Assembling: Justice League Dark #9 Reviewon May 25, 2012 at 7:06 pm
Before I say anything else about Justice League Dark #9, the first issue written by Jeff Lemire, I feel I must protest and state, with the authority of a seventeen-year two pack a day smoker who quit two years ago, that the only way John Constantine would be able to make it up the steps of the ziggurat we see mid-issue – a ziggurat in Peru, meaning a minimum of 5,000 feet above sea level – would be if Superman miracled his ass up there.
Other than that misstep, this re-reboot of Justice League Dark is generally effective, given that Lemire has the unenviable task of having to introduce a new status quo, including a new cast of characters, team raison d’etre, and mission, all in 20 pages. That is a lot of expositionally heavy work to have to do, and it does show in several places; for example, you can clearly see the man behind the curtain saying, at one point, “Oh shit; Andrew Bennett could wrap this conflict up in ten seconds. I have, let’s see… 20 words in which I can resolve that.” However, it is a generally promising beginning… with a few obvious problems.
The most major one being that, intentionally or not, the guts of the plot to this story is so close to that of the Avengers movie that one of them has to be getting an unintentional boner.
Given the resolution that original series writer gave the team in the last issue, Lemire takes this opportunity to give the team an entirely new origin… you know, on top of the original one. And what is the impetus behind DC’s most powerful magic-based characters coming together? Is it an attempt to share knowledge? Is it in response to an extinction-level magic threat that only a team can battle? Well, kinda. Mostly it’s because the government wants to build a magic team.
This origin, based on the initial threat that the team faces, but after Milligan’s impetus for forming the team, while decompressed and sometimes frustrating, was still self-contained and based on the idea that the only people who would make the decision to form a team to combat secret, occult threats would be the people who normally combat secret, occult threats. Having an American government operative show up at British citizen John Constantine’s door with knowledge about a magic threat that Constantine doesn’t have just isn’t as satisfying. However, it doesn’t ring so untrue as to derail the story.
What does ring untrue is the government operative: Steve Trevor. While not Lemire’s fault, this is yet another New 52 issue trying to establish Steve Trevor as DC’s Nick Fury. And be it in this issue or Justice League or any of the other books in which DC has put the character (and his organization “A.R.G.U.S.”), it sticks out like Don Draper at Lilith Fair. The Fury-ization of Trevor is blatant, it is obvious, and it stinks of desperation and barely-masked plagiarism on the part of DC Comics. The character and his wanna-be status yank me out of every story in which he appears. But that’s not Lemire’s fault.
What is his fault is that Trevor appears here to tell John Constantine that he wants to assemble JL Dark to resolve a magical threat that A.R.G.U.S. can’t handle. Which is a strong parallel to Nick Fury’s speech to The Avengers in the movie. And when you throw in that the team doesn’t work well together and snipes at each other constantly, the parallels grow stronger. And then the team finds the threat. Which is a glowing cube. Which is called a “tesseract.”
Now, I know full well that Jeff Lemire is too good a writer to be lifting things from The Avengers; I fully understand that these similarities are nothing but a case of parallel thinking. These things happen. But for good or ill, these similarities are there, and they are going to be Goddamned distracting to anyone reading this book, and those kind of issues aren’t anything that a new writer on a title should have to worry about.
What Lemire undeniably gets right are the characters, particularly John Constantine. Granted, it’s not all that difficult to get the broad strokes of Constantine down; combine English slang like “bollocks,” add calling yourself a bastard, throw in a touch of bullshitting a few people, stir with a cigarette and serve. However, Lemire also captures the cockiness of former circus performer Deadman, and the old girlfriend vibe between Constantine and Zatanna very well. As for Andrew Bennett and Black Orchid? Well, they’re both too new in the DC Reboot to have any character beyond Bennett’s, “I must lead my vampire people,” and Black Orchid’s… well shit, I got nothing. But then again, since Lemire is presenting the rebooted Black Orchid as a mystery for Constantine to solve, I’m probably not supposed to have more than that.
The art by Mikel Janin the main creative bridge between the original few issues and Lemire’s) is, as previously, a good match for this kind of book. He presents both the standard humans and the required horrors for a book like this equally well, with a medium line, expressive faces (His reveal of Constantine at the start of the book is about the best cocky expression I’ve seen on the character’s face in a long time and a lot of artists), and generally good pacing. The only real issue I have with Janin’s art in this issue is his storytelling in some of the action sequences. Here, he draws custom panel borders – electrical bolts in one, spider webs in another – in a decidedly non-standard configuration that a seasoned comic reader can appreciate and still follow the story. However, if you hand this to someone who only reads Dilbert in the newspaper? They’re gonna be baffled. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a pretty effect, and it adds something cool for the already initiated, but it may confuse some readers.
Bottom line: I enjoyed this issue, but the obvious similarities to The Avengers movie really gave me some problems. This, however should be temporary… at least on an Avengers level. Because the final reveal of the issue indicates that Lemire will be leaving that world… to land smack into Neil Gaiman’s Sandman universe. And he better tread fucking lightly there; a lot of people are pissed about new writers dithering about in Alan Moore’s Watchmen universe, and Sandman fans don’t have a sense of humor about that shit.
So strap in kids; the next few months might be interesting. Christ, I need a cigarette.