Today, Mikyzptlk and Patrick are discussing Justice League Dark 23 originally released August 21st, 2013. This issue is part of the Trinity War crossover event. Click here for our complete Trinity War coverage.
Mikyzptlk: Event comics are…strange. As Drew mentioned in his previous coverage of Trinity War, event comics like these can be hard to pin down. There’s usually a ton of damage and more colorfully clad heroes than you can shake a superpowered stick at. At the same time though, with so much going on, it can be hard to get to any meaningful characterization. It’s not impossible, but there’s just usually not that much of it. Another thing that event comics like Trinity War are known for is the idea that “Things Will Never Be The Same” after the events of said comics. In the end, what we normally get in event comics are shallow, action packed adventures that drastically change the playing field for our heroes. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, in fact, I think it’s kind of necessary. The ever-changing playing field helps to keep these decades old characters fresh, and help to prime our heroes for those character-rich solo stories we all love so much. While Trinity War has given us some interesting moments, I can’t help but feel impatient for the drastic changes it will bring. The penultimate chapter of the tale helps to reinforce that feeling.
Wonder Woman has Pandora’s Box — or is it the other way around? Either way, it’s bad news and our heroes aim to put a stop to it. Things go from bad to worse when Shazam shows up to rejoin the team, but things immediately turn into a fight instead. Fortunately for Wonder Woman, Shazam takes the box away from her. Unfortunately for Shazam, he goes evil. Like crazy, stupid evil. Here, take a gander.
Somehow, Shazam tapping into the box causes a “major disturbance in the magical realm” that reaches out to all of our magical heroes. I guess that’s why we see Deadman throwing up a bunch of ghosts. GROSS. Really though, the magical spasm does allow Deadman to get a fix on the whereabouts of Madame Xanadu. They head over to her location to find that Constantine and Zatanna have beat them to the punch. Xanadu has some bad news for the team, it turns out that Pandora’s Box is not a prison, but a door. Right on queue, the Outsider shows up and reveals that it’s time to open said door.
Okay, so the door doesn’t actually open in this issue. We are still going to have to wait until the next installment for that, but that doesn’t mean Jeff Lemire doesn’t provide some fun treats. The issue begins with a narration by Madame Xanadu. She tells us once again about the impending doom that she sees on the horizon (it must be depressing to be her). Xanadu has been tied up since the “war” began, but she finally gets the chance to say something. She reveals that Pandora’s Box is something evil. It’s not exactly a shock, but I suppose it needed to be said.
The rest of this issue, for the most part, is a simple, but deadly, game of hot potato. Wonder Woman, Shazam, Frankenstein, and Constantine all get their hands on Pandora’s Box. It’s fun to see how each hero is affected, although we don’t really get to see too much of that. Wonder Woman wants to be a goddess. Shazam wants to be even more of a brat. Frankenstein wants to smite everything that moves. What about Constantine you ask? How is a dude that already flirts with being kind of evil affected by a magical artifact that makes heroes full-on evil? Actually, it doesn’t. Here, I’ll just let John explain it. He’s way more entertaining than I am anyway.
He later makes a reference to having “magic hands,” so I’m assuming he’s got some kind of spell in place to keep the Box from affecting him. Anyway, the point is is that this issue left me feeling like I wanted more, kind of like the end of every chapter in the Harry Potter series. Whatever, I’m a Harry Potter dork. I totally embrace it. While there wasn’t a lot of new information tossed at me in this issue, it was fun seeing the Box affect our heroes the way it did. Actually, I would have loved to have seen more of that to be honest. We barely got a taste of the evil versions of these characters. With all the pomp and circumstance used to present the birth of “Black Shazam,” he barely got two words in before Frankenstein snagged the Box away from him. Oh, and evil Frank? Sign me up! Unfortunately, once again, we aren’t really given the chance to explore what an evil Frankenstein would be like.
Again, I suppose that is the nature of these big, event-driven stories: characterization gets gobbled up. In return though, we get a brave new world where anything is possible. So Patrick, what did you think of the next-to-last chapter of Trinity War? Did you enjoy the game of evil hot potato? Are you as anxious as I am to see that damned Box finally opened?
Patrick: Ah, but once the box is opened, this whole ridiculous fireworks display ends. Trinity War clearly has it’s problems, but as you’ve mentioned, they are the problems that all big dumb events have. Mike, I find it interesting that you refer to this issue as a game of “evil hot potato” — I’d alter that to “hot evil potato,” but that’s splitting hairs. Moreover, this was one of the least game-like issues we’ve read thus far. If we’re supposed to marvel at the Outsider’s foresight and planning, I guess I’m impressed? But only because the plan doesn’t make all that much sense. Like, how many pieces of this cause-and-effect are we to believe Outsider anticipated? And what’s more, even if his plan all along was to bring the box to this mysterious location where Xanadu’s tied up to a chair, does it actually do him any favors to have like a billion Justice Leagues there too? The whole strategic game analogy — which I fucking loved for the first three issues of this thing — is wearing a little thin.
But there’s something undeniably appealing about this issue specifically. I mentioned this last time we wrote about JLD, but I absolutely love the way Mikel Janin draws capes. His work with the magical superheroes is always good too, but I get a silly little thrill out of seeing him render the more traditional superheroes. And if this whole thing isn’t about silly little thrills, then what the hell is it about?
It’s a wonderfully detailed scene — I don’t know that anyone else renders these costumes quite so clearly. We all like to joke about pouches, but look at the pockets on Atom’s utility belt. Or how about the sheer detail in Ollie’s armor? And that smart belt buckle, which… I can’t tell from that angle — is it a Q or a G? The staging throughout the issue is impeccable, but the image above is a good indicator of one thing Janin does very well — he separates characters with like color schemes. It’s such a simple detail, but the fact that Ollie and J’onn are on opposite ends of the panel goes a long way toward making this thing readable. Even with seven superheroes in the panel, it’s amazing how clear this is.
And as long as we’re having fun — let’s talk a little bit more about that moment that Shazam connects the box to all the magical creatures in the DC Universe. It’s such an exciting glance at what this series has been and what it will be. I’d have to flip back through the rest of this event to be sure, but I’ve gotten the sense that the identities of these series have become rather indistinct during Trinity War. Without thinking about it too much, what did we read last week — Justice League or Justice League of America? Doesn’t really matter, does it? But it matters to Justice League Dark — look at those characters Shazam connects with. It’s a fun reminder of the extended cast that’s just waiting to be tapped for future issues of this series. Hell, if the Trinity War really does result in the Death of the Justice Leagues, it looks like there’s a perfectly good set of magical heroes just waiting to be assembled under one banner.
(Or failing that, maybe we need/don’t need a Justice League Dark of America, featuring Andrew Bennett, Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Etrigan, Amaya and Dr. Fate. Tell me you wouldn’t read that.)
It’s also sorta cool to read this issue in conjunction with Trinity of Sin: Pandora 3 (which we’re covering on Wednesday). If you’ve been skipping it, Pandora is the only one privy to what’s driving the violence in the room — it’s not just that the box makes everyone crazy, it’s that the anthropomorphic manifestations of the seven deadly sins are actively tempting the worst behaviors out of the heroes. And a couple of the occasions where it looks like Pandora is impotently firing off rounds at Shazam, she’s actually impotently shooting off rounds at the sins. I’ve been enjoying that series pretty well in general, but I get where it’s not for everyone — I would, however rank Pandora 3 as essential and fun for anyone who’s reading the main Trinity War series (easily more relevant and fun than the Constantine and Phantom Stranger tie-ins).
I had one more thought I wanted to share before turning it over to the comments: back when Drew and I were discussing Justice League 5, we joked about how little Aquaman had to do in that issue. He has like one line of dialogue in the whole thing, and it’s something totally innocuous like “let’s ask him” or something like that. Justice League Dark 23 sports so many characters that one whole line is like a showcase for these characters. The list of superheroes that we spend time with, but don’t utter any words is kind of hilarious: Martian Manhunter, Flash, Simon Baz, Katana, Vibe, Lex Luthor. Did I miss any?
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?