Last month, the debut of Justice League Dark blew me away and I’m pleased to report that the second issue is just as good!
By the end of issue #1, the whole team had come together to fight a cavalcade of grotesque monsters. James Tynion IV wastes no time in splitting the new League up again (with reasons that make legitimate sense in the context of the story) and though some may find this jarring, to me it seems a stroke of brilliance. Separating the characters means they can explore multiple story threads, a technique which offers variety to the reader and makes the tale less predictable. This method is what grasped my attention when I first read George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones (1996) (a book which frequently deals with decisions between personal interests and the greater good; a theme of Justice League Dark in it’s original iteration and in the new series). Together with a respect and understanding of the existing DC Comics mythos, this works to make Justice League Dark a rich reading experience, rather like Scott Snyder’s Justice League but with fewer mystical cosmic energies and artefacts to keep track of.
The other benefit of dividing the team is that even the quieter members are forced to interact with one another, which leads to satisfying character moments, in which we gain insight into the heroes. The best of these is given to Swamp Thing in issue #2. He’s always been a sympathetic character but when John Constantine is giving him a hard time for wanting to retire, you can’t help but feel for him, especially when the script is elevated by Martínez Bueno’s perfect take on Alec Holland which is at once tragic, beautiful and terrifying to behold.
The team’s other metamorphosed man, Kirk Langstrom, shows his strength as Man-Bat, but also his inquisitive nature this issue. Reading his speech this issue made me think what a good choice he is for this title; he’s a scientist so he’ll have a unique perspective on supernatural events and he’s not magical so whenever Tynion needs a reason to explain something to the audience, he can have the magical characters explain it to Langstrom. It’s like we’re leaving Gotham for stranger tides and bringing a companion to discover this world along with us.
The only character keeping his eye on Man-Bat throughout issue #2 is Detective Chimp, who’s also endearingly supplying quips at every possible moment. There’s a scene in which Bobo is trying to draw the team’s attention to Kirk’s behaviour but no-one is listening. I particularly liked this because we’ve all either been, or been around, the neglected member of a group with something important to say; it feels very true to life.
Diana isn’t quite so well handled; as with last issue, there’s a scene in which she is mean to one of the others which doesn’t ring true. Wonder Woman can be fierce when she needs to be but she should never be an ass. Nonetheless, I’m enjoying her inclusion in the series because a) I love Wonder Woman, b) Her moral clarity and star power are qualities the other characters mostly lack, and c) Her ties to Greek mythology open up further story possibilities.
The last character I’d like to cover is Doctor Fate. Just as he did with his introductions to each member of the team in issue #1, Tynion expertly allows Fate the chance to explain himself to the reader whilst tying his background to the story that’s currently unfolding.
- Even though we’ve seen the helm act according to it’s own agenda in other series, I didn’t predict Nabu would be the culprit letting the Otherkind in! The tagline on the cover is a great bit of misdirection as it suggests that Doctor Fate will be aiding the League in a battle against some evil infesting his tower, when in fact what lurks villainously within is the Lord of Order himself.
- Khalid is imprisoned in a painting adorning an Ancient Greek vase. That’s so imaginative!
- Why does Nabu want to rid the Earth of magic? It’s a challenging question to grasp. As we don’t live in a world with magic, and it hasn’t been made clear whether it’s more a force for good or ill in the DC Multiverse, we can’t really judge his actions. The only way we know he’s in the wrong is that the heroes say he is. Hopefully his motivations will be clarified in a future issue.
Stark, gothic, and even darker than previous iterations, Martínez Bueno’s Tower of Fate is as forbidding as Stoker’s Castle Dracula, King’s Dark Tower or Tolkien’s Barad-dûr. Within, it’s a maze of M.C. Escher staircases with intricately detailed gothic architecture. The establishing shot of the tower and the aforementioned portrait of Swamp Thing are the best-looking pages in the book; I’d love to see more splash pages as they’re clearly one of Martínez Bueno’s strengths. The atmosphere is just as moody as in the previous issue; the full moon’s eerie glow is reflected in the ocean surrounding Themyscira, the silhouette of overgrown grass at the foot of the Tree of Wonder blows in the wind, and lightning splits the Massachusetts sky. The tight etching on Bobo’s suit that features on the cover doesn’t appear again, but his body language is a great mixture of ape, world-weary detective and reluctant hero. Diana, meanwhile, looks every bit a true Amazon; beautiful but muscular, and taller than most of the other characters. Fans of the book’s horror element won’t be disappointed either; Triple Hecate (the Goddess of Magic and Necromancy, who not only features in Greek mythology; she’s also appeared in DC titles like Superman and Wonder Woman, and in Marvel books like Ms Marvel and Herc) rising from an oozing honey pot is a disturbing image and the Otherkind are just as gross as they were in issue #1.
- You like well-written stories.
- You like stunning, atmospheric artwork.
- You’d like to see Zatanna smack a monster in the face with a stool.
Overall: A satisfying follow-up to the first issue, Justice League Dark #2 propels the story forward whilst giving the reader a chance to get to know the oddball team better, all against a backdrop of magic and disgusting monstrosities.