Justice League Dark #9
Despite what the above title suggests this issue is really a number one, or at least that is what publisher DC and and series writer Jeff Lemire have been saying in all of their press statements. So when i picked it up this morning I read it as such; not only as the start of a new title but as the beginning of a brand new IP, separate from all existing knowledge of this shadowy corner of the DCU ( which admittedly wasn’t all that hard given that I was previously unfamiliar with all bar one of the characters). That phrase, “perfect jumping on point”, is bandied about so carelessly by comic publishers these days that it is almost impossible to imbue in it any meaning – the same of course goes for the term “darker”, another buzzword obviously used in conjunction with this book – and so despite their assertions I honestly didn’t expect JLD to work all that well in this way: I expected to stumble into a whole lot of holes that i’d have to fill in with my imagination and have a whole lot of references fly right over my head while I was down there, but boy was I wonderfully wrong. Lemire may be very believably writing the “most self-serving con man in the history of con men” but he is nothing less than a man of his word.
First issues of imaginatively high-concept series like this one are an incredibly tough balancing act; not only do they need to introduce the entire cast of characters ( which in this case, being a Justice league book and all, is a very large one) and the concept of their quest but they need to do it while also keeping the reader readily entertained, never allowing the book to become bogged down by the extreme amount of exposition such a task requires. Add to this equation the buffeting breeze of also attempting to sate knowledgeable readers who have been along for the ride from the start and it would almost seem excusable for Lemire to slip and fall from this high-line, but surprisingly he never even shakes, let alone stumbles. We start in media res, deep in a South American jungle, similarly deep into the action by page four and familiar with all of the characters by the end of that first fight scene. Lemire wasting no time, ticks off both these tasks by the time the first ad hits, virtually sprinting across the trapeze.
Admittedly though the concept of the book is fairly simple – if the title alone didn’t clue you in then the sight of Faust’s sunken, iridescent eyes and Constantine’s sly smirk during that opening scene will – this is a team-up story that takes unconventional heroes and sets them against unbelievable villains; it’s the kind of pulp-fantasy that people shamefully tend to shy away from these days and Mikel Janin’s art portrays that period feel magically. The harder of the two tasks then was making us feel like a member of this band of strange strangers, but this too is basically done on the space of a single page. Lemire introduces the characters clearly and cleverly; stating their facts and features in a way that is plain and coherent enough for newbies to easily grasp, but also creative enough to keep those already in the know entertained and he does this by taking that title of ‘band’ literally and assigning them all a rhetorical instrument, one that perfectly matches their role and personality.
This though isn’t just a joke metaphor that is introduced and then tossed away, the title is also thematically relevant to the book because there is something very musical about this band of heroes and their mission. More specifically Lemire’s writing of them is rocking: the banter he boons them with is sardonic like the smartest of arses ( as it should be when Constantine is the lead), the content rebelliously counter culture ( embracing the loud and ludicrous side of the medium) and hell, the comic even comes complete with an Apocalypse Now-esque hangover scene and a blood-stained Aztek temple covered in severed heads. Justice League Dark is a brand new sound coming from the man of slow and somber stories, this is heavy metal comic books and unashamedly so.
Unfortunately though I have to say that i was just as disappointed by the denouement as i was positive about those first few pages; the execution is excellent all the way through but i see it as a bit of a shame that the story went where it did in the very end. Whenever I hear the term Tesseract (can we put a moratorium on these things please?) I tend to just sigh and stare at the page as my interest slowly shuffles away, so a SPOILERS tesseract that leads the way to a further four magical macguffins of doom and destiny? Eh…that lost me a little, even though this is a logical extension of that long lost pulp-styling that I praised earlier. So in short, this maybe isn’t so much the kind of story that I am actively seeking but as long as Lemire keeps telling it in this terrific tone and with such compelling character interaction I’ll keep coming back; and you, you have no excuse not to try the title and find out for yourself whether you will too.