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If there’s anything I’ve learned from the post-90’s entertainment market, it’s that darker is better. No one liked those Joel Schumacher Batman movies. Let’s get the guy who made Memento. Sonic the Hedgehog? So lame. Make way for Shadow the Hedgehog. Sure, the Beatles’ “White Album” was great, but let’s add in a little Jay-Z and make it the “Grey Album.” DC’s answer to the dark side was Vertigo, a line of comics that, for the most part, still corresponded with the DCU and its characters, but had more of the controversy and graphic themes that kids love. Basically, Batman-style stuff without the marketability to get away with it in the mainstream. Of course, with the New 52, Vertigo and DCU are whole once more and the dark side of the spectrum needs a corresponding flagship. So, forget that non-light-spectrum-associated Justice League, this is Justice League Dark #1.
With this first issue, writer Peter Milligan has created a really cool set up for the beginnings of a really cool team. Milligan is known for his previous works on the Vertigo line, Shade the Changing Man and Hellblazer, and the influence of these series are keenly felt. There’s blood, there’s violence, there’s insanity and things that just do not make sense. Superman gets cut up by swirling human teeth. Does that make sense? No, that does not make sense.
The core of this first issue is setting up our characters and our threat. All over the place are simulacra of June Moone, the alter ego of Enchantress. The Justice League isn’t quite sure what the deal is, but the many Moones are causing a disturbance in an unconventional way. Then more crazy crap starts happening and it is pretty clear that Enchantress may not be entirely sober. Superman, Cyborg, and Wonder Woman go off to investigate, but we all know it takes the magically inclined to deal with magical problems. Madame Xanadu seems to have a pretty good idea of what is going to happen as she brushes her narration past Zatanna, Deadman, Shade the Changing Man, and John Constantine. Kind of a sweet line up. In one way or another, each of these occult experts come to get an idea of the problem and that is about where it ends. Unfortunately, the biggest fault I found with this issue is that there is not much of a narrative thread. As I said, Milligan really seems to focus on showing us these character and what they will have to deal with, but the actual dealing and what is really going on are left to be wondered at. There is some mystery wrapped up in the simulacra and Madame Xanadu’s visions of the future, but, for now, a mystery is all it is.
Still, despite something of a stunted narrative, there are a lot of little things that would stand on their own brilliantly in other books. I do not want to give anything away, because everything the book presents is just so cool on its own. Cool and dark. From presenting the nature of Shade’s abilities to a brief tally of what Enchantress’s powers are doing to a look at what Madame Xanadu sees are all incredible. Of course, these would not be nearly as cool without the art.
Mikel Janin’s art is gorgeous in the most absolutely sadistic way. Gore and occult trappings are a constant theme, but they are an absolute joy to look at. Again, I really don’t want to spoil anything because it is all just so cool to discover, but the images are all so visceral and intriguing that I can’t help but mention it. That teeth thing with Superman? Looks amazing. Even the pages in between the big events are great. More often than not, I found myself far too interested in the fantastic character designs to pay much attention to the backdrops. Even so, a couple pieces of scenery, such as a lonely farm and merry old England, look great as well. It is no exaggeration to say this is some of my favorite comic art in a while.
Justice League Dark #1 is a great start to what I hope is going to be one of the best series among the New 52. It remains to be seen how well Milligan can pull all these characters together into one cohesive narrative, but all the elements are there for a great series.