Justice League Dark Annual 1

Alternating Currents: Justice League Dark Annual, Taylor and Drew Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing Justice League Dark Annual 1, originally released October 31st, 2012.

Taylor: Go big or go home. I don’t really know where this phrase came from or even what it really means. I suppose it probably means a person should come prepared to give everything they have to whatever situation they are about to encounter. I guess that’s “going big.” There is perhaps some virtue in that; I can admire anyone who can totally devote themselves to a cause or an idea. But with the election finally (finally) winding down, I also have to question if perhaps there is more merit in playing your cards close to the chest. I question how anyone can fully support one candidate or the other when eventually they will do something to piss you off, or almost certainly break a promise they blatantly made on the campaign trail. The ability to hold back, reserve judgment and always keep a little something extra for yourself, whether in politics or comic books, is a trait that should be applauded. John Constantine has this virtue (if he really can be said to have any such thing) and normally Justice League Dark does as well. But in the first annual edition of this title the creators do just the opposite, they go big and it pays off.

A lot happens in this issue, since it’s about twice the size of your average edition, so let’s dive right in. We left our heroes crash-landed in the Sahara Desert after being knocked out of Limbo. Frankenstein shows up in a helicopter to help our heroes out, and agrees to help them in their chase of Nick Necro. Lucky for them all, the House of Mystery has rebuilt itself, so they get on their way. Meanwhile, in The House of Secrets, Nick — in typically evil mastermind fashion — tells Zatanna his plan for capturing the Books of Magic, which involves killing Tim Hunter. He also tells her how Felix Faust rescued him from Hell by giving his soul to the devil in exchange for resurrecting Nick. Together, they plan on getting the Books of Magic along with Dr. Mist, who helped them set up such an elaborate plan. Back in the House of Mystery, Madame Xanadu and Tim arrive, having escaped Faust and our heroes set out after Nick. Along the way, Constantine summons Amaya (of Sword of Sorcery fame), who has the ability to restore the power of magic to Tim somehow. Constantine also summons Andrew Bennett to the fight. With The League fully assembled, they arrive at Nanda Parbat and beat up all of Nick and Faust’s army. Nick then tries to grab the four Books of Magic, but is thwarted by the cunning of Constantine and a protective field around the books. Tim, being the only one who can control them, picks up a book, which is actually some sort of machine and teleports away, with Zatanna in tow.

Writer Jeff Lemire really threw all of his cards on the table for this issue, and it pays off if for no other reason than all his cards are aces. We see almost every single character we have met in this series in this one issue, and while it is kind of a clusterfuck to have them all running around at once, I was enjoying every second of it. The usual cast of the Justice League Dark is pretty entertaining on its own, given the presence of Constantine and Deadman (both great characters), but when you throw in Frankenstein and Amaya the entertainment value skyrockets. Add to this the presence of everyone’s favorite cannibal Black Boris and the ent-like Blackbriar Thorn on the opposing side, and it becomes virtually impossible for this issue to fail. I’ve always been a fan of big shot where an assembled team of heroes leaps into action and in the same vein of going all in, artist Mikel Janin delivers by giving us a nice scene of the Justice League Dark doing just that.

 

Naturally, the battle is pretty entertaining, what with Frankenstein blowing off a guy’s face then decapitating him, and the usual witticisms from Deadman. One would expect a similar whiz-bang fight to explode between Constantine and Nick Necro, however, this isn’t exactly the case. While this issue does “go big” in every sense of the phrase Lemire is cognizant enough to realize that he can’t give everything he has all at once into one issue. There is no endgame battle between Constantine and Nick because much like his author, Constantine has a trick up his sleeve and instead of relying on brute force or magic to defeat Nick, he uses trickery. This trickery is what sets Constantine apart from the rest of the characters in this title and it is also why we find him so interesting. Just when we think he has given it his all we are surprised to learn that he is a step ahead of everyone else with an ace up his sleeve. Lemire, similarly pulls the rug out from under the readers feet by revealing that the Books of Magic are actually mechanical in nature.

At this point in the title, all we’ve really encountered in terms of weird, out of this world shit, are things that are somehow derived from magic and the like. The reveal that there are machines involved in this world, perhaps capable of controlling magic, is both amazing and surprising and something I never saw coming. That the creators had the wherewithal to create an issue this grandiose that somehow manages to both deepen and raise questions about the universe they created is really quite remarkable and I look forward to seeing where it goes from here.

What say you, Drew? Are you a fan of the all-in approach to storytelling or do you like a more reserved approach? Did you find the crossover characters to be too much or just right?

Drew: Oh, I absolutely love the “bigger is better” approach Lemire took for this issue. I can think of no better example of this than the cliffhanger ending. Taylor’s right to emphasize how expertly Lemire answers our questions with just a much bigger, weirder question, but the thing I really appreciate about this ending is just how effective it is as a cliffhanger. Even great writers occasionally rely on stopping the action mid-sentence and calling it a cliffhanger (Geoff Johns, I’m looking at you), but Lemire manages to actually tease a much bigger arc while satisfactorily concluding the present one. It’s a neat trick, one that emphasizes just how capable Lemire is as a writer.

Sure, there are maybe too many characters in that final battle for us to really pay attention to, but it’s not really about them — it’s about us. It reminds me a lot of the final battle in a Tolkein book (I suppose the presence of magic and trolls and swords helps make the comparison), which I always saw more as a closing credits reel than something that might actually be meaningful to the characters. I mean, this is just another battle for Frankenstein, so the fact that he’s here cracking one-liners is really for our benefit. The cumulative effect is a battle that feels huge, even though we’re rooting for an army of eight.

The more emotive moments take place off of the battle field, and seemingly all include Zatanna, who has become the real emotional center for this title. Caught between Constantine, who maybe doesn’t care about anyone, and Nick Necro, who definitely doesn’t, Zee is the only one whose conscience we can trust. More than our moral compass, she’s also our emotional one — Constantine is too cool to tell us when something is scary, so we need someone like Zatanna around to show us the stakes. Fortunately, Janin is particularly adept at drawing a terrified Zatanna.

Wait...why do they call you Nick Necro again?It makes for a harrowing final scene, where we fully believe Constantine has just killed a child with his bare hands. Of course, you couldn’t expect to go big in a Constantine story without some kind of con, and that’s just what we get.

Daringly, Lemire showed us this particular con at the start of his run on this title. It’s a ballsy move — one I’ve actually been looking forward to since we saw it the first time (yet somehow totally didn’t see coming when it happened here) — that plays perfectly to the questions we all have about Constantine’s morality. Or is it his affection for Zatanna? Point is, we buy that he would do it — at least enough for this moment to really hit us:

Constantine breaks Timothy Hunter's neck...or DOES HE?It’s a visceral moment that only works because of Constantine’s moral ambiguity. We’re relieved when we learn it was a trick, precisely because we thought it might not be.

That weird mix of emotions is still overhanging the proceedings when Timothy up and vanishes with Zatanna in tow. Obviously, Constantine (and the rest of the team) is going to look for them, but is it for Tim, or is it for Zee? As long as Constantine doesn’t have to answer these questions, we’ll never know, but I’m looking forward to that reunion either way.

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?

37 comments on “Justice League Dark Annual 1

      • While I like the additions of the various crossover characters I’m still not sure how I feel about the shameless plugs for other titles and specific issues. I realize there is some history to that and maybe it’s a tongue in cheek thing (which fits this title well) but that doesn’t annoy me any less when I see them taking over the panels. How do you guys feel about it?

        • My impression is that Lemire is just as excited as hell to incorporate what other writers are doing into his universe. I remember overhearing Francis Manapul saying that Lemire was really interested in the geography they had established for the Gem cities in The Flash, to such a degree that he wanted to have the Bakers traipse through it on their way to find Swamp Thing. Obviously, that never happened, but it’s clear Lemire loves crossovers for the sake of crossovers. The trio of outsiders brought in for the battle scene were some of the most dynamic fighters, making for a much more exciting scene than watching Madame Xanadu or something (Deadman and Orchid hold their own, but I loves me some sword fights). I doubt some of these characters will be able to stick around, but Frank really doesn’t have anything better to do, so I hope this is the prelude to a much longer stint on the team.

  1. We were talking last week about how Constantine is something of a collector, but it hadn’t dawned on me at the time that he’s a collector of magical people – not just magical objects. He may have summoned two of these characters against their will, but they both agree to fight with/for him. Even vampire Andrew Bennet, last seen storming away from the JLD in a huff.

    But I think this is where Lemire is doing his own kind of magic – we adopt that collector mentality as we follow the adventures of John Constantine. That makes it all the more satisfying when the urge to catch ’em all is fulfilled in that kickin’ final fight.

    • What’s surprising is that the collecting never feels forced. The tone set by this title really prepares me to accept, if not embrace, every single crazy thing that happens in the plot, which is pretty remarkable. Usually shit like that annoys the hell out of me but here I love it.

      • Yeah, Lemire just takes the “it’s magic, that’s why!” attitude and runs with it. In any other title I would be annoyed by it, but here it totally works. Frankenstein shows up in the middle of the desert just when he’s needed? Sure, whatever, that’s awesome!

        • Again, I think it’s just that there’s so much enthusiasm around it. Lemire’s excited about it and somehow he transfers that to the audience. It helps that he writes all the characters so well, and it’s just a delight to spend time with any of them.

  2. A question for those that know these creepy corners of the old DCU better than I do: Tim Hunter – do we know this kid? Alternately, have we seen Rip Hunter in the New 52? With the books of magic revealed to be… some kind of alien technology? …some kind of future technology? …who fucking knows?

    I guess my half-baked theory is that time travel and/or the JLI and/or the now-evaporated Booster Gold are connected to magic. REFUTE!

    • I don’t know who Tim Hunter is, but the only Rip Hunter reference I know about is in the ‘Booster Gold vanishes’ segment of the JLI Annual, so if he hasn’t appeared elsewhere then he is at least teased for the Trinity War arc in that issue

      • Could Rip Hunter be Tim’s father? The one they make a point of saying is safe and sound after Faust’s attack? Perhaps he has a role to play moving forward.

        • That sounds very plausible – we know from the FCBD issue that Deadman, at the very least, is involved in Trinity War – and given its connection to the Black Room and Pandora’s Box, I think JLD would be the perfect place to be seeding things for Trinity War

    • Tim Hunter is the main character of the Books of Magic. I’ve only read the Neil Gaiman miniseries (shocker there), but he’s basically a kid with inherent magical abilities who encounters a bunch of stuff from this side of the DCU. In Gaiman’s issues, he’s given magic lessons by Constantine, Mr. E, The Phantom Stranger and Dr. Occult, then he has to decide if he wants to continue on in this magic world or not. As far as I know, he is completely unrelated to anything else in the DCU.

      • Books of Magic was an interesting read. Lemire is definitely mining obscure regions of the DCU bringing Tim Hunter in–and I love it! I read Books of Magic when I was on a Constantine kick and had to read anything he appeared in (he was great in his role in the series–as was Zatanna). Anyway, Tim Hunter is supposed to be (or turn into) the world’s greatest magician.

  3. Frankenstein is such a gentleman. Having him on the team permanently with Constantine should be hilarious. I’m really enjoying how Lemire has blended and contrasted personalities inside of the Dark team.

    • What’s great about the dynamic between those two is that technically Frankenstein in the monster, even though he’s far and away the better person. Constantine, on the other hand, is human but a lot of things he does are monstrous. So yeah, should be really fun watching those two work together.

    • No kidding. Lemire quickly established clear voices for everyone, to such a degree that I have a strong sense for how they’ll react in a given situation. These feel like actual people, with actual personalities and motivations. It turns out, I like Jeff Lemire a lot.

  4. Hot diggity, Lemire just got the gig writing Green Arrow! I just knew that book would be getting a push now that he has a TV show and he’ll be in a Johns team book

    • Hey, good for him AND Ollie. Did you see the other announcements? Ann Nocenti writing a Katana book (fart) and Andrew Kreisberg writing a Vibe (or more accurately “Justice League of America’s Vibe) book.

      • Yeah I’m definitely going to pass on any new Nocenti. I’ll grab the Vibe #1 just to see how they plan on turning around such an infamously lame character (much less successfully launching a solo title for him)

        • I can’t say I agree with the sleazy business move, but it really is only a variant cover for each individual state (plus Puerto Rico and Washington DC) So it’s not like comic shops will be flooded with JLA #1 issues. I see Didio’s point on connecting the book with the country on some level, and there also was the blank Spider-man cover from Marvel a while back where the comic shop could print their own logo in the space to promote…there really isn’t any difference here.

      • I don’t care if it’s Lemire. I am NOT getting Hawkeye and Green Arrow. I don’t care if Green Arrow comes with cookies and puppies, I am not reading about TWO dorks with bows. Seriously, why are comics doing this to me? (I will not admit in public that I’m reading Archer and Armstrong which technically could be considered a dork with a bow story)

    • Is that right? I thought those went “ping, ping, BOOM,” while the books go “beep, beep, KRRRZZZZZTT”. I know it sounds like I’m kidding, but I actually think the sound a motherbox makes is a matter of strict continuity — don’t boom tubes have to boom?

      • Yeah, I agree with Drew – Boom Tube’s gotta BOOM. I’ll admit that I don’t know that much about mother boxes, so maybe I’m wrong. That font is so interesting though – and I feel like I have seen it somewhere (my best guess is that it looks like a cross between the Zamaron font and the Reach Scarab font).

        I’ll see myself out.

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