The “Dark” line of DC Comics’ New 52 has arguably been the strongest set of titles in the relaunch from a critical standpoint. There’s just so much to be gained from allowing the weird comics of the Vertigo imprint to mingle in the mainstream. So here we are in Zero Month, a perfect chance to explain what this team means to the rest of the DCU. So why does this feel like wasted potential?
Written by Jeff Lemire
Illustrated by Lee Garbett
– Find out what young John Constantine was like in the early days of The New 52, and meet the villain who plans to kill him and the entire team!
Jeff Lemire inherited a book from Peter Milligan that was a great premise with somewhat confusing and seemingly inconsequential execution. Lots of in-fighting, lots of drama, and little in the way of stakes or cohesion. The team has come together a little better under Lemire, as he’s trimmed characters that no one has any idea what to do with anymore (Shade the Changing Man, for one) and has tried to tie them into other DCU mythology like the Black Room full of magical gadgetry in Col. Steve Trevor’s corner of the universe. But like the Zero Issues have done so many times this month, “Justice League Dark” #0 doesn’t keep the momentum or the integration going.
The issue begins with John Constantine on his way to the United States in search of a deeper understanding of magic. Although Lemire is getting a better handle on Constantine, he just doesn’t feel right when compared to his “Hellblazer” counterpart. And while we’re on the subject, his motivations for doing the things he does just aren’t satisfying at this point. Maybe I should chalk it up to hundreds of issues of “Hellblazer” having been able to grow him as a character, but just wanting to learn magic and just generally being a “bastard” aren’t motivations enough to form a satisfying character. Anyway, Constantine seeks out the best mage in New York City (NYC is the hub of the occult – who knew?) in Nick Necro and his lovely girlfriend, Zatanna. What follows is a deep dive into the dark arts, magic as a tenuous metaphor for drug-addiction, a few run-ins with a murderous cult and a triangle of sexual politics and conflict that is actually the most satisfying thing about the issue. Lemire deftly points out that Nick, Constantine, and Zatanna explore mysticism for three completely different reasons and these reasons will ultimately bounce off of one another. He’s careful to both show and tell this fact – a cardinal rule of visual storytelling. Though the issue is a stumbling block for “Justice League Dark”, it still holds underlying evidence that Jeff Lemire is a fine storyteller and knows how to organically draw out distinct personalities in characters.
This is also another case of a Zero Month issue that features fill-in art that doesn’t match the tone of the story or the general style of the previous artist. Incidentally, it’s also not Lee Garbett’s best work no matter how you slice it. His outstanding work on Bryan Q. Miller’s “Batgirl” still holds up and makes me wish he were doing something else in the New 52. Having 4 different inkers on this issue is a tell-tale sign for how this could have come out more inconsistent than one would expect. There are no real storytelling problems, but it doesn’t fit what we’ve seen from Mikel Janin, who has been a real revelation because of his work on this series. Janin’s style is clean and is ordinarily colored to cast a dark shroud over the team, while letting bits of colorful magic and mysticism in. Garbett’s work is colorful and expressive, which doesn’t entirely suit the dark proceedings. Perhaps this is a case of expecting one thing and getting another.
Though we get a passable “Times Past” tale about Zatanna and Constantine, there’s so much more potential to the Justice League Dark team and we’re afforded none of it. The series itself doesn’t spend enough time on the other players on the team the way it is, while the zero issue ignores them completely for characters that have had plenty of stories over the years. Another zero issue just skirts by the supposed premise of the month. If you’re looking to know more about Black Orchid or Doctor Mist or any tales of the Justice League Dark as a team (which is promised by the solicitation), you’re out of luck, mate.
Final Verdict: 5.5 – Browse. Better yet, read any one of Lemire’s other books and buy some “Hellblazer” trades.