Justice League Dark #1 review

See those creepy red eyes peering out of the darkness behind the heroes on the cover? They’re telling you what kind of book this is going to be. No Justice was the rollercoaster; now it’s time to step inside the haunted house…

The promising inaugural issue of Justice League Dark begins appropriately with Zatanna. One of the DC Universe’s most powerful sorcerers, Zatanna has served in previous line-ups of the main Justice League and featured prominently alongside her occasional lover, John Constantine, in the original series of Justice League Dark (2011-2015). In the finale of that series, Zatanna declared that she’d been through hell and considered herself done with the JLD (an ongoing theme was the toll magic took on the lives of the heroes, which seems to have continued into the new series too). I’m a sucker for good continuity so I was pleased to see that Zatanna’s stance hasn’t changed when we first meet her in 2018’s Justice League Dark. Also, if you were concerned not to see Constantine in the new team’s roster, have no fear: within pages, he turns up looking ridiculously cool, leaning nonchalantly against the bonnet of a Cadillac, discussing the events of
Swamp Thing #50 (1986).

This is an issue that respects the magical history of the DC Universe, with call-backs and cameos for Drakul Karfang (A League of One, 2000), Jason Blood, Traci Thirteen, Morgaine Le Fay, the Phantom Stranger, and of course the recent events of Dark Nights: Metal and No Justice. However, you don’t need a doctorate in the mythos to understand what’s going on or to enjoy this new series. We’re introduced to each member of the team in turn and their tragic backstories are woven in so discreetly, you’ll hardly notice you’re absorbing them. In addition to this, the threat the team are facing is brand new so we’re all on the back foot in terms of what to expect.

Speaking of tragic backstories, this is undoubtedly a team of misfits. This makes them the prefect counterparts to the brighter Justice League and Justice League Odyssey. Even the token A-lister, Wonder Woman, feels rejected as she has to explain to Detective Chimp (and, effectively, the audience) why she belongs on the team. We haven’t seen her lead a League of her own in a while and as someone who loves Diana, it’s very gratifying; her magical heritage and natural compassion make her perfect for this team.

One particular misfit of note is Man-Bat. Like Clayface in the pages of James Tynion’s Detective Comics, he’s a villain atoning for his sins. Both of them were good men before they transformed and the world labelled them monsters (see Detective Comics Annual #1 from earlier this year for a great revision of the tragedy of Clayface). There’s so much scope with a character like this; just look at our rich tradition of sympathetic monsters in works like Frankenstein, Beauty & The Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Edward Scissorhands, Swamp Thing, King Kong or The Shape of Water.

I’ve mentioned in my reviews for Titans that a large cast opens up a plethora of storytelling possibilities and there’s no shortage of characters here. In issue #1 alone, we meet the Justice League Dark, Constantine, Doctor Fate, the ghost of Zatara, the rest of the DC Universe’s magical community gathered at Wintersgate Manor, and the creepy new villain. Plus, all the Leagues and the Titans have moved in under a single roof, so the Hall of Justice can act like a big company with intermingling departments.

I enjoyed meeting each of the Justice League’s new magical department in their individual milieux this issue as it gives them each a chance to shine and Tynion the opportunity to introduce their distinctive voices; Swamp Thing is blunt while Bobo is warm and sardonic. There are a couple of unnatural exposition dumps and in one scene Diana seems uncharacteristically tired of Kirk but otherwise the dialogue is spot-on. One thing I particularly appreciate is that there isn’t too much magical terminology floating around; I’m glad to report that this issue does not contain a dozen Secret Artefacts that are Important because We Said So.

Although the title of the arc is ‘The Last Age of Magic,’ this is as much a horror story as it is a tale of sorcery. Alvaro Martinez Bueno certainly grabs the reader’s attention with a room full of bodies twisted into David Cronenberg monstrosities even grosser than the creations of Greg Capullo’s Doctor Death in Batman circa 2014. Nasty critters with too many teeth pop up a few times throughout the issue, including the opening scene in which Wonder Woman arrives looking beautiful and powerful to kick some magical ass. Check out those motion lines and the light glancing off her armour, adding extra impact to the shot below.

Justice League Dark #1 is a handsome book, showcasing magnificent detail on Swamp Thing and Diana’s mystical-looking new shield by day, then entering a shadowy world by night in which only the outline of cars caught in the insubstantial glow of streetlights or the momentary flare of a lighter can tell you what’s really there. There are also two gorgeous covers to choose from; Martinez’s heroic main cover and Capullo’s moody variant.

Recommended if:

  • You’re interested to see horror in a mainstream comic book.
  • You love the ragtag band of heroes Tynion has assembled.
  • You want to see a chimp wearing a suit pull an enormous broadsword from his inside-pocket.

Overall: An exciting, well-paced first chapter which sets the stage for some unique adventures courtesy of the eclectic heroes and the book’s dark, grizzly vibe. With epic event ‘The Witching Hour’ already announced for October, everything’s coming up roses for Justice League Dark.

SCORE: 8.5/10