I think the thing that is most amazing and most confusing about Justice League Dark is the range of villains that it populates its worlds with. Obviously the book opened with the threat of the Upside-Down Man, and by extension the Otherkind, but before long this threat was used to springboard a plot about Doctor Fate turning on magic and recruiting the Lords of Order to his side. Now, with this issue, we see the flip side of that coin, as James Tynion IV introduces what he claims too be the only Lord of Chaos.
It is undeniable that the Otherkind are strangely absent for much of this book. Yes, they appeared in greater force during this arc, but only briefly and in no way to the direct degree of the Lords of Order. It can be a little frustrating to have them loom over the book without having a direct impact for so long, but you also cannot deny that they are exceptionally effective as instigators of Nabu’s desperate plans. Better yet, they are not only the fear that pushes Nabu to such extremes but pawns in his game, with Nabu explaining last issue how he plans to defeat the (in his plan, notably nonagentive) Otherkind. Each of our antagonists treats themself as the greater power and, though we’re trained to see the Otherkind as a larger threat by the rules of escalation, Tynion has done and continues to do a more than adequate job of giving weight to both of their opinions.
The Lords of Order continue to prove imposing antagonists, certainly worthy of the scope of previous DC events, and the fact that they both sincerely believe themselves to be outmaneuvering the Otherkind and yet are implied to be merely the opening act gives the book tremendous weight. It is truly not clear if our assembled heroes would be able to get out of this if not for Mordru’s interference, or even if that will definitely be enough, and the fact that they’ll still have a greater threat to deal with if they do helps overcome the sad certainty of serialized superhero books and get that little bit of fear and wonder that you had before you got clever enough to call a story’s bluff back into you. Indeed, that’s kind of the explicit point of this series: to reacquaint you with fear and wonder.
There’s not actually a lot of forward movement on the Lords of Order plot. We really just get to see the heroes in Myrra react to the Lords’ ultimatum, but Tynion is exceptionally effective at selling these moments. In one of the issue’s biggest moments he positions your confidence that the heroes will survive behind both parties in an argument and cleverly reiterates the strange spectrum that each of his heroes sit upon, between magician and superhero, without simply explaining it to the audience. Even bigger for me, though, was a moment with Blue Devil that should have been bland and passé but really works for the emotion that the book is able to imbue it with. Blue Devil has largely been a one-note character in this series, and honestly he’s never really made a huge splash anywhere else, but if he’s heavily indebted to fantasy stories of the past, he brings the good along with the bad here, summoning memories of real losses that pull this scene through, at least for me.
Despite these strong moments, no one – not even the issue itself – would deny that it’s Wonder Woman and Zatanna’s plotline that serves as the main event. As a culture, we do love a good villain monologue and Tynion delivers. Mordru [oozes] power, charisma, and whatever horrible quality it is that convinces us that the two are interchangeable all through this issue. He’s a little bit simple and I don’t know that the philosophy he lays out here is interesting enough to be a tenet of magic for the whole DCU, but the scene is so well written that, for now none of that matters. It also doesn’t hurt that the themes of the issue point to the possibility that he’s at least a partly unreliable narrator about what chaos truly is.
Mordru has at least enough appeal to sell this single issue and his interplay with Wonder Woman is fun, though she leans a little on the violent side of the character in these scenes. The secret of where the Lord of Chaos has been hiding is also charming. In short, these interactions are satisfying, largely because of the attention that the creators pay to controlling flow and tone.
I will say that the explanation of Hecate’s involvement in the Lords’ history will likely fall just a little short for readers who didn’t stick around for “The Witching Hour”. I expect that most will be able to piece together the order of events, but the meaning is not fully conveyed.
This is not a funny book, but I suspect that Alvaro Martinez Bueno is a funny person. In the few places where it is appropriate Bueno puts a wonderful emphasis on humor and joy, both the heartfelt and the brutally malicious. Mordru’s moments of mirth come through strongly, subtly adding to his absolute control of the situation, and little things, like his choice off bartender, are legitimately funny. Compare these dark flourishes with the brief moment of unapologetic levity in Roderick’s face before things come crashing back down. The comedic timing is spot on and these breaks from the realm of loss and horror do a lot for the book.
Bueno mixes stark lines with decidedly gentle detailing to craft a malleable style that bends to accommodate each of the different mages of the DC Universe. Wonder Woman is sturdy yet graceful, with gentle lines on her body, clunky weight in her armor, and even fainter fare at her cheekbones. Blue Devil is a gift to inker Raul Fernandez and colorist Brad Anderson, a brilliant mass of red and blue choked in shadows, with Bueno only standing out in his clothes and musculature. And Jason Bard throws the glamorous out the window as his aging face sinks into his skeletal structure, narrow crags tunneling through his features and filled with strong inks. Despite the differences between characters, they feel like they do belong to the same world.
There are a number of figures throughout the issue that look off. Wonder Woman becomes overdrawn and awkward as she strains against Mordru’s restraints, for instance, and Detective Chimp varies in naturalism. Despite these blemishes, it is notable that part of Bueno’s skill as an artist is ensuring that these are not the panels you care about for these qualities. Admittedly there are moments that could have been drawn stronger, but, in just about every instance, the storytelling is strong and legible and it’s clear that this was what Bueno was focusing on. So while these moments depict brief weaknesses on Bueno’s part, I’d say they do more to highlight his strengths as an artist.
The layouts are also wonderfully dynamic. It never gets to a point where it feels like Bueno is just trying something for the sake of novelty, but insets and splashes and gutters and repetitions are utilized appropriately throughout the issue, creating all manner of lesser used shapes for page designs. It lends a feeling of actual stakes to the issue. It feels like an event without just copying the ‘widescreen’ template that we’ve simplified down to its most repetitive essentials.
The colors lean towards the dark and dreary, but its clear that this makes Anderson all the more excited to throw in a blast of color whenever he can. His work is at its best when the more limited palette is used in conjunction with lighting effects or a moody moment. Some of the more basic backdrops feel a little flat, but this is decidedly the exception rather than the rule.
Justice League Dark #11 is Mordru’s show and, especially if you’ll give it props for the sheer presence and command it brings to a first read, it’s a good one. This is supplemented by a continuation of a strong story with likable characters and a tremendous affection for the worlds they play in. The art remains very strong and suitably thoughtful and experimental for the story that Tynion is telling. Most of its flaws have a feeling of that centripetal pull you feel as you go around a turn too quickly, still okay for the time being but dangerous and almost certainly caused by the enthusiasm of the person in the driver’s seat.
The latest issue of the Lords of Order arc is on the slightly above average end of Justice League Dark’s scale. However, though it gets caught in a few traps, that does a lot to reveal the scope and the degrees of both drama and fun that this series operates at.
Justice League Dark #11 is currently available in comic shops from DC Comics.