Today, Taylor and Shelby are discussing Justice League Dark 18, originally released March 27th, 2013.
Taylor: Magic versus Science is an old trope. This theme has presented itself in books uncountable, in roughly half of all the Star Trek TNG episodes ever made, and in 67% of the movies filmed between 1985 and 2011. Hell, this battle is even present in music. If we accept that magic is essentially a stand-in for things of the past while science stands for those of the future it becomes clear how this relation works. Just take a look at any of your friend’s iTunes list and you’ll see a large portion of it is devoted to neo-folk while another large portion is made up of electronic or club music. I suppose it is a testament to mankind’s preoccupation with this theme that it exists in so many aspects of our daily life. However, I’m surprised that as a society we haven’t gotten tired of this conversation. While we all certainly long for the past in some way or another, we also all enjoy innovation and exploration. Perhaps there is some deep explanation for why this subject fascinates us all and perhaps that is the reason why the recent events in Justice League Dark are so entertaining. Or maybe, just maybe, the reason why it’s so compelling in JLD is because the story telling is just so damn good, as exemplified in the most recent issue.
Justice League Dark 18 flings us right back into the action that we left at the end of issue seventeen. Tim Hunter and Zatanna lead an army against the techno society while Constantine and the rest of the JLD team escape from captivity. Tim and Zatanna are kicking some serious techno-jerk ass along with their magic army when the magical forces that are tearing apart both Earth and this realm begin to decimate Epoch. Zatanna and Vikar leave the battle to save the citizens of Epoch but it is unclear how long they can hold out. Luckily, Jack, Tim’s father, arrives from Earth and together with his son siphons off the excess magic that is tearing apart the two worlds. The magic users and the techno users make peace and the Hunters decide to stay behind in Epoch to help foster a society that recognizes magic and technology equally. Our JLD heroes return to Earth and regain their normal powers, thus ending this story arc and re-establishing the status quo.
This issue by all rights should probably be a pretty bad installment in the series, but for some reason it’s not. Everything that happens in this issue is pretty standard; there are no twists that shock the reader or make them say “wow.” Yet the issue is still satisfying as a whole and as with most issues of JLD I found myself coming away happy. I think this is due mostly to the quality of the storytelling on display by Ray Fawkes and Jeff Lemire. Again, the battle between technology and magic is old but here it feels fresh. Part of the reason for this freshness is that it is invested with some actual human emotion courtesy of an unlikely source: the Hunters. The reveal that Jack is himself a powerful mage who is more than aware of the magical aspects of the universe is unique and endearing. His desire to create a life for his son that is devoid of the danger and drama of magic is touching and rings true with its overtones of parental sacrifice.
Also making the battle between technology and magic fresh is the way Fawkes and Lemire make it affect two worlds and multiple parties. While a battle between magic users and technology users is only somewhat interesting, a battle between these two parties that will decide the fate of two worlds is highly interesting. Also, by this point in the narrative we have come to care for all of these characters and we want to see them survive even if they are split up. This breaking up of the team also adds an element of intrigue to a storyline that normally would be a bit tired. By having our heroes work in ways and situations that are foreign to them the authors are not only character building but plot building as well. Pretty neat!
Another wrinkle thrown into the plot to make it more interesting is the voiceover provided by Constantine at the close of the issue. In summarizing the events of the past issues and providing closure, Constantine says that he admires Zatanna for her selfless act of protecting Epoch during battle.
He claims that it is an act he would never consider himself, which is a typically Constantine-like viewpoint. However, you have to wonder exactly when this narration took place for its meaning to fully sink in and take effect. If it was stated while Constantine was still in Epoch then he’s telling truth. If this is the case then it just confirms what all of us have come to think of Constantine and we need think nothing more of it. However, if it happened after he returned to Earth then there is a chance Constantine is lying, which makes things more interesting. If he is indeed lying and hiding his true feelings –- as he prefers to do –- then that would mean Constantine just might pull a selfless act like Zatanna. This would be an interesting development in Constantine’s character and one we haven’t seen on display yet. But is it likely to true?
What do you think Shelby? Does Constantine possess enough decency to sacrifice himself for others or is he simply the scoundrel we all know and love? Do you think we have seen the last of the Hunters and the magic books? And what about Constantine and company quitting the army? Will that have some repercussions for our heroes?
Shelby: For the record, I am that friend with the playlist chock-full of neo folk and club music; if I can switch back and forth between The Chemical Brothers and The Civil Wars, then I am a happy camper.
Do I think Constantine would sacrifice himself for the team? No, but I do think this experience has changed him. I was thinking about your question of the timing of his narration when I read through this a second time. It seemed to me to be a part of, or at least happening at the same time as, Constantine’s explanation of events in Epoch to Dr. Peril. I think some of that good ol’ fashioned Epoch honesty is clinging to our boy; the actual effects of the trip will fade, but I think honesty has left a mark on John, and I’m interested in seeing how this will affect him going forward. Already, he’s more assertive, straightforward, and even a little bit less selfish. He could have stuck with A.R.G.U.S., found a way to take advantage of his position and raid the Black Room; in fact, it’s exactly what he did at the beginning of this arc. Not only is he giving up his chance to rifle through one of the greatest stores of magical artifacts this side of the DCU, he’s doing so to solve problems in the world. AND he’s calling the team to arms to boot. He may be able to lie again, but this fearless leader of men (actually, women and monsters) is definitely not the same Constantine who went after Zee and Tim in the first place.
The real question is: where does this leave the team? I’ve got some interesting theories on that. We know John is going up against the Cult of the Cold Flame in his own title, are Lemire and Fawkes going to try to align continuities between the two books, or is it going to just be understood that the two exist mostly separately, a la Batman and the Justice League? I’m also curious as to who’s going to be on the team. Frank seems to have found a permanent place, much to my sheer joy. If Justice League 18 is to be believed, John is going to kick Zatanna out of the club, and I think I know why. Remember Xanadu’s vision last month? “Zatanna dies at your word…you will lead her to her death.” I think John is going to fire her for her own safety. In his mind, the further Zee is from him, the safer she will be. Wait, that’s actually a pretty selfless move on his part, putting the safety of someone else before his own desires. Maybe this trip has had an even stronger impact on John than I realized.
Ultimately, I think that’s why this issue works as well as it does. Taylor was right, it should be not great. The deus ex machina resolution, the “everyone’s back to normal” attitude: it all tied up in a neat and very tidy little bow that should have me cringing, but it doesn’t. Lemire and Fawkes embrace the fact that the “and then, some magic happened and fixed it all” rule is in play. They fully acknowledge that this universe gives them the ability to make up laws as they go, and temper that with characters that I care about, characters that are flawed and funny and complex. It’s the fun of a magic-based story backed with the intelligence of a science-based story; this title is my own folk-club remix, and I am happier for it.
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