difficult to read if the lead character is someone I want to die, y’know?

    • That’s a fair question, and it’s a tough one for me to answer because I DO like Constantine a lot. I thnk it’s important to remember that the zero takes place early in Constantine’s career as a magical Renaissance man. He was younger and dumber, basically. That, paired with the fact that Necro was planning on killing the both of them, makes me willing to give Constantine a chance.

      I’d say stick it out, at least until the inevitable confrontation between Constantine and Necro. The art is, as you say, totally awesome, plus this isn’t just a Constantine book; there’s a whole team to consider.

  4. I will always remember Zatanna for The Brave and the Bold # 33. It is one of the best done-in-one issues I’ve ever read, along with “Seduction of the Gun” and “The Meaning of Life” (Shadow of the Bat # 72).

    • I like Zatanna, even though her backwards magic is a little eye-roll worthy on occasion. I think this issue did a good job of making her seem a little more badass, and a better match for Constantine.

      • It’s so unbelievable that, in my long experience as a comic reader, I never bumped into some characters and comics that most fans adore – Constantine, Deadpool, Sandman, Watchmen, Hellboy… and I can’t even tell you “I’ll fill all these gaps in a matter of months”, because my budget doesn’t allow me to do that. Thank you for your reply! : )

  5. Pingback: Constantine 2 | Retcon Punch

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