Justice League Dark #2

Justice League Dark #2

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In my review of Justice League Dark #1 last month, I remarked that the book seemed to stumble a bit when it tried to incorporate characters from the mainstream DCU into its shadowy proceedings. It’s no surprise, then, that writer Peter Milligan finds more success when he concentrates on the darker elements named in the comic’s title. Justice League Dark #2 mostly leaves the world of DC’s brightly colored superheroes behind to probe some dismal depths, and in doing so it solidifies my opinion that this is a book worth reading.

Actually, so far it seems that the dark material name-checked in the title doesn’t so much refer to our heroes’ current dilemma as the heroes themselves. For some background: issue #2 picks up where #1 left off, with the powers of a demented Enchantress causing chaos around the world. But instead of focusing on that, we spend more time building our eventual team of protagonists. Last issue threw the spotlight on Shade the Changing Man and Zatanna, while this one spends most of its time with Deadman. Normally these slow-build arcs don’t do it for me — I generally don’t think it should take til the end of your first full story to establish your team — but when such solid attention is paid to characterization, I can’t really complain.

So back to that darkness — this issue shows us that Deadman (one of the most recognizable and mainstream of all the heroes in the book) has a lot of trouble with his relationships. Like, a lot. We veer into some pretty serious issues of sexual confusion and deviancy here as the non-corporeal Boston Brand struggles to find a way to make love to his flesh-and-blood girlfriend. His first attempt at doing so is actually pretty smart but meets with significant resistance, so when he gives it a go again in a slightly different form, I imagine that all of us readers feel a mixture of disgust and sympathy for the guy. Even given the outlandish set-up, the way Boston handles the situation seems really human and relatable. How many of us know what it’s like to get trapped in that spiral of desperate actions for someone we love?

Just like issue #1 showed us Shade the Changing Man’s terrible dysfunction in relating to others, then, here we get similar insight into another of our heroes. I could see where that kind of real-world superhero deconstruction may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I think that if there’s a book to explore that kind of stuff in, it’s this one. Justice League Dark gets to live on the edge between mainstream DCU and more adult Vertigo fair, so I’m all up for a little deconstruction. What would Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing have been without it? Milligan even establishes a thesis statement for his character work early on in this issue via the omniscient narration of Madame Xanadu, who presumably will eventually lead the team:

Listen, I have a theory. You don’t have the powers these people have without paying a heavy price. You know what it’s like, to destroy anything innocent that enters your life? To destroy love? You know what that does to you? A kind of darkness envelops you.

If we can take that as a kind of blanket starting point for the characters we’re going to see developed throughout this series, then I’m on board, especially if Milligan gives them the same care with which he’s treated Shade and Deadman.

Artistically, I’m still not sure what to make of this book. There are times when I think penciller Mikel Janin produces some of the most beautiful pages you can currently see in a monthly comic, and other (admittedly fewer) times when things just look a little off and artificial. I could say the same of colorist Ulises Arreola (what a name!), who commands a beautiful palette but whose pages sometimes seem to miss reality just a bit. I’m starting to think what’s causing that reaction in me is the lack of facial detail in Janin’s work, especially in women. That combined with thick ink lines (Janin inks himself here) makes the book seem just a bit exaggerated and cartoony sometimes, which doesn’t really fit the tone it’s going for. Still, overall the art’s quite good, especially when it comes to the male characters, and I’m happy to keep looking at Janin’s work.

I’m not sure if Justice League Dark improved between its first two issues so much as it’s starting to focus in on its niche in the New 52. If Milligan and Janin keep delivering issues like this month after month, we’ll have a pretty solid book on our hands, and one that has the ability to explore the great extremes of human existence, from being the world’s greatest hero to its worst lover.

tags: justice league dark, mikel janin, peter milligan

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