In ‘The Witching Hour,’ Tynion IV has taken us on a wild ride through the magical landmarks of the DC Universe and now it’s time for the grand finale! By the end of last issue, Hecate’s victory was all but assured; Diana’s soul was trapped in limbo while her body wreaked havoc and her fellow witchmarked destroyed Nanda Parbat and the Parliament of Trees, with the rest of the League powerless to stop them. For many writers, this would be a corner they could only escape from with a big fight scene and a deus ex machina device. Instead, in (deep breath) Justice League Dark & Wonder Woman: The Witching Hour #1, Tynion delivers an unpredictable ending and a heap of surprisingly engaging mythology.

That’s right; seven whole pages of the issue concern Hecate’s history! The final chapter is an odd time for exposition but there’s so much going on elsewhere and this expanded version of events  (last relayed to us by Circe in Wonder Woman #56) proves crucial to the plot’s development; much of what we learn here would have lessened the suspense if divulged in an earlier issue. Plus, even more importantly, it makes for great reading! Hecate is an interesting, sympathetic character in this issue (it’s kind of tragic that we only learn this at the end of the arc), with a rich origin story befitting a higher-profile superhero or villain. At the beginning of the issue, I wondered why Egyptian architecture featured when Hecate is a pre-Olympian goddess of Greek myth (and her psychopomp – the spirit who guides souls to the afterlife – is Greek too) and then I recalled that Ancient Greece gave us the word necropolis but Ancient Egypt gave us the most famous example of this ancient tradition: the Giza pyramids. Through the ages, Hecate herself was appropriated into the mythology of Egypt, Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, and of course the Wiccan and Pagan traditions. In constructing his villain, Tynion has read all this and expertly weaves an amalgamation of the above with the history of the DC Universe and his own work in ‘The Last Age of Magic.’

Amid all this grand folklore and the explosive struggle between good and evil, it would be understandable for the characters not to truly shine through. Though the heroes aren’t totally in the front seat this issue (at one point they’re given a terrible choice to make but there’s little uncertainty for the audience as we’ve already seen enough to guess which way the story is headed), there are plenty of moments that remind us that Tynion understands the important equilibrium that must be maintained between style and substance. In one dramatic scene, a panel shows us that Constantine and Zatanna have taken each other’s hands. Witnessing the tyrannical reign of an ancient godess is hard to relate to but we can all remember what it’s like to seek comfort when we’re afraid; this simple addition grounds the story (albeit briefly) in reality, which adds to our investment in the events as they unfold. Diana, meanwhile, is the star of the show. She’s not only the perfect choice of central character because of her ties to the Ancient Greek pantheon; in this issue, she’s also determined to help others no matter the cost, and willing to show compassion for even the most wicked of creatures, which is just so Wonder Woman. Not only does ‘The Witching Hour’ fulfil it’s brief of changing magic forever, it also shines a light on Diana’s qualities, grows her relationship with Zatanna, and significantly improves her understanding of magic.

Spoiler

A few more matters that caught my attention:

• We’re eight issues into Justice League Dark and by my count we’ve encountered over 30 DC Comics characters! Eclipso, Madame Xanadu, Solomon Grundy and Etrigan join the fun with a brief cameo this week.

• Madame Xanadu draws new cards from her tarot deck. ‘The Witch’ appears to be Hecate and ‘The Doctor’ is Dr Fate but who is that pair embracing on ‘The Wheel’ and will their story feature in a future issue?

• ‘The Witching Hour’ was also the title of DC’s horror anthology series that ran 1969-1978.

• I love it when endings don’t just come out of nowhere. Two thirds of Hecate have been in submission to the Crone throughout the series and Circe even mentioned in Wonder Woman #56 that the Maiden and the Mother represent firmly positive concepts of Birth and Creation. I’d never have guessed they would free Diana but it makes total sense in retrospect. Meanwhile, Circe has been playing everyone all along? Well, of course she has! She’s a devious villain, she channels her power from Hecate and there’s a statue of the triple goddess in Aeaea.

• Another unexpected arrival this issue is the return of the Upside-Down Man. It’s not long since he was trapped in his own realm (referred to in this issue, excitingly, as The Dark Multiverse. Somebody needs to get this guy together with the Batman Who Laughs…) so I thought we wouldn’t see him for a while. However, Tynion once again gave us all the clues; Zatanna couldn’t do magic without releasing him (which would otherwise have been difficult to write around as the series progressed) and all the gods had left Earth leaving no-one strong enough to defeat Hecate.

• The Parliament of Flowers are kind of hilarious. Tynion is setting himself a challenge if he hopes to make flowers scary.

It’s testament to the team’s excellent choices and Fajardo’s seamless colour-work that on my first read through, I didn’t even notice that Justice League Dark & Wonder Woman: The Witching Hour #1 features three different artists. Wisely, they all handle different sections of the story so the change of location distracts the reader from the change of artist.

I love Merino’s work on Swamp Thing’s mossy hair – individual strands are consistently interweaving and knotted with texture – but I can’t work out why he and Blanco draw Zatanna’s in a plait, as Mendonca, Lupacchino and Martínez Bueno don’t do this. I don’t like the square jaw he gives Constantine or how young Solomon Grundy looks, but his Ultrapsychopomp design is glorious to behold.

The most realistic work is Mendonca’s. Under his pencil, Detective Chimp’s face looks as an intelligent ape’s should, and a detailed splash of Diana entering Olympus features authentic muscle proportions in her back and legs. The backdrop is highly detailed, with moss, cracked bricks, and dotted, hatched and lined shading throughout.

Blanco injects a lot of emotion into the aforementioned history lesson; the layouts are inventive, Hecate’s body language goes from proud to defeated, and the facial expressions are well conveyed. Plus, his version of the Crone is perhaps the most terrifying yet. I have mixed feelings about his depiction of Diana swimming to the bottom of the lunar river; her hair and pose look peculiar and the river looks very empty and blank, though the latter is improved by Fajardo Jr adding a beam of ghostly light filtering down from above, and Blanco’s vertically-arranged panels trick the eye into imagining the Amazon’s descent. I think four pages of Diana, the Maiden and the Mother standing around, from every angle, is a bit excessive but Blanco weathers the constant shifts in perspective well, maintaining the figures’ correct shapes and the trippy music video that seems to be playing out around them is varied and beautiful. My favourite shot of his in the book is just a simple one of Diana seated at a bench in the Hall of Justice; the posture looks natural and yet alluring while Fajardo’s palette is warm and subtle. Blanco has stated on social media that he’s long wished to draw Diana for DC and I’m pleased to report he does a great job.

Recommended if:

  • You want to see excellent depictions of a really heroic Diana and a really villainous Diana.
  • You’d like to get to know the triple goddess better.
  • You can’t get enough of Circe sneering at those foolish mortals.

Overall: Tynion IV competently balances the spectacular and the tragic in this unpredictable denouement. It’s so dramatic that you can’t help but wonder where he goes from here; we’ll just have to wait and see…

SCORE: 8/10