Best Shots Review: JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #1 'a Weird, Tongue-in-Cheek Tale' (8/10)

Justice League Dark #1
Credit: Alvaro Martinez Bueno/Raul Fernandez/Brad Anderson/Rob Leigh (DC Comics)
Credit: Greg Capullo/Jonathan Glapion/FCO Plascencia (DC Comics)

Justice League Dark #1
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Alvaro Martinez Bueno, Raul Fernandez and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Credit: Alvaro Martinez Bueno/Raul Fernandez/Brad Anderson/Rob Leigh (DC Comics)

Justice League Dark #1 reminds me that I would love to see a prose novel from James Tynion IV someday. Today’s debut issue is a solid start to this magic-centered spin-off series, with art that leans into a Lovecraftian horror that manages to never be off-putting despite some heavy body horror. Tynion is an excellent writer with a strong sense of pace and a keen ability to balance the long-standing mythos of the DC universe with the need to make titles like this accessible enough for curious readers - he does, however, sometimes go a little heavy on the expository dialogue and narration, which letterer Rob Leigh handles with aplomb.

Credit: Alvaro Martinez Bueno/Raul Fernandez/Brad Anderson/Rob Leigh (DC Comics)

But it’s through this voiceover that we find ourselves introduced to one of Justice League Dark #1’s primary protagonists, magician Zatanna Zatara. In the midst of a stage show with an enthralled audience, Zatanna attempts a simple bit of magic and unintentionally summons an eldritch horror that wreaks havoc on her very captive audience. With the help of Wonder Woman, who’s awfully sour about Zatanna ghosting her after the events of No Justice, Zatanna beats back the fiend and comes to the startling realization that her magic isn’t quite what it used to be.

Credit: Alvaro Martinez Bueno/Raul Fernandez/Brad Anderson/Rob Leigh (DC Comics)

Tynion offers up a ragtag cast with a common cause and manages to make the somewhat surprising presence of Wonder Woman in a Justice League Dark title seem perfectly natural. The Justice League Dark brand doesn’t necessarily evoke Diana to mind at first, but as Tynion has Diana note, the Amazons come from a realm forged by the powers of gods - a sort of magic in its own right, distinct from powers like those of John Constantine or Zatanna as it may be. Penciler Alvaro Martinez Bueno and inker Raul Fernandez excel at the more mystical elements of the issue. The horrors are horrible but not stomach-churning, and Brad Anderson’s colors land squarely in the realm of spooky instead of the nigh-impenetrable darkness some horror media relies on to get its point across. A panel where Zatanna framed in shadow as a light flicks behind her is especially effective and shows off the thoughtfulness the artistic team has brought to a book that could easily been a gloomy gray and black slog.

For readers who missed the events of No Justice, Tynion has made Justice League Dark an exceptionally accessible book. Personally my knowledge of both the event and much of the cast is somewhat limited, but Tynion makes even Kirk Langstrom and Detective Chimp feel like old friends (to say nothing of the refreshing return of John Constantine, who is certainly in good hands with this series). The exposition offers just enough vital background for the major shifts in the DC Universe over the last several months without spoiling too much or detracting from the mystery Tynion is establishing in the here-and-now. Justice League Dark #1 is a weird, tongue-in-cheek tale that establishes some excellent chemistry in an unusual team and promises to be a very interesting ride.

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