Filed under: Comic Reviews, DC Comics | Tags: DCNew52, JLDark, MikelJanin, petermilligan, RyanSook
Justice League Dark has rounded up some of the most exciting, interesting and left field characters in the entire DCU and allowed their stories to be crafted and hewed by a veteran writer, of the strongest pedigree, and an innovative, trailblazing, freshman artist. Sounds like a great combination, doesn’t it?
Add into the mix a Ryan Sook cover and arguably today’s best colourist, Ulises Arreola, we should have a really exceptional DC number 1. But as with all comic books, its what’s in behind the cover counts and, so desperate to find out whether this book would live up to its hype was I, that I bought it yesterday from ‘A World of Heroes’ in Dacula, Georgia when I already have a copy paid for and waiting for me back in Glasgow. Such is the life of a comic book lover.
I’ve read the book several times since purchase and am thrilled to confirm that it does indeed live up to my expectations. There is nothing worse than being let down by a comic you’ve been dying to read! I’ve passed it around to non-comic reading people who have all enjoyed it too. Whether they have enjoyed it sufficiently to warrant actually going out to purchase #2 is a different thing entirely but I will certainly be doing so.
Ryan Sook has done a great job on the covers of several DCnew52 numbers 1’s and JLDark is no exception. Crucially, for a new ensemble cast book, seasoned readers can tell which DCU characters are going to be involved whilst new readers will be able to make some educated guesses on the types of personalities they might come across. Enchantress looms over our new Leaguers as she embroils them within wave after wave of tumultuous black magic whilst illustrative tarot cards have sprawled from Madame Xanadu’s grasp. If any cover is going to bring new readers and new money into the DCU it’s this one. All the key elements to attract the phenomenally powerful book-purchasing public, whose regular reads include Twilight, Harry Potter, Sookie Stackhouse and Darren Shan, are all here.
If Sook’s cover brings in new blood and money to the DCU then page 1 should begin to vindicate me for continually going on about the obscenely high quality of Janin’s work. This first page acts as a showcase for Milligan too as he begins to construct his story and introduce us to his characters. While Madame Xanadu lounges around staring right at you, the reader, she causes her cards to swirl around the page, introducing our players and hinting of what is yet to come and it’s also a beautiful shot at an homage to the #1 cover by Michael Kaluta from 1981. Madame Xanadu, who was so excellently portrayed in Matt Wagner’s recent Vertigo series benefits from a strong story-teller like Milligan to ensure that this prominent female character continues to receive the rich depth of personality and history she deserves.
The lovely, yet seemingly disturbed June Moone helps bring us into the meat of our story. Milligan plays upon that good old horror move of corrupting nursery rhymes to help build a sense of unease as Ms Moone sallies about town on the verge of a panic attack trying to remember what comes after a ‘crooked sixpence’. There are some bizarre tricks with the art here, mostly down to Arreola’s colour palette I think, that enlarge the questions Milligan’s narration is asking – Is June Moone crazy or is the world crazy? Are these things real or in her head? Personally though, I would like to have seen this demon with more substance. Probably because I am fond of monsters, occasionally at the expense of good story telling 😉
Throughout these panel’s Janin’s attention to detail, particularly in a crowd, is unique for a DC book. Faces in the crowd retain their own likenesses from panel to panel, people appear natural and individual. There is even a guy wearing a Green Lantern t-shirt and another dude with a Nutopia Agency logo’d shirt!
The two page spread on pages 4 & 5 ensure that JLDark beats even Animal Man and Swampy for the most brutal and horrific scene in this months’s books. Not that this book includes gratuitous violence, definitely not. In fact, I get the impression that NOTHING in this book is done simply ‘for the sake of it’. Everything included helps to form the emotions required to buy into Milligan’s story and ultimately drive it forward and this spread is no different. It is easily one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve ever scene in a comic. Hopefully the coming story will match it.
The reboot has brought about a number of challenges for the formerly well established ‘team books’. An old favourite of mine; Justice League International, hasn’t come out of the Reboot looking its best. Legion of Superheroes went one step further and demonstrated panel by panel the difficulties of introducing a team book with a real story plus all the characters. For some reason, Milligan succeeds in doing both. There might not be enough of your particular favourite character here in issue 1, no one individual or story element has been shoe-horned in, although Constantine’s introduction is possibly the weakest of the issue and our lovable Deadman doesn’t even get to speak!
Shade, The Changing Man, benefits from a ‘warts and all’ introduction with newcomers learning a little about his powers and a lot about his personal weaknesses. Its obvious that this is not going to be a book of one dimensional heroes overcoming evil every issue. The members of Justice League Dark have evil present inside of them, which should make their battle with its outside elements all the more engaging. Likewise the hints of Madame Xanadu and her drug use. Milligan is well placed to be able to tackle these issues within an expressive environment such as this and lets not forget how well he knows Shade, having written the Ditko-created character in an excellent series for Vertigo in the 90s.
If you’ve read a bit of DC in the past then the name June Moone should mean something to you. If it doesn’t, then don’t worry. This is a book designed for new readers and whilst some references might give readers of a peculiar 80s series goosebumps, those who haven’t shall be none the poorer.
Enchantress, the mad witch, is central to Milligan’s story and no doubt the origin of the JLDark team. Sook draws her as much better looking (if a bit evil) than Janin who has allowed her skin to turn to leather and look as mad as Milligan has imagined her. Her madness and power combined have resulted in some disturbing atrocities, including those affecting poor June Moone. Superman, Cyborg and Wonder Woman unite to try and put an end to the evil doings of Enchantress and as they approach her shack they admit their anxieties.
The last panel showing the three Justice League heroes prior to Enchantress’ onslaught should be one of the defining artistic moments of the comic. Three of the rebooted DCUs greatest heroes are about to do battle with a force they cannot quite comprehend and although their faces, particularly Wonder Woman’s do reveal some of this feeling, their bodies stand in the cliched poses of action figures. Elsewhere in the comic Janin does a phenomenal job with these same three characters, particularly when they are being subjected to Enchantress’ vile attack. I can only assume that this is similar to what happened with Yanique Paquette on Swampy, another excellent artist who stumbled when representing an iconic character in his book. Surely with the extraordinary ability that Janin expresses throughout the book, and especially during the scenes of Batman and Zatanna, this poorly rendered panel will be a one off.
Included within the cover price of $2.99 are the most grotty weapons ever to be hurled at the Justice League, characters who are more interesting and edgy than most you’ll find at a mainstream publisher, the most innovative and high quality art of any book out this month and a bloody good story teller. Sound like value for money? Justice League Dark most certainly is, and for me personally, the top book of the reboot.
Useful links for things referred to….
A WORLD OF HEROES http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=232991800417
NUTOPIA AGENCY http://www.nutopia-agency.com/
MIKEL JANIN http://www.mikeljanin.blogspot.com
PETER MILLIGAN http://www.petermilligan.co.uk/home.html
ULISES ARREOLA http://ulises-arreola.deviantart.com/
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