Justice League Dark Annual #1
Written by James Tynion IV and Ram V
Art by Guillem March and Arif Prianto
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
James Tynion IV and rising star Ram V team up for a haunting tale that sows the seeds for the next arc of Justice League Dark in this week’s Justice League Dark Annual #1. In the wake of the defeat of the Lords of Order, the League are left to address a strange conundrum — the return of magic under a new set of rules that magic is writing itself.
With this comes a new protector of the Green, chosen this time by the Parliament of Flowers, whose motives for their choice are murky and unclear. While the others set themselves to understanding the new magical order, Constantine urges — or, rather, goads — Swamp Thing into investigating the Parliament’s choice of protector, leaving him to wander into a more sinister conspiracy than any of them could have anticipated.
Writers James Tynion IV and Ram V craft a clever, tightly scripted story that stands alone and slots well into the existing world of Tynion’s Justice League Dark run. There are spoilers for previous issues, certainly, but this is a surprisingly welcoming jumping on point; together they’ve crafted an eerie horror tale that drips with melancholy, thanks in equal measure to Ram V’s dialogue and narration and Guillem March and Arif Prianto’s beautiful art. Oleander Sorrel, our protagonist of sorts who finds himself selected by the Parliament of Flowers to transform into their new guardian, narrates several pages through journal entries, but March’s artful framing of the narration through latticework and creeping, flowering vines keep the text from ever feeling overwhelming.
March’s stunning, detail-heavy art and Prianto’s lively colors sell Sorrel’s transformation into a figure of constantly blooming, constantly shedding flowers as the highlight of the issue. More than anything else, this design and their execution of it capture the terrible sad beauty of Sorrel’s struggle and the tragic loss at the heart of the issue, not just of his own literal life but of the life he used to know before throwing himself into his horticultural experiments after he and his wife lost their son.
Everything about Sorrel’s transformation is enthralling — his gangly and graceful build, the emptiness of his viney jaw when it sits agape in shock, the perpetually wide and unsettlingly pink blooms of his eyes. His ability to shape the beauty of the green into haunting artifices of the things his estranged wife longs for will leave you uneasy, and his final moments in the issue lead to a sequence that promises delightfully spooky storytelling in the upcoming arc of the main series.
Justice League Dark Annual #1 is everything a Swamp Thing tale should be, and though perhaps an unfortunate portent for the JLD, a very promising offer indeed for readers. Whether you’ve been a die-hard fan or have just been curious, this is an excellent place to jump on board. The art is stunning and the storytelling full of wistful sadness. This annual has all the rich emotional beats of classic Gothic horror and the gorgeous visuals to match, and whether as a stand-alone issue or an introduction to the full series, won’t leave you disappointed.