‘The Witching Hour’ may be over but the Justice League Dark just can’t catch a break! While Swamp Thing and Constantine try to repair the damage done in the first two arcs of the series, the rest of the team become embroiled in another dangerous situation, courtesy of Detective Chimp…
Bobo seems to be the focal character of the new story. We’re reintroduced to our simian friend in a recollection of Jim Rook’s funeral. The Nightmaster that Bobo remembers was a smiling, Silver Age hero, unencumbered by the ubiquitous doubt present in every DC character nowadays. Evidently, it’s not just the readership that are wistful about days gone by. In stark contrast to his fallen comrade, Bobo sits in a well of self-pity, unable even to respond politely to his fellow heroes. This scene features an angsty hero, a painfully wearing amount of repetition (particularly the phrase ‘The chimpanzee drinks’) and Sampere employs the use of a nine-panel grid; the beginning of Justice League Dark #5 feels a bit like reading Tom King’s Batman. After the flashback is over, we cut back to the present day and Bobo is still being an asshole. So much for sympathising with the protagonist.
As the main cover promises, our heroes find themselves on a quest in the magical realm of Myrra. The reason given for this is pretty thin, making this the first arc of the series to feel forced (Though the secondary story going on back at the Tree of Wonder feels like a much more organic follow-up to ‘The Last Age of Magic’). Nonetheless, Tynion has done a great job showing us around the magical multiverse so far, so I’m happy to follow him again (Plus, this new direction offers the opportunity for skeletons to rise from the ground, as in the 1963 movie, Jason & The Argonauts, and that has to be a good thing).
Although Bobo takes a break from quipping this issue, the other characters’ voices are on point; John is cool and blasé, yet bitter, while Diana is formal, yet warm. Tynion continues to employ the arch narration boxes; they’re expository and repetitive but they’re occasionally necessary and they gift us dramatic lines as in the picture above. Though the narrator is keen to keep us informed, we’re never told too much; the issue teases us and we’re left with questions, as we should be after the introductory chapter.
- Though the narrator doesn’t ruin any surprises, Bobo isn’t afraid to drop a spoiler; in one scene he confirms that the ‘Drowned Earth’ crisis is over and humanity have ceased to be weird fish monsters.
- It’s disappointing that Diana fights a dragon off-panel in this issue. What’s even more frustrating is that we’re told it’s undead yet we see her bring it down with no explanation.
- Blue Devil appears a couple of times this issue. A superhero and, at one point, the bouncer at the Oblivion Bar, he’s appeared in the background a few times in recent years but hasn’t appeared prominently in DC Comics for a while. By the end of Justice League Dark #5, it seems he’s no longer acting heroically and will play a larger role in issue #6.
- The Phantom Stranger also shows up this issue. This appears to be Judas Iscariot, the version that debuted in the New 52 and, with Pandora and the Question, formed the Trinity of Sin.
- This new arc is called ‘Shadow Pact.’ Blue Devil, The Phantom Stranger, Detective Chimp and Nightmaster all appeared in the adventures of the group known as Shadowpact from 2005 to 2008. Shadowpact was a forerunner of the Justice League Dark.
Daniel Sampere takes over on pencils for issues #5 and #6. Though Martínez Bueno is absent at present, his influence can be felt; Sampere does a great job of recapturing Justice League Dark’s trademark feel, with plenty of deep shadows and by paying close attention to existing character and location designs. The only character I’m still not visually sold on in this series is John Constantine; several artists (including Sampere) draw him with a large, square jaw so he looks more like Steve Trevor than the weaselly British magician I picture when someone says ‘Hellblazer.’
The backgrounds in this issue are mostly blank, and the bare, un-weathered floors of the Oblivion Bar seem to grow and shrink according to the whims of the artist (maybe magic is to blame). This probably won’t be a problem for a lot of readers who will enjoy these bar scenes by playing ‘Spot the magical DC character cameo.’
Like Martínez Bueno, Sampere seems to revel in the gothic challenges Tynion sets him. The most detailed objects in the book include Man-Bat’s face, a coffin surrounded by flowers, the tree of wonder and the generic-yet-fearsome dragon. The skull in the frame below is just perfect.
There’s plenty of action in the issue but Sampere takes a different approach to the two scenes in which this occurs. When the Justice League Dark take on zombies in Myrra, the battle is shown as a montage, while the fight that John Constantine and Swamp Thing engage in is conveyed much more satisfyingly as a chronological series of panels showing the progression of each character in the scene.
- You like comics where the central character is a grouchy ape.
- You’re ready to explore the swords and sorcery corner of the DC Multiverse.
- You like repetition. You like repetition. You like repetition.
Overall: I couldn’t bring myself to care about half the issue because I don’t know much about Myrra and the main hero just spent the whole time alienating me. Though the weakest instalment of the series so far, Justice League Dark #5 is a solid, handsome read.