THIS REVIEW OF ‘JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
By Clyde Hall. According to magician and performance artist Marco Tempest, “Magicians will always tell you the trick is the most important thing, but I’m more interested in telling a story.” The creative talent on DC’s Justice League Dark #1 likely agrees, but magic gone mad will play an important part in their tale. With once reliable spellcraft now unpredictably and savagely out of control due to the ever-bountiful Pandora’s Box of the fractured Source Wall, Wonder Woman is tasked by the Justice League to organize and lead an alternative League, one better suited to deal with mystical threats. Her recruitment efforts net few prospects, but circumstance unites willing and unwilling alike as the nature of their supernatural adversary is revealed.
Writer James Tynion IV’s Rebirthed JLD consists of Wonder Woman, Zatanna, Man-Bat, Detective Chimp, and Swamp Thing. While it includes members from the former version of the JLD team and from Shadowpact, it’s still an unconventional roster. Part of issue #1 implies that there’s a specificity to the teaming, and that magic is about to change. Or perhaps that the rules governing it are. Maybe both. A redefining of glamour and the nature of enchantment in the DCU could be stimulating, even more so if this incarnation of JLD proves pivotal in the revision.
Within that possibility lies a portion of the introductory issue’s attraction, compounded by interactions of an eclectic membership. That begins right at the top, as Wonder Woman finally assumes command of her own branch of the Justice League. Her introduction is fittingly impressive, even as she’s stymied by former seasoned Magi associates while gathering her team. Swamp Thing and Zatanna are veteran Crises campaigners, but Bobo’s quick to point out that he’s faced mass extinction events as well. The interaction between Diana, Detective Chimp, and Traci Thirteen in the Oblivion Bar is humorous, heartfelt, and delivered with bowls of pretzels and snark (magic animal variety and the Bobo humor kind). Man-Bat adds a different levity as the eager former villain, longing to make a valuable contribution even while retaining his chiropteran head to further cognitive thought retention when fully transformed. It’s the sort of experimenta and boundary-testing this incarnation of Kirk Langstrom would do. And his contention that a challenge is never past science echoes the Ray Palmer mantra of heroes who’ve conjured victory from defeat using their own legerdemain of biology, chemistry, and physics.
Magicians were the original outside-the-box thinkers, who then made the box in question levitate, float through hoops, and finally vanish in showers of sparkles. A core recognition of that abides in Tynion’s writing, manifesting with observations that the looming threat isn’t going to be defeated by customary mage warfare, clandestine and hidden from the eyes of the mundane. Nor will “punching it into the light” necessarily vanquish it. If a new tact needs creating, JLD members versed in spellcraft—or bound to elemental forces on an extraterrestrial scale, or raised in a mystic environment of beneficial magicks, or profoundly proficient in deductive reasoning, or alchemist enough to potion a human into a werebat—could be essential in the battle to come.
The primary challenge for Tynion and company will be overcoming audience expectation. Their JLD aspires to replace the previous JLD, a title that garnered fan loyalty as a popular and entertaining New 52 series. Additionally, it shares similarities with Shadowpact, another quality teaming of DC’s supernatural characters with its own following. Comparisons will be drawn, with some readers likely taking exception that the new series isn’t enough like their past favorite.
The new Justice League Dark #1 also draws its necromantic nemesis from behind the shattered Source Wall, the current wellspring of adversity spilling across multiple DC titles. For readers vested in that opposing force, the ante is upped as it takes another form. For anyone indifferent to it, the book will be a harder sell and through no fault of those laboring on it. Part of its storyline is non-negotiable, connected to a narrative larger than its own and reliant on those orchestrating the overall epic to put it over wholesale.
Faced with these challenges, Tynion isn’t throwing out a cantrip of a script, nor settling for a satisfying bit of writing hedge wizardry. He’s carefully weaving a complex conjuration, a narrative dweomer with verbal and somatic components, for an intricate and involved story that pulses beneath the layered allure. Patience is required, the sort an audience grants a consummate prestidigitator in the opening stages of establishing the illusion, and in anticipation of a memorable finale as payoff.
The pencils of Alvaro Martinez Bueno with inks by Raúl Fernández provide ample corporeal delights, including the Tree of Wonder pages where Brad Anderson’s colors truly radiate. The trio strives for variation, with a superheroic style suitable for Amazonian warrior combat framing suddenly transmuting into abyss-dwelling horrors and immolated spirit guides.
The understated level of convention achieved by these artists is its own sleight of hand. They design a patina of everyday life that’s baited to produce doubletakes. Yes, it’s the low-lit interior of a tavern. And yes, that was a chimp holding an enchanted sword, nursing a pint at the bar, and joined in hushed conversation with a mythic warrior woman. And when they usher you into a covert branch of the famous Justice League, you do get tours of the well-appointed headquarters. But no one warns you about scientists with bat heads conducting tests on Tom Savini-inspired corpses on the laboratory level. Such vivid delights in the inaugural issue of Justice League Dark beguile, with imminent bewitching still to come.
Written by James Tynion IV.
Pencils by Alvaro Martinez Bueno.
Inks by Raúl Fernández.
Colors by Brad Anderson.
Letters by Jack Morelli.
7.5 out of 10
‘Justice League Dark’ is available in stores and digital services now.