Justice League Dark #1
“In the Dark, Part One: Imaginary Women”
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Mikel Janin
Colors: Ulises Arreola
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover artist: Ryan Sook
Editors: Rex Ogle & Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
Pay no attention to the title of this series. This isn’t a Justice League comic. When DC announced the awkwardly named series to feature several of its supernatural heroes, I rolled my eyes — especially given the promise the series would feature the decidedly un-super-hero-y John Constantine. Part of me wanted to dismiss Justice League Dark as an awkward and ill-advised attempt to expand the Justice League brand to mirror Marvel’s successful transformation of its Avengers properties into its most profitable and popular franchise. But, as I said, this isn’t a Justice League comic book — it’s a supernatural horror/adventure comic crafted skilfully by an inventive, experienced writer and an up-and-coming, talented, young artist. Milligan offers a riveting script that balances insane, disturbing ideas with some real emotion in the middle of the impossible. And as for artist Mikel Janin, it’s easy to see why DC quickly signed him to an exclusive contract. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s lauded as one of the industry’s top super-hero genre artists in short order.
Something is wrong with the Enchantress, a powerful sorceress who also happens to have quite the mean streak, making for a threat even the most powerful members of the Justice League can’t handle. As Superman, Wonder Woman and Cyborg try face a barrage of magical attacks from the insane villainess, multiple manifestations of her innocent other self, June Moone, are turning up all over the place, lost and confused. Madame Xanadu has visions of a horrible future and reaches out for help, while Zatanna realizes her friends in the Justice League just aren’t equipped as she is to face a supernatural threat.
I first saw Janin’s artwork on the first issue of Flashpoint: Deadman and the Flying Graysons, released a short while after the New 52 lineup, this title and its creative team were announced. No matter what I thought of the title Justice League Dark, I knew I was going to love the way it looked. Janin’s efforts on this first issue look like someone took the styles of Frazer (Xombi) Irving, Doug (Universe X, The Brave and the Bold) Braithwaite and Steve (Captain America) McNiven, merged them and created something unique in the process. I love the smooth lines he brings to the characters’ photorealistic faces; it accentuates their humanity (which is important when so many of the characters aren’t human). The detail he brings to each panel is almost overwhelming. His double-page splash near the beginning of the issue brings a nightmare to life, with one foot in reality and the other in morbidly magical. That spread demands the reader’s attention, and one is left to slowly devour the image, in which there’s so much happening all at once. His designs are sharp as well. I was particularly taken with the elegant look for Madame Xanadu, the animalistic appearance of a clearly tormented Enchantress and the seemingly desiccated look of Deadman’s “mask.”
There are a handful of comics writers out there who often pepper their scripts with mad ideas, twisted bits of imagination that surprise, amuse and amaze the reader. Milligan is one of those writers. He comes up with several surreal manifestations of a supernatural threat’s power run wild through the DC Universe, and he bombards the reader with them. A downpour of books. A sentient power plant. A torrent of teeth. These insane notions come quickly and fade away just as quickly. Milligan puts so much work into those fleeting notions, you can’t help but anticipate the larger concepts that serve as the driving forces in the plot.
The best scene in the issue is Rac Shade’s uncomfortable confrontation with his lover. The first thing that struck me about the scene was how she was dressed; it seemed a bit too phoney and gratuitous. As the scene progresses, though, the gratuitousness and phoniness suddenly make a lot of sense, and it paints Shade as a little boy trying to hide from his troubles in a fantasy. It’s both a disturbing scene and a heartfelt one. While it conveys Shade’s instability, it also presents him as an emotional and therefore relatable individual.
Those were my favorite moments in this issue, those that explore the characters as human beings, not magical champions or villains. They’re the ones that really had me eager to read the next chapter in the story. Those slivers of the mundane tucked away in the madness are the most exciting parts for me. Rac Shade’s pathetic answer to his loneliness is a creepy idea, but his reason for it makes him a pitiable and sympathetic figure. June Moone’s confusion and innocence are almost palpable, and Madame Xanadu’s answer to the eternal torment of her precognition exposes her as a flawed, vulnerable and desperate woman who yearns for nothing more than a moment of normalcy and peace. It’s by exploring these characters as people rather than magicians and monsters that Milligan finds the book’s true strength. 8/10
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