Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Justice League Dark #9 review

In the Amazon jungle, longtime Justice League foe Felix Faust is gathering an army. The magician is stronger than ever, having gained control of a devastatingly powerful mystic artefact. US Government mage Dr Mist has been captured after being sent by Colonel Steve Trevor to learn Faust's plans.

Who ya gonna call?

Justice League Dark, of course. Except the loose alliance of supernatural heroes went their separate ways after their initial missions, with two of them - Shade the Changing Man and Mindwarp - apparently lost for good. Trevor appeals to John Constantine, Hellblazer, to get the band back together to rescue Dr Mist and stamp on whatever Faust's plans are. And the con man magician agrees, on being promised a few minutes alone in the government's legendary Black Room, treasure house of mystical artefacts - Trevor's happy to turn a blind eye while a trinket or two goes missing.

And that opportunity persuades Zatanna to come along too, once Constantine asserts that the storehouse contains the top hat of her father, Zatara. It's something she'd give her right arm for. With Zee on board, a reluctant Deadman and vampire Andrew Bennett sign up too. Madame Xanadu, who initially brought the group together, refuses - she's had enough of Constantine and his double talk. But they do have a new ally to make up the numbers, mysterious plant being Black Orchid, who works for Trevor.

The team confronts Faust and his cult near the border of Peru and Brazil, beating back wave after wave of magical creatures to rescue Dr Mist. He reveals the hiding place of Faust's power source, an 8th-dimensional map to the 'four most powerful magical artefacts that ever existed'.

As for what they are, well, I enjoyed being surprised and if you buy the book, and are familiar with the magical side of DC's Vertigo imprint, you will too. It's safe to say the items are something I thought gone from DC lore for good.

And with one issue, Justice League Dark flies to the head of the New 52. New writer Jeff Lemire keeps well away from Shade the Changing Man, who never works in a team setting; Mindwarp, a Flashpoint oddity no one this side of creator Pete Milligan understands; and Enchantress, who was well and truly booted from heroinehood in the opening arc. And while I've liked Madame Xanadu since she opened her Doorway to Nightmare, she works best as a distant mystical presence rather than a frontline mage.

As for those who do make the cut, Zatanna fits because she's a longtime team player; Constantine is fun since while he professes not to play well with others, his knack for manipulation makes him a natural leader; Black Orchid has the disciplined mindset of the trained spy; Deadman thinks of himself as a superhero; and Andrew Bennett is a formidable wild card.

As for Dr Mist, he's an unknown quantity right now, but at the very least, he's getting a fantastic costume.

Lemire introduces his cast and their mission stylishly and efficiently, ending on a note that promises a wild ride over the next several issues. With suspicion, sarcasm, disdain and haughtiness among our motley band's personality characteristics, there immediately arises an entertaining chemistry (click on image to enlarge).
While Lemire underplays how dangerous Faust has been over the years, he shows that the enchanter is no fool. For one thing, he understands Constantine's true power ('That tongue of yours is poison'). I do love Constantine as channelled by Lemire, as it seems he has a knack for working class English argot, using phrases such as 'dead effective' and even slipping in a cheeky 'wanker'.

Tying the story into the recent DC New 52 Free Comic Books Day special via the Black Room should give this title a readership boost, and hopefully people will like what they see. I know that while I enjoyed earlier issues, I like this a whole lot more - there's the same enjoyment of great characters in a spooky story, but a more accessible narrative style and greater engagement with DC's wider universe.

I'm delighted, though, that artist Mikel Janin has stuck around, as his characters are simply wondrous to behold. Constantine, Deadman and Black Orchid retain their classic looks, Dr Mist is getting that makeover and I Vampire is sex on a stick. The only visual I'm unhappy with is Zatanna - Zee looks like just another brunette in a frilly corset. I hope Constantine isn't lying about that top hat (we don't see the photo of the Black Room he claims to have viewed) as donning it would instantly restore some of the backwards magician's visual spark.

And it's not just the look of the players, it's the environments too; whether it's John's London flat, Zee's theatre or Faust's lair, the settings convince, and don't vanish after one establishing shot. As for the magical effects, crucial in a book such as this, colourist Ulises Arreola captures lightning in a brilliantly toned bottle.

If the first few issues of this series weren't what you were looking for in a mystical Justice League book, give this story a chance - a new team on the creative side makes for a splendidly entertaining new team in the comic itself.

23 comments:

  1. Anybody else think that Black Orchid looks more like Red Cabbage Girl?

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    1. Ha, I thought exactly that! Must be enjoying her salad days.

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  2. I really have to give this book a try the next time I see it Martin. The visuals, story, and cast of characters really do seem to make this book a must-read.

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    1. Let us know what you think, if you get time, Dale!

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  3. i really like this team more, but i just wanna know... what happened with the changing man?

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    1. Refer to the previous issue where he left the team due to his own issues.

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    2. Yeah, he went off with another fake Kathy.

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  4. Just read it. I loved it. For the past 8 months, the only title I got on my fourth week was Aquaman and that was fine, but didn't have that certian quality that made me overjoyed to be able to read it like Batman or Swamp Thing. However, with this title, I finally feel that I got a title to keep me excited for this week.

    Well written characters, great dynamics between them, fast paced action that shows what the team is made of, establishing of the characters in the world, building upon the previous run but going in a new direction, interesting cliffhanger to keep us wanting to know what happens next, and just all around fun!

    Jeff Lemire has become one of my favorite writers in just a small amount of time. From now on, I'll try anything he writes, he has earned the same amount of trust I put in Scott Snyder and Geoff Johns. He is great!

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    1. Great appraisal, this is my favourite Lemire book since his Superboy strip. Animal Man started strong, but is rambling rather.

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    2. Wait, you didn't try his Frankenstien run? I heard it's good and I'm picking up the trade next month.

      On Animal Man, I think it's pretty darn good, though his arcs always seem to start slow. My only real fear, which is the same with Swamp Thing, is where the title will go after The Rot storyline ends? I'm sure Jeff has something neat up his sleeves, but what could he bring next?

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    3. I never said I didn't try Frank, I simply never singled it out. I reviewed the first issue, and am still buying.

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  5. I personally don't like part of Faust's redesign, they got rid of his hood and the simplicity of his robe otherwise it's okay.

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    1. Yeah, I prefer the classic look too. The first JLA I ever owned was The Fantastic Fingers of Felix Faust, so I'm sentimental.

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  6. Loved the issue; knew I struggled with the past 8 issues for a good reason. Jeff Lemire does in one issue what Peter Milligan barely did in his entire run: presenting a great team book with a likable and interesting cast of characters, and firmly gives them a direction and a place in the DCU. Also, I really appreciate that Lemire's giving room for Mikel Janin to tell the story as well; Milligan tended to flood pages with text, and it felt like he didn't trust his collaborator (which is now a problem in Stormwatch. To be fair, Milligan's dialed it down).

    I really like Mikel Janin's art but it does have some weaknesses with consistency and showing depth. Also, there was this one panel with the temple steps where it looked like a giant wall

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    1. I see what you mean about the steps, I 'read' that as saying 'reeeeeally vertiginous.

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  7. I just dropped this title...I had no idea they were switching creative teams...argh...

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    1. Hey mart what did you think of faust new appearance and costume.

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    2. Not as striking as the original!

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    3. Well I'm glad the demons three are going to show up in the next issue along with the teams new HQ the house of mystery.

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    4. Aha, I never knew they were going to the House of Mystery. Weren't the Secret Six there? Or was that the House of Secrets? And which House did Blue Devil own back in the day?

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    5. the six were based in the house of secrets

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    6. Thanks. I wonder if there was ever an in-joke nod to that in Vertigo's House of Secrets title.

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