Monday, 12 May 2014

Justice League Dark Vol. 1: In the Dark (The New 52) Review

Justice League Dark Vol. 1: In the Dark (The New 52)

Nobody has any idea what is
happening in this cover art.
Writer: Peter Milligan

Artist: Mikel Janin

Collects: Justice League #1-6

Background Information:
This is a version of the Justice League that, to my knowledge, hasn’t existed before. It’s also one of the only New 52 Justice League launch title that doesn’t feature Batman as part of the lineup.
Instead, the Justice League Dark is made up of magic-based characters who haven’t really been in DC’s spotlight. Most of them are characters that formerly belonged to DC’s Vertigo imprint; the magical detective/conman John Constantine, the reality-bending alien Shade. Others have been a marginal part of the DC universe for years, though; the magician Zantanna and the body-possessing ghost Deadman. It’s a group of heroes that have a bit of a cult following, no pun intended.

Review:

For a DC title that features some lesser-known characters, Justice League Dark has been more successful than the big wigs at DC seem to think it should be. The series is still going strong with no signs of being cancelled in the near future. That’s because, unlike other Justice League titles that have failed to have the same sticking power (Here’s looking at you, Justice League International), Justice League Dark’s writer, Peter Milligan actually seems to love the characters he’s writing.

"This isn't even the weirdest thing that's happened to us..."
In the Dark comes as part of DC’s horror subset, placing it alongside titles such as Animal Man, Swamp Thing and Resurrection Man. As such, the plot predictably runs the “grotesque stuff happens, heroes need to stop it” line. I’d be doing the plot a disservice if I left it at that though; an evil sorceress known only as the Enchantress is seeking her other half, that means sending clones of this other half running all over the world raising hell. A clairvoyant named Madame Xanadu decides that the only way to save the world is to bring together the most power magical heroes in the world.

That sounds like a run-of-the-mill style plot, but Milligan peppers it with some great moments of characterisation. The stand-out here has to be Shade, whose can create whole people with his reality-bending ability. The way he uses these abilities more often than not serve an emotional need more than anything, but the result is these fantastic glimpses into the psyche of a man (alien?) who is deeply troubled, but wants to do the right thing.

Another great one here, appropriately, is John Constantine. There were points when I was wondering if he had any real magical ability at all- he mostly steals spell from other sorcerers to use to cheat people out of money. His magical knowledge, though is fantastic. This all gets wrapped up in an irreverent, cockney ego that is heaps of fun to read.

My problem with In the Dark is that it uses quite a bit of sexual innuendo, and even some sexualisation of its female characters. If you thought Zatanna looked a little trampy before reading this collection, you’re in for a surprise. She shows a lot more skin here and is even seen after a one-night-stand with Constantine (though, to be fair, it’s more subtle here than it was in books like Catwoman). As for sexual innuendo, it gets a little overused by Deadman; who tries to use his possession of others for some pretty creepy reasons. What bothers me about all of this is that Milligan has written some really great characters here. They didn’t need to use sexualisation of anything to make this team work as well as it does and the result is that these moments feel juvenile.
And oddly, Deadman's the only character in this book with
a girlfriend. Let it sink in that you're officially less attractive
than a dead guy.

DC’s horror subset of books has had some excellent art in other titles that I've read, and here is no different. Weirdly-shaped panels combine with deft use of light and shadow to create something really special here. All the scary parts look scary, and that is the best praise I can afford it.

In the Dark is an excellent entry-point for those wanting to look at DC’s horror collection. It gets a four out of five grotesque things.

****

+ Milligan writes some great characters

+ Art is scary when it should be

- So much sexualisation

Alternate Option: Swamp Thing: Raise Them Bones

A great introduction to Swamp Thing and an excellent horror title in its own right.