Today, Taylor and Shelby are discussing Justice League Dark 21, originally released June 26th, 2013.
Taylor: When you’re John Constantine, it’s always good to predict future as best you can. In order to escape the jaws of death time and again, John needs to predict what his enemies will do and how they will do it. Usually the man is pretty good at that sort of stuff and since he is often the focus of Justice League Dark it’s easy to forget that there are other ways of going about things. In fact, in Madame Xanadu the team has a colleague who can literally see the future and who doesn’t need to indulge herself in guesswork of any sort. But how useful is this power? More importantly, how does she choose to use this power and is it responsible? Issue 21 of Justice League Dark delves into these questions while also exploring a character that — up until this point — we have known very little about.
Doctor Destiny has taken control of the House of Mystery and with it his threatening to kill everyone in New York. Also, he’s Madame Xanadu’s son from a failed relationship she had who-knows-how-many ages ago. This threats to spell the end for our heroes when Frankenstein bursts into the House of Mystery, giving Xanadu the chance to engage her son in battle. To aid Xanadu in her cause, Deadman possesses the trapped Swamp Thing’s soul and in the process realizes the House of Mystery has a soul and frees the tree loving hero. Once Deadman is in control of the house, the Justice League Dark team has the momentum they need to defeat Doctor Destiny, which ends with Xanadu killing her own son.
Madame Xanadu is the main character on display in this issue and it’s rewarding to see her character being developed beyond what we’ve seen in previous issues. Sure, we know she can see the future and that she’s old beyond all comprehension, but never before have we been privy to her inner thoughts and motivations. In this issue, however, we get a glimpse into both and what we see is mysterious and enticing, just as I would imagine seeing into the future is like. What’s fascinating about Xanadu, and the baggage she carries with her, is that it’s all related to time in some way or another, even if the way they are manifested are incredibly different. On the one hand, time bends to her will in that she can see into the future and plan accordingly. On the other hand she defies time by never aging and giving the slip to something that plagues us all.
As this issue opens we get a glimpse into what Xanadu sees happening to her and her friends twenty years in the future. Basically, Doctor Destiny is about to destroy the world and Xanadu has fallen in love with Deadman.
Of course this is a future that is never set to happen. Being able to see the years beyond the present means that Xanadu can change it by planning her actions accordingly. As far as this issue is concerned, this means that Deadman will never get to kiss Xanadu and Doctor Destiny will never live to utterly destroy everything. And while it’s all well and good that Xanadu takes actions to prevent all of our heroes from dying, her victory is a bit hallow. When peering into what will be, Xanadu sees both the good and the bad. The beauty and the beast. So while she averts disaster at the hand of Doctor Destiny, she also consciously denies herself love. In this case, she doesn’t want to give Deadman a chance because she fears that her offspring could turn out to be like Doctor Destiny. Basically she grounds her chances at love and perhaps happiness all because she had a premonition of what that could mean. In this way it seems as if Xanadu’s power to see into the future is somewhat of a double edged sword. Being blind to what will happen to us in the future allows us all to live with a certain reckless abandon. Xanadu, however, doesn’t get to enjoy this luxury.
Just as seeing into the future has its benefits and drawbacks, so too does being able to live forever. The very reason for this issue happening is due to actions Xanadu committed an undefined number of years ago. Doctor Destiny is Xanadu’s son and his anger toward his mother is the reason why he is trying to destroy the world and fill it with nightmares. This all stems from some mysterious and disastrous relationship Xanadu had which continues to haunt her despite its remote place in history. While living forever means you can accumulate vast experience, it also means you have several chances to make mistakes and generally make a mess of things. It also turns out that when you run around with members of the occult, the chances of mistakes coming back to haunt you are great. So while death is indeed the end of life, so too is it the end of mistakes which again, is not a luxury Xanadu enjoys. However, Xanadu seems prepared to clean up the mistakes she has made.
But what psychological toll does Xanadu pay for committing such actions as killing her own son? How does she justify that to herself? Can she tolerate being both his creator and destroyer? Knowing such things are prone to happen, is Xanadu doomed to live forever in fear of her own actions? All of these are vexing questions and one can only imagine the burden of carrying them. So while making time your plaything may be of benefit, it is clear that to Xanadu at least, such a power doesn’t come without it’s price.
So Shelby, were you happy to gain some insight into who Madame Xanadu is and how she leads her life? Also, a lot of other neat stuff happened in this issue. In particular the Flash has some neat moments. What do you think of those?
Shelby: There was something both extremely satisfying and extremely upsetting about Xanadu killing Doctor Destiny. The act was certainly justified; there’s a very real chance it was the only way to stop him and prevent the end of the world. Plus, I love me some fierce, powerful lady action, especially when it comes from a woman who’s generally been a non-combatant. Xanadu’s been strictly intelligence; I don’t believe we’ve seen her actively fight until now. And of course, I like any time both the villain’s and the readers’ expectations are turned around. Like Spider Slayer in the most recent Superior Spider-Man, Destiny is hedging his bets on the fact that he will be victorious because his mother, a “good guy” won’t be able to do the unthinkable. That’s where the upsetting part comes in; unholy monstrosity though he may be, Destiny was still her son. She cut down her own offspring. No matter how necessary an act it was, there’s got to be a small part of her screaming that it’s wrong.
The thing I find most interesting abut Xanadu is her self-imposed solitude. Between her immortality and her prescience, it’s not surprising. Not only is she going to out-live everyone she loves, she also has the bonus of being able to look into their future to see just how they will meet their end. It’s very sad, then, that her future with Boston is (as she perceives it) tied up with the future of Destiny destroying everything. Boston is perfect for her; he’s already dead. He can be there for her as long as she needs him, he’s not going anywhere. With the exception of the whole non-corporeal thing, the two would make an adorable couple with the potential staying power of centuries.
Personally, I think there’s more at stake than Xanadu’s loneliness. Her power has saved the world countless times, but what will she do if she severs her connection to the rest of humanity? I worry that secluding herself from the world will cause her to become apathetic towards the fate of everyone else. If she no longer allows herself the luxury of a support system of friends (and ghosty more-than-friends), what’s to stop her from letting the world go to hell in a hand-basket? A ghost and a band of misfit magicians and monsters may make for a tenuous hold on reality, but it’s better than nothing.
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?