REVIEW: Justice League Dark #9
Or – “It Can’t Rain All The Time…”
After the threat of the Enchantress and the vampire war, John Constantine’s team is short a few members and facing a greater threat than ever. Will a little new blood (both figuratively and literally) get things back on track?
Previously, in Justice League Dark: The Enchantress used to be a hero (albeit a minor one) but her descent into the worlds of magic and madness turned her into a greater threat than any of the things she fought in her green tights. A group of mystical types under the leadership of John Constantine (!!) managed to stop her rampage, and stayed together as the vampire nation declared war on the mundane world. Now, John has a new mission and a few new soldiers to work with… Will this JL Dark make the grade?
FANS OF OLD-SCHOOL VERTIGO, REJOICE!
When the announcements of the new DCU were made, among the most intriguing for me was the implication that all the DCU-based properties at Vertigo (Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Hellblazer and such) would be coming home to the DC Universe. Since I never really cared for the Vertigo separation in the first place, given how arbitrary and gradual it happened, I was happy to see them coming back to the main DCU. The first arcs of this book, however, disappointed me in their darkness and obscurity (a hallmark, and not always a bad one, of previous writer Pete Milligan.) This issue opens with a much-more-dangerous-and-creepy-looking Felix Faust confronting a man who has the temerity to invade his secret citadel. “Fancy meeting you here, Felix,” deadpans John Constantine. “Got a light?” Right there, Jeff Lemire has me sold, American. Before Felix can murder JC in cold blood, his new team (Andrew Bennett, Black Orchid, Deadman and Zatanna) leap into action, with Deadman commenting that they’re acting like a “regular superhero team.” John pauses to light his cigarette before musing about his new “band,” using a musical metaphor to discuss who does what, in classic Five-Man Band fashion.
EXPLAINING THE NAME…
Turns out, Johnny has been recruited by the Justice League’s own Steve Trevor to deal with magical menaces outside the purview of the Big Seven supers, enticing Constantine to join up by teasing him with the knowledge of mystical secrets currently in the government’s hands. Lemire’s justifications work perfectly here, even with the mess left behind after the war with the vampires, as Bennett, Zatanna and Deadman are each drawn in with perfect bait, and the man the team is being sent to save (Doctor Mist) is only the first layer of continuity reference in play here. The defeat of Faust comes in a pretty awesome way, thanks to the secretive Black Orchid, and the issue ends with the revelation of Faust’s power-source, an item that gives our little coterie additional reasons to stay together. I like the tone of this issue, taking tropes of the super-hero genre and applying them to characters completely uncomfortable (or openly derisive) of the term, while refusing to see how perfectly they fit the roles. Lemire’s greatest trick is putting John Constantine at the center of things while keeping his established loner, deadpan snarker traits intact, something which I truly enjoy…
THE VERDICT: CON-STUN-TYNE, WITH A LONG “I” SOUND.
All in all, this is probably a better team than the core JLA, and certainly one that has fewer awful people in it, even given that the characters here don’t really get along. The mystery at the center of it all is both intriguing and rooted in continuity, and it is my fervent hope that things will continue in this vein, as the issue was very clearly conceptualized and lovely to read. The art remains good, if dark, and one of the greatest problems (how to tell Madame Xanadu and Zatanna apart in the close-ups) is quickly handled as Madame X takes a backseat (or possibly quits the team entirely, whichever.) Justice League Dark #9 is surprisingly good, channeling both classic superhero comics and the Vertigo mystique into a coherent agglomeration, earning 4 out of 5 stars overall. This is as good an issue of this comic as I’ve seen so far…