Premature Evacuation: Justice League Dark #6 Review

EDITOR’S NOTE: This review contains spoilers, and saying that backwards won’t make them go away.

We’re six issues into Justice League Dark now, and Peter Milligan is finally putting the actual team (mostly) together after an interminable rampup of what seemed like dozens of tiny solo adventures of the DC Universe’s most Vertigo-like heroes… just in time for a forced crossover with I, Vampire and Milligan leaving the book. Thanks a lot, Pete. Your timing sucks.

At the end of the last issue, we finally had Constantine, Deadman, Shade, Zatanna et al in one place… just in time for each of them to say, “Fuck you, Charlie” (Or in Zatanna’s case, “Eilrahc, uoy kcuf”) and disperse to the four winds. And now they’re all having nightmares; Constantine dreams of London on fire and it being his fault. Zatanna dreams of monsters putting fingers in her mouth (Meaning that, based on finger placement, her definition of nightmare has a lower threshold than mine). Deadman dreams that Dove is dead, unlike most comic fans who have been praying that Hawk would also take the dirtnap.

So, like most people suffering nightmares, they all converge on Madame Xanadu, because apparently in the DCU Obamacare doesn’t cover Halcion, and a comic of people spending most of their time drinking themselves into a coma already exists. The team snipes at each other for a while before being attacked by Shade’s madness-created nightmare recreation of his dead girlfriend, proving once again that emo kids shouldn’t be given any power stronger than a Tumblr account.

It might sound like I am mocking this book, which actually isn’t the case. This is finally an issue where almost everyone is together and interacting, which is what I’ve wanted from this book since it was announced. The draw of this book to me was the best of 90s Vertigo characters working together… or at least working in the same room. But from the beginning, Milligan saw fit to keep everyone apart, in the same story but solitary, similarly to Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory series six years ago. And, similarly to that book, it has only kinda worked; a not-team is an interesting concept for a limited series, but for an ongoing? Well, there’s a reason no one picked up the Seven Soldiers ball and ran with it; a team where no one meets is the kind of concept that I’m sure sounds like genius… for exactly as long as everyone in the room is at the same level of hashish intoxication.

So this issue is a marked improvement over the book’s inaugural arc; we see Constantine rub everyone the wrong way, Zatanna gleefully threatening to erase parts of Constantine’s memory (Which worked so well the last time she tried it) with Shade falling on her side (Because he’s emo and she’s goth; if she suggested Shade try experimenting with bladder parasites, he’d be halfway to a stagnant Congo pond before she could tighten her corset) and incorporeal Deadman just happy to see someone punch John. This is the kind of character interplay I wanted from this comic from day one.

So we finally see these people in the same room, with Madame Xanadu informing them that they must work together – and find and recruit Mindwarp – or else face their nightmares coming true. So after five issues we finally have a team and a mission and a course of action… and then on the last page, Xanadu suddenly seizes up, and from seemingly out of nowhere sees an event from I, Vampire that has nothing whatsoever to do with anything we’ve seen before. Hell, if I’m remembering right, we didn’t even know that anyone in Justice League Dark even knew about I, Vampire. It comes from left field and feels remarkably like DC Dark editorial called Milligan and artist Mikal Janin a week before press and said, “Guess what? Yer crossing over with I, Vampire! No, next month. Just make it happen, or we’re putting you on Stormwatch.”

Janin’s art continues to be a strong point of the book. I don’t envy the poor bastard, because this book requires him to draw standard costumed heroes, hot girls in fishnets, inside-out monsters, madness effects and the king of the Goddamned vampires, and he somehow makes it all hang together. His storytelling is generally clear, although there was a double-page spread where the art swept up and to the right where the placement of the panels combined with the dialogue balloons made it a little tricky to keep track of where your eye was supposed to go. His facial expressions are clear and readable… and that includes the expression on a madness monster grieving itself into self-destruction. It’s not perfect, but it works with this book, and I’m damn glad that he’ll be continuing with the title when Jeff Lemire takes over.

This issue is uniquely frustrating for me, because it really feels like Milligan was just about to hit his stride with the title, putting out the kind of book that any 90s Vertigo fan who at the time also had a subscription to Justice League International would have killed for, written by one of the key creators of that era and line of comics. And just as we’re getting there, we get ram-fed into a crossover with the abruptness of my dad snapping off the TV in the middle of Superfriends and trumpeting, “Okay, kids: field trip to the paper clip factory!” And all the while knowing that Milligan bows out in just two more issues.

I’ll continue to get this book, because I love the characters and Jeff Lemire has yet to write something I haven’t liked… but part of me will always mourn Milligan’s run on Justice League Dark as a missed opportunity. That said, this issue is as close to fulfulling that promise as we’ve gotten. If you loved 90s Vertigo? Get this while you can.