It’s October. The nights are drawing in, the wind is whistling in the eaves, the branches of the trees are bare and claw-like, the mist peels aside to reveal a full moon…It’s the perfect time for a bold, disturbing crossover like ‘The Witching Hour’!

It’s also good timing for Justice League Dark. Last week, James Tynion IV brought the series’ dramatic first arc to a satisfying close and ‘The Witching Hour’ doesn’t ignore this fact. When we rejoin them, the Justice League Dark are still reeling from the events of issue #3 and are getting themselves accustomed to being part of a new team sequestered in the basement of the Hall of Justice. It’s rare for a big event to come so soon in a series but it feels right here. Giving the readership so much story in the space of a month (There’s a new instalment of ‘The Witching Hour’ every week in October) fuels excitement for the series and rapidly opens up possibilities for more future storylines.

Although there’s a smooth transition between ‘The Last Age of Magic’ and ‘The Witching Hour,’ this issue doesn’t alienate new readers; Diana and Zatanna report the events of Justice League Dark #1-3 to the Justice League in Martian Manhunter’s psychic boardroom. This re-capping doesn’t feel like superfluous filler; it’s brief, it reminds the reader of the salient matters that will impact this story, and it brings the Justice League in (I’m expecting the Justice League to do more than sit around a boardroom in ‘The Witching Hour.’ As Chekhov famously wrote, ‘If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.’). In the same scene, Bruce’s history with Zatanna is acknowledged when he calls her ‘Zee,’ and Diana subtly removes her hand from her lasso so she can lie to the League. For a scene of exposition, there’s a lot going on.

This economical use of pages has been a hallmark of the series so far. Issue #3 gave us Diana’s first transformation (a key aspect of the new arc) and thanks to the flashback scene in issue #2, we’re already partly acquainted with the villain of ‘The Witching Hour,’ Hecate. This week’s issue picks up where the previous flashback ended, with Diana fleeing from the witches through the forests of Themyscira. A poetic, impartial, old-fashioned voice narrates throughout, lending gravitas (though some readers may not appreciate how verbose the captions are in a comic book which simultaneously shows you everything you need to understand via the artwork). The foreshadowing and the arch storytelling help to build up Hecate as a worthy threat. Although she’s undoubtedly powerful, I wasn’t enamoured with her portrayal in this issue. Her eldritch speech reminds me of Enchantress in the Suicide Squad movie (2016) and her disdain for human practitioners of magic is too reminiscent of the Upside-Down Man. More importantly, I’d like a better understanding of her motivations, which at present seem too basic for a modern, sophisticated comic book.

Spoiler

A few more matters I dwelt upon while reading part one of ‘The Witching Hour’:

  • The triple moon symbol appearing throughout the issue is associated with the Triple Goddess of Neopaganism. The waxing, full and waning moons represent the maiden, the mother and the crone.
  • A couple of problematic moments: The Themysciran witches smugly lie to Diana about her experience in the woods. I find it hard to believe that she would accept their story so readily. Later, Swamp Thing’s dead, inanimate husks suddenly come to life and defend the team from Hecate, without any explanation.
  • The Chekhov’s Gun principle I mentioned earlier also applies to Jason Blood and the rest of the magical community, who are mentioned again in this issue. I don’t expect them to turn up in ‘The Wicthing Hour’ but they’re bound to have a role in Tynion’s larger narrative.
  • Blasts from the past: The Oblivion Bar scene in this issue features Witchfire (who appeared semi-prominently between 2002 and 2007), Charlton Comics’ Nightshade, and Traci 13 making a reference to Are You Afraid of the Dark? (1990-2000).

Though Merino’s work isn’t as creepy or gothic as Martínez Bueno’s, it’s a welcome addition to the world of Justice League Dark thanks to his exceptional attention to detail. On Themyscira, moss covers every fallen tree, the Amazon’s robes are riddled with folds and ornate Greek architecture abounds. There are plenty of splash pages at dramatic moments to feast your eyes on as well. I don’t think Superman should look as angry as he does in the Justice League scenes but in every other respect, these are a pleasure as Merino gratifyingly replicates the designs used in Scott Snyder’s Justice League for the Hall of Justice and the psychic boardroom (of course, this being Justice League Dark, there’s a storm raging over the Hall of Justice). Fans of the series’ gore won’t be disappointed either as a whole room full of charred and bloody corpses features.

Recommended if:

  • You’re looking for a spooky read this October.
  • You’ve been enjoying the dry wit of Detective Chimp.
  • You think three heads are better than one.

Overall: The solicitations promise this arc will ‘rewrite the future of DC’s magical heroes!’ There’s no way to guess what this shake-up will entail from the opening issue, but I’m definitely onboard (then again, I said that in 2016 when the eventually disappointing Justice League vs Suicide Squad began). Part one of ‘The Witching Hour’ makes for a solid, if not stellar, beginning to the tale, with several nice character moments, a formidable villain, and handsome, richly detailed artwork.

SCORE: 7/10