The groundwork has been laid; now it’s time for action! Wonder Woman #56 explained Hecate’s motivation and Justice League Dark #4 (which seamlessly picks up exactly where the previous issue left off) builds on what we’ve learnt by bringing the heroes face to face with the villain. Tynion’s pacing throughout this series has been perfect thus far and nothing’s changed about that; engaging the enemy in the third issue of the arc means we’ve had time to settle into the story but our patience hasn’t been stretched waiting for Hecate’s arrival.
Hecate’s efficacy as a villain is a mixed bag. She’s fearsome to behold; all twisted limbs, cruel eyes and sharp teeth, and her power is undeniably phenomenal (gods can take on gods but it seems the rest of the pantheon must be on holiday at the moment). At this point in the story, it’s difficult to guess how the team can possibly beat her. Where Tynion is concerned, it’s unlikely to be a forced deus ex machina so we potentially have something special on our hands: an unpredictable, satisfying ending to a comic book arc. The only concerns I have about Hecate are her generic reasons for the mayhem she’s causing and the way she predictably crows at her opponents about their futile attempts to stop her (by the end of the arc, I bet she’ll have moved onto the standard defeated villain script and will be moaning, ‘Noooooooo!’).
Against her stands the Justice League Dark and, though we’re dealing with monumental stakes (the potential destruction of Nanda Parbat, the Parliament of Trees and the human race itself), Tynion still finds the space to inject character into our heroes. Diana remains determined to fight Hecate despite being part of her plans, the omniscient narrator continues to give us insight into Zatanna’s thoughts, and the heroes who find themselves out of their depth are on hand to provide quips and evacuate bystanders; no-one feels like a useless addition to the story. Plus, Tynion continues to raid DC’s supernatural toybox and introduce even more characters. Last week, we were reunited with Deadman (who remains an amusing presence in this issue) and this week we meet the supreme being who imbued him with his powers, Rama Kushna, the Hindu God invented by Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino for this very purpose in Strange Adventures #205 (1967), and the latest incarnation of shapeshifting superhero Black Orchid, who appeared in the previous series of Justice League Dark in 2012. These inclusions add to the feeling that this is an important event, spanning the entirety of the magical multiverse.
Spanish sensation Alvaro Martínez Bueno knocks it out of the park once again this issue. The only negative thoughts that came to mind for me were that Man-Bat is depicted smiling (even more disturbing than when Val Kilmer grins whilst dressed as Batman in Batman Forever) and that the dramatic nature of the script doesn’t give him the opportunity to include his trademark gothic shadow-work. Instead, the artist’s versatility is showcased, with trippy visuals surrounding Rama Kushna, bodies warping as they enter a mystic portal, and magical fights that amount to more than just the traditional exchange of beams of light; opulent patterns curling between Hecate’s fingers, ghost monks tearing their way out of a body, enormous earthen hands emerging from the soil, all rendered with perfect proportions and textures. One splash page features Swamp Thing diving into a sea of intricately recreated flowers; there are a dozen ways to tell the story that’s happening at that point but Tynion and Martínez Bueno surely gift us with one of the most imaginative methods possible. Finally, Brad Anderson dishes up some lovely colour work this week, adding multiple shades of green to the Parliament, some very cool glare around Diana the first time she stands up to Hecate, and differentiation between various practitioners’ magic (Manitou Dawn’s magic is red, Bobo’s magic is blue, Justice League Dark we love you). Martínez Bueno doesn’t leave his backgrounds blank either, which means more inking for Raul Fernandez and more colouring for Brad Anderson; just check out how many shades cover the clouds in the image below.
- You can cope with the lofty narration superfluously telling you the story while the artist deftly shows you what’s going on. The grand tone adds an epic quality but may irritate some readers.
- You like unique action scenes that make you wonder whether you’re on LSD.
- You want to probe every corner of DC’s occult universe. Tynion is taking us on a magnificent journey.
Overall: Though it will read better as part of a trade paperback (a whole issue of action seems strange in isolation), Justice League Dark #4 is an enjoyable read on it’s own, thanks to it’s memorable characters, epic scope and stunning visuals.