With the comics industry slowly returning from the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are taking the opportunity to introduce each other to comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals and things that go bump in the night. This week we visit an unexpected super-team using a very familiar name!
About two years ago, DC Comics completely relaunched the Justice League, creating a new core titles and several spin-offs that explore different parts of the DC Universe. The most exciting and unexpected was Justice League Dark, a team built around Wonder Woman, and featuring the DCU’s heaviest hitting magic heroes… and a talking chimp. However their biggest challenges may be their allies, AND themselves!
The series was created by James Tynion IV, Alvaro Martinez Bueno, Raul Fernandez, Brad Anderson, Rob Leigh, Daniel Sampere, Juan Alberran, and Adriano Lucas.
Tony Thornley: So originally we were scheduled to cover a different DC book by Tynion, but getting a hold of that collection fell though. I was able to track this series down though, and I was so glad for it. I had read bits and pieces of this series before, but prepping for the column this week was the first time I had sat down and read it straight through. And I liked it!
Brendan Allen: Word. I have covered Constantine before, and I think I’ve read a few of the older Justice League Dark (JLD) books. I don’t remember this lineup, though. John Constantine, Swamp Thing, Deadman, Shade the Changing Man… I don’t remember Wonder Woman or that alcoholic monkey.
TT: Yeah, this is a total reboot of the JLD as a concept, after the first incarnation in 2011. I really like the team line-up- Wonder Woman, Zatanna, Man-Bat, Swamp Thing, Detective Chimp, and kinda-sorta Constantine. And I love this group. Diana as the anchor is an inspired choice by Tynion – it would have been really easy to use Batman, but Wonder Woman is a magically conceived child of the Olympian gods. The others are great choices as well.
BA: Constantine is a great character. His and Swamp Thing’s love-hate relationship has always been the core of this team, though, so I’m really glad they kind of moored this story to that, even with the changes.
TT: See, and I didn’t ever read the first volume, but I knew of John and Alec’s relationship from Moore’s classic Swamp Thing and other stories over the years. And that makes for a great set-up for the plot, as the two of them are kind of aloof from the rest of the team, both confronting the main threat but from a different angle than Diana, Zee, Bobo and Doctor Langstrom.
BA: Sure, and there are messianic themes to the approach that each was willing to take. They were both willing to take a dive, not even to finish the fight, but even to allow the others a fighting chance against seemingly impossible odds.
This thing does fall into a few superhero tropes, but there are also some genuinely scary moments, and some fun fantasy elements. The Upside-Down Man, the undead army, mystical magical sword… It all actually plays really well together.
TT: The Otherkind is such a scary threat, and Tynion plays them perfectly by only introducing us to one of them. I’m glad you liked the Upside-Down Man, because that was the plot element that I think I liked best. He was a great design (I think by Bueno), and Tynion, Bueno, Fernandez and Anderson made his introduction SO scary.
BA: You know I love it when they don’t show the monster. They did show the one, but there are a lot of questions begged by showing just the one dude. Do they all look like that? Is he the scariest, or the least? Because if he’s just the mouthpiece, what the hell is on the other side of that door?
TT: Oh exactly. And immediately AFTER his introduction and kinda-sorta-but-not-really defeat, we go into a 5 part crossover (which wasn’t in this collection) and a two part Detective Chimp spotlight. I think that kind of made that even scarier because then the “what the hell” of that conflict is just hanging over the team for a bit.
I did like that Tynion took the time to do a Detective Chimp (aka Bobo) spotlight early on though. You mentioned that you didn’t know the character, and I think it’s fair to say you probably weren’t the only one. That two-parter gave us a really good foundation for the character, don’t you think?
BA: Yeah. I mean, it leans into quite a few of the hardboiled detective tropes, which is exactly what I think it’s intended to do. There’s a dark comedic theme that runs through the whole book when you realize it’s a talking damned chimp that’s pulling all these super depressing lines and highlighting his own personal failures. The absolute absurdity is only overshadowed by the tragedy of the whole situation. I’m into it.
TT: I’ve liked Bobo since his reintroduction back about 13, 14 years ago during DC’s Infinite Crisis. This series however gives him so much depth and pathos, that I don’t think there’s any way to dislike him. Which is kind of the name of the game for this entire series. I mean, everyone BUT Man-Bat gets a good, solid spotlight here (and he doesn’t need it as much since he’s a relatively popular Batman villain). It makes for a team of actual characters rather than plot devices.
BA: Man-Bat did have a quick and dirty introduction that kind of summed up his whole personal conflict though. I felt adequately brought up to speed in just a couple panels. My man made a super bat serum, went too deep, got in trouble, figured out how to dial it back, and is trying to make nice after the fact, yeah?
TT: One thing I was worried about though was the crossover RIGHT in the middle of this first volume. Volume one is issues #1-3 and #5-6. Issue #4 was part three of a five part crossover. I think it was pretty clean, but it did mean a handful of plot elements introduced in the first three issues (specifically about Wonder Woman and her “witchmark”) were resolved in a completely different volume of the series that took place in the middle of this one. Was that noticeable to you?
BA: If they weren’t numbered, I might not have noticed. Each chapter did advance the storyline, but they were also popping back and forth in timelines at the beginning of each chapter, so it kind of flowed anyway.
TT: I really liked the art throughout, even though both pencillers were very much DC house style guys. Bueno and Fernandez’s issues are very creepy, but they also are good with the grand sense of superhero scale as well. It’s a great bridge between superhero and horror. Sampere and Alberran go full dark fantasy, which is much less horror, but that’s okay because it was a character piece to get us to feel for Bobo.
BA: The “house style” is definitely noticeable, but despite it, I liked the look of this story quite a bit. The monsters had beautifully creepy designs, and the action was dark, dirty, and desperate. That sequence with Wonder Woman fighting the alien tentacles was freaking inspired.
TT: Oh yeah, that’s the opening scene and it sets the stage for what to come so well. So final verdict?
BA: You know, I liked it. It is a little on the capesy side, but there’s enough of the dark, twisty things that it kept my interest. I was initially pissed that you hadn’t sent me the fourth chapter. I didn’t want to miss a beat. That’s usually a good sign.
TT: Yeah, definitely, and maybe we’ll revisit and read that Wonder Woman: The Witching Hour crossover in the near future. I actually covered it for the site back when it originally released and I really enjoyed it! So, what’s next?
BA: Oh, you’re gonna like this next one. There’s a farmer and his family, who take on a travelling farmhand… What could possibly go wrong, eh? We’re going to take a look at Cullen Bunn’s collaboration with A.C. Zamudio, Death Follows.
Justice League Dark Volume 1: The Last Age Of Magic is available now from DC Comics in comic stores and book stores everywhere.
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