Justice League Dark #10
Dark is a dastardly book that defies all expectations of those who try declare it as definitely one thing or the other. I picked up issue nine expecting to be lost in the established mythos but instead found myself treated to one of the most clarified entry points of the entire New 52, albeit it one a year into the series. It was a clean, clever and self contained comic, so I expected the same or similar of the series going forward, but then I read Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E and my estimation of Lemire’s light works lowered dramatically, this book seemed damned to follow the same scrappy path. I was wrong on all counts, but at the same time these statements are all almost true. This team is built to battle with the demons, mysteries and the supernatural elements of the DCU and their book, like magic, is never simply what it seems.
We spend the majority of the issue inside the mainstay setting of a separate DC book, Vertigo’s own House of Mystery, one of those ominous and oddly osmotic locales that all occult legends contain, as the characters combativly discuss the ramifications of last issue’s final revelation. This structure should make the book a very basic read, a re-treading and further fleshing out of already established characters and ideas, but instead it simply provides Lemire an open opportunity for introducing new, crazier characters and concepts like the house, its cranky caretaker and his kin that come crashing in for the climax. My only concern with these introductions was that they seemed less like creations of Lemire’s mind and more like threads adapted from other, older stories, so no matter how cool or creepy they were as someone unfamiliar with their origins I constantly felt a little out of the loop and thus their impact was lessened. Though on the upside, whereas the chaotic complexity of concepts felt like something of a compensation in Frankenstein here it seems a necessary piece of the plot, if a peculiarly paced one.
Just when we start to think that this is going to be the equivalent of a bottle episode, our minds resigned to a reigned in intimate issue, the book basically explodes into chaotic action, a sequence made all the more compelling for the way in which it works its way back towards the events of the last issue. If the two books weren’t written by the same man I would say that one should look to the work of the other for inspiration; constantly escalating the stakes and sustaining complexity are all well and good but they both work best when tied to a single throughline of connective tissue. Watching a man leap a series of hurdles on a track is far less thrilling than seeing him scamper away from a rolling stone, skipping over obstacles in his escape route; there is a purpose to the latter and thus it is more potent.
I’m getting off topic though, so back to the book itself. This issue hinted at the series having that cohesiveness that I crave as well as a cupboard full of creative ingredients and while I loved it for that, it is also this very trait that has made me want to drop the book. See, this issue serves primarily as a bridge between the last issue and the next, it carries some past plots forward and cleans the stage for other new ones to start; both nice and necessary jobs but also work that will mostly be undone by the passing of a month between issues. Lemire has proven with this issue that he has a grand plan for this book, akin to the one started in Animal Man, and for me that makes it something that I want to read in sequence; to let the stone roll closer and closer to the characters as I turn each page, never pausing it to allow them rest or respite. So I will be back later because this is a truly unique book, one unlike anything else on any publisher’s printing list and one too good to give sub-par treatment to. Though who knows, by then the book could well have changed again; in this story nothing is yet set in stone, just in skin and blood.