Justice League Dark 20

Alternating Currents: Justice League Dark 20, Drew and Taylor

Today, Drew and Taylor are discussing Justice League Dark 20, originally released May 29th, 2013. 

Drew: Comic books love team-ups, to the point that we rarely question their utility. Whether it’s random circumstance or a specific goal that brings the team together, once the team is formed, we kind of take it for granted that they will stick together. Who cares if Ocean’s 12 requires a ballistics expert (or whatever it is that Brad Pitt’s character does)? The team is the team — don’t question it. Unless, of course, you’re Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes, who devote Justice League Dark 20 to examining the utility of each team-up, from the random cameos to the team’s core members. The result is a fresh, surprisingly compelling argument for the team’s existence.

The issue begins with New York in the throws of Dr. Destiny’s Swamp Thing-aided nightmares. The Flash, who has helpfully decided to help out the JLD, discovers that he can vaporize Destiny’s constructs by vibrating through them, and the two proceed to rescue Madame Xanadu and Deadman. Constantine is a bit more complicated, however, as his nightmares apparently involve real magic, which makes them impervious to Flash’s vibration attacks. Of course, that also means Constantine can dispatch them with ease. The team then barrels into Destiny’s hideout, where he reveals that he is Xanadu’s son.

It’s a fun issue, but I almost wonder if Lemire and Fawkes are having too much fun. They clearly revel in all of the sight gags they can pull with Flash, but his entirely off-camera rescue of Xanadu effectively eliminates the danger from the situation.

"I checked every Xanadu in the phone book. I'm pretty sure this is the right one."

Of course, our believing the danger of this situation isn’t entirely necessary in justifying the boss fight we all know this is headed towards, but that doesn’t mean Lemire and Fawkes don’t backpedal a bit to rekindle that sense of danger — first insisting that Flash stick with the group, and then having him show up late to Deathman’s rescue because he was busy saving randos. It’s a bit of seam-showing, but those seams reveal the fun behind the scenes, so it’s excusable (again, I’m reminded of the Ocean’s movies).

That said, I was quite pleased when Constantine’s nightmares turned out to be different than everyone else’s. Sure, there was an added element of danger, but what really intrigued me was what this says about Constantine. Unlike the rest of the team, who fear some intersection other people and their own pasts, Constantine is scared of himself. His nightmares grow out of his own blood, and as such, are able to tap into his own magical abilities. Strangely, that also makes them easy to defeat, though Constantine pointedly has to do it himself. I’m not entirely sure what to make of how quickly Constantine diffuses the situation, but I think the fact that he didn’t want or need anyone else’s help says a great deal about his character.

I think the fact that Constantine’s constructs manifested differently may give us a clue to Destiny’s claim at the end. He’s doing his own kind of prophesying, all while Xanadu is incapable of foreseeing anything — sound like a nightmare scenario for a precog? Moreover, the suggestion that he’s her son strikes her as an impossibly bad situation, which again, seems like it might be by Destiny’s design rather than the truth. This all could be a sneakily manifested nightmare. Of course, it’s the New 52, and all of these characters’ histories are subject to change, so who knows? Maybe we’re getting the new Dr. Destiny origin story.

I had a blast this issue (honestly, I could read a whole book of these characters just calling each other ridiculous nicknames), so I’m curious to hear your thoughts, Taylor. Did you find the zaniness charming, or was it distracting? Also, what’s the deal with Swamp Thing’s fear being fire? I thought that was Frankenstein’s jam.

Taylor: You know what, I’m actually really comfortable with the zany aspects of this issue. I tend to think that any team-up is kind of intrinsically goofy so it’s nice if the creators of a team issue write with their tongue in cheek. This really shouldn’t surprise us all that much with the JLD title, however. Fawkes and Lemire have consistanly undercut their own subject matter in throughout their run on this series. While most writers might run the risk of making an issue seem like it has no real real importance, Lemire and Fawkes have an uncanny ability to dodge this trap. It’s an impressive thing to do and it’s also one of the things that continually makes this title such a blast. We’ve mentioned it before, but having a character acknowledge that a bunch of weird shit is going on is simply gold. It achieves the task of bringing JLD’s readers to the same level as its heroes. Everyone is a bit confused by magic (except maybe Constantine), and that’ just fine.

Along the same lines, it’s impressive how well the writers have incorporated the Flash into the JLD team. I’m mean: sure, we could talk about how his power set is a little at odds with the rest of the magic users who populate JLD, I would rather talk about how his character fits in with the other members. Justice League Dark is a self-conscious title. I don’t mean to say that it’s shy and worries about what people think about. Rather, it is very aware of what it is. Again, this is a strength of the title and is a primary reason why it is so good. Introducing a well known character from the DC universe into the fold could present itself as a challenge, since that character’s attributes must remain consistent with what we already know about them. Even if his powers seem incongruous with the JLD, Flash fits in well with the dynamic of the team, especially when it comes to his interactions with Frankenstein. Franky likes to take things slow and methodically, both of which are things the Flash is not known for. Pair this with the Flash’s recognition that the JLD team is weird and he’s perfectly at home in this issue. Further, he displays the self-consciousness about the regular Justice League that fits well with that team’s antithesis.

An Astute ObservationBut for all of this talk of JLD not taking itself too seriously there are things in this issue which should please anyone who prefers their comics to be operate with some level of gravitas. In particular, there are some weird hints being dropped about the relationship between the magic of the League and some of the other fantastic elements from other corners of the DC universe. Flash notices that the nightmares created by Doctor Destiny are similar in composition to that of the energy created by the Green Lantern.

Hard Energy, GrossI’m not sure if this will really matter in the end or if it hints at further crossover events and guest stars but it is interesting. The other day I was speaking to Shelby and we were discussing how the DC universe takes itself so much more seriously than the Marvel universe. This isn’t a bad thing in any way – the two publishers just carry themselves in different ways. Though JLD is lighter in tone than some of its fellow DC titles, it still acknowledges the larger DC universe in a serious and interesting way. Again, Fawkes and Lemire know what they’re doing in this title and the deftness with which they handle the events in in Justice League Dark and the DC universe at large is always an impressive and fun experience.

Oh, and I don’t know about Swamp Thing being afraid of fire. Maybe burning trees? But everyone knows all forests benefit from the occasional fire, so yeah. Beats me.

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?

9 comments on “Justice League Dark 20

    • Like, I can accept that Swamp Thing might be afraid of fire, but it seems weird to make a point of that in an issue that also contains a character who we know is afraid of fire.

        • Fire’s actually a pretty good general deterrent, but it’s kinda striking how frequently DC heroes are particularly susceptible to it: Martain Manhunter, Swamp Thing, Posion Ivy, Frankenstein (last one is kind of a joke). You’d think a bad guy like Heatwave would have a little more clout…

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