Justice League Dark #1

Justice League Dark #1

B

“In a neighboring town, a shower of books in a dead language kill six people./ On two farms, cows give birth to mechanical meat-slicers. One farmer shoots himself./ The local power station threatens to explode when it is imbued with consciousness… and gets bored.”

If you asked me to identify what book I thought the above passage comes from, I would surely have guessed some late-80s Vertigo title by the likes of Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman. But since you’re reading this review you probably guessed that it in fact originates in September 2011′s Justice League Dark. What we have here is an earnest attempt to do a Justice League book in the Vertigo style. I think that if I’d read this as a freshman in college, it might have been my favorite comic of all the New 52. From where I stand right now, I like it, but I do have some reservations.

I bought Justice League Dark because I was interested in seeing how two quite separate worlds under DC’s umbrella (classic horror/suspense/ mystical fiction and colorful superheroics) might play together. After one issue, I’m not really sure how well they do, but then, this was a relatively slow-moving outing; it only really introduces our main characters and starts to build the team. We have an idea of a threat —  the Enchantress gone crazy — and learn pretty quickly that Superman and his crew can’t do much about it. So the seer Madame Xanadu sets to assembling her own team of seven heroes, albeit in a non-traditional way.

As far as the book’s creative team goes, Peter Milligan seems to be the perfect choice for writer. He’s someone who’s worked very successfully in the world of classic Vertigo (his famous Shade, the Changing Man plays a key role here), and only somewhat less so with straight superheroics (the beginning of his X-Force/X-Statix with Mike Allred was incredible). The question stands whether he can bridge those two worlds. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I feel this issue does quite a bit better with its Vertigo/dark half than it does with the cape-and-cowl crowd. A lot of the more morbid elements here — Shade’s self-generated lover melting after she rejects him, the gloomy and weird narration — work really well for me and set a great tone. The stuff with the Justice League proper, on the other hand, comes off a little forced; I really hate, for instance, that Wonder Woman and Cyborg would choose to pontificate on the relationship between science and magic during a massive battle with a giant witch. The scenes between Batman and Zatanna feel equally out of place, as though DC’s more recognizable heroes were included only due to editorial mandate.

The art here’s provided by Mikel Janin, who I’m unfamiliar with. I think I enjoyed his work, but I’m not totally sure — I know I liked Ulises Arreola’s excellent, subtle colors. As for Janin himself, the figures in many of his panels seem really expressive, while in others they appear stiff and mannequin-like (check out the early diner scene in particular), so I don’t know… maybe he needs a few issues to get into the groove of this book. Any way about it, though, it’s not a bad comic to look at.

I read through this book twice, and I’m still unsure as to why DC would brand it a Justice League property. Clearly our team’s being set up to take on all the magical threats the League themselves can’t face, but is that enough justification for this team to exist? I don’t know. We need a little more story and a little more character interaction to tell for sure. As an old Vertigo fan, though, I enjoyed the tone Milligan strikes with most of this book, and if it continues to live in that darker world, I imagine I’ll keep reading it.

Pull list verdict: KEEP IT

tags: justice league dark, mikel janin, peter milligan, the new 52

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