Justice League Dark #1

Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Mikel Janin
32 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

Justice League Dark is simultaneously one of the stranger and more logical books from DC Comics’ re-launch. With characters like John Constantine, Madame Xanadu, and Shade the Changing Man now back in the main DC Universe (while in the case of Constantine, still continuing his mature-readers Hellblazer comic), it was just a matter of time until they all teamed up. Having them in their own Justice League comic, and written by Vertigo mainstay Peter Milligan? It’s so strange it could just possibly work.

The book opens in a fairly standard manner; introduce the characters one-by-one, putting each of them in different places and situations and then slowly inching them all towards one another. While few of them get to do much, they all get their little character moments. Shade is shown as the unbalanced madman, Enchantress as the dangerous being, Madame Xanadu as the voice of calm, and so on.

Shade is the only one that truly stands out, but considering the modern version of the character was created by Milligan, that’s not much of a surprise. Ironically, the only one that feels a little eyebrow raising is this DC Universe version of John Constantine; perhaps because Milligan’s so used to writing him in Hellblazer, this one feels almost (but thankfully not quite) like Dick Van Dyke’s fake cockney character from Mary Poppins. At least he doesn’t actually say "crikey," although his brief cameo comes close.

The big superstar of Justice League Dark #1 is Mikel Janin, who feels like the next generation of Gene Ha. Janin’s art is packed with detail, from a crazy multi-car pile-up on the freeway, to candles and stained glass windows in the background as Madame Xanadu and her cards make their first appearance. Fortunately he’s more than just a "pack all the detail in you can" kind of guy. I love the petrified look on poor Kathy’s face as her reality is revealed, and the crazy emaciated form of the Enchantress comes across as menacing.

What pleased me the most about Janin’s art, though, is how well he’s able to draw the truly strange. Not many artists get a script telling them to assault Superman, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg with hundreds of flying teeth, but Janin draws it like it’s something he has to handle all the time. It’s creepy and menacing, and it gives us a strong reassurance that Janin is up to the challenge of drawing the odder nature of Justice League Dark.

Having the actual Justice League make an appearance here was a little surprising, but I feel like Milligan’s already shown us where he’s going with their guest star role. As the three Justice Leagers get buried under the teeth, it’s a reminder that all three are out of their element. It’s the beginning of a justification for Justice League Dark‘s team to exist, no doubt to tackle the far out and bizarre menaces that the Justice League isn’t well-equipped to fight. It works as well as any other idea to get them together, and more importantly, it lets us see the Justice League buried under a pile of teeth. That’s always a nice change of pace.

Justice League Dark #1 was an entertaining debut, and the script was good enough to make me want to read a second issue. More importantly, though, Janin’s art is just beautiful. I have a sneaking feeling that even if the script hadn’t been up to par, I’d have been back for Justice League Dark #2. It’s no surprise that DC Comics just hired Janin to an exclusive contract; with art this good, I’d want to make sure he stuck around for a long time, too. This is a fun new book.

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