52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Peter Milligan has been a mainstay in comics for several decades now following the “British Invasion” that started in the late 80’s. As recent as 2011, Milligan found himself as an integral part of relaunching several DC Comics series with their New 52 initiative, launching Red Lantern Corps and Justice League Dark before transitioning on to Stormwatch several months later. Milligan, well-known for his work with Vertigo characters, also got a crack at writing the character of John Constantine for the second time by bringing the character into the fold of the Justice League Dark roster, making the character a natural leader from his first appearance.
Justice League Dark Volume 1
Madame Xanadu attempts to bring together characters with magical ties from all corners of the DC Universe to form the Justice League Dark. Following a spell casted by Madame Xanadu, The Enchantress has begun to wreak havoc on the mortal plain, proving to be far too strong for Superman, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg. Using her powers, Madame Xanadu attempts to correct her mistake by bring together the likes of John Constantine, Zatanna, Deadman, Shade, and Mindwarp in hopes of stopping The Enchantress from tearing the world apart. With glimpses of a future constantly plaguing her, the pressure is on to force this unlikely group of individuals to work as a team, which proves to be easier said than done. With each of these characters dealing with The Enchantress situation in their own, different ways, they must quickly learn to put their differences aside if they want to ensure that the Earth survives this latest instance of mystical mayhem.
The truth about first volumes for most “team” related superhero books is that they are supposed to be some form of defining moment for the team. Whether it be the first meeting of these characters, the formation of the team, or even their most heroic moment as a team, one of these three things are typically a central theme to the first storyline of a team book. With Justice League Dark, Milligan does make this volume the first meeting between many of these characters, as well as forming the team, but it never really clicks in a satisfying way. The first five issues in the volume go to great lengths to actually keep many members of the team as independent as possible, with none of them really ever working together to help resolve the primary conflict surrounding The Enchantress. By the final issue in the volume, you get somewhat of a glimpse of the team coming together, but again it just lacks a certain snap to it to make it an appealing comic book moment. A lot of your best moments in team books come from the clashing ideologies and philosophies of members of the team, with how they cope or overcome conflicting elements of who they are largely making up the drama of most stories. With Justice League Dark though, we never get to see much of how Constantine’s crass nature conflicts with someone who can be equally hotheaded like Boston Brand. There are moments where it seems like these characters differing views will all come to a head just to be quickly brushed over, robbing the reader of any true emotional moments.
In terms of plot, it feels as though Milligan could have crafted a cleaner script to guide the action as you’re always left feeling as though you’re missing something. A lot of it stems from what I stated in the previous paragraph, wherein this first volume is supposed to introduce this team but it feels like a book about a bunch of individuals instead. With this volume marking the first meeting and formation of the Justice League Dark, you’d hope that Milligan would inform you a bit more about who these characters are or what the connective threads between some of them are but that’s not the case. Simply put, if you know at least a few things about these characters before reading this story, you’ll be fine grasping what’s going on. But if this is your first DC Comics book, or your first time reading about some of these characters, you’ll feel lost as it doesn’t fairly introduce these characters to you as a reader. It’s an unfortunate truth for new readers to feel left out in the dark when it comes to this first outing of the Justice League Dark.
The one aspect of this book that Milligan does nail down is the representation of each individual character. From top to bottom, almost every character that Milligan casts into this story has some form of role that is at least slightly important. Milligan characterizes each character perfectly, as you can easily get a sense of what makes each member of the cast tick. Constantine is smug but loveable, having this bad boy style to him that you can’t ignore, always stealing any scene he arrives in. With a character like Deadman, Milligan captures the tortured essence of Boston Brand, an acrobatic ghost so to speak who can never be physically intimate with his girlfriend, The Dove. It’s one of the more fascinating pieces of work he does in this volume, examining the strain placed on a relationship shared between the living and the dead, taking time to show the reader that the physical barrier put in place can be detrimental to the couple’s success. The remaining members of the team all get at least a few moments that highlight their personalities, although some characters like Mindwarp just feel entirely out-of-place on the team, leaving you to wonder why they are relevant whatsoever to the plot or the cast.
Collects: Justice League Dark #1-6
Best Character: John Constantine
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “But being the English gentleman that I am, I’ll leave you in peace.” – John Constantine
Best Scene/Moment: Constantine saves the day – Issue 5
Best Issue: Issue 5. Issue 5 brings the first story arc to a close, setting issue 6 as a one-off story to bring the team closer together. John Constantine and Deadman are highlighted in an issue that has them largely at odds over what needs to be done to save the world. It’s how these two characters act for the duration of the issue that makes it the most memorable of the bunch, as Constantine is a hero in a situation where being the hero entails making an impossible decision and Deadman feels more human than he’s felt in years as a result.
Why You Should Read It: Peter Milligan is a true treat when it comes to writing characters like John Constantine or Deadman and for that alone you should at least check out this first volume of Justice League Dark. The plot is fairly standard and doesn’t work more often than not, but the beautiful visuals by Mikel Janin help to balance that out. The individual interpretations on these characters is far more rewarding than the aspect of them all working as a team so you can fall in love with the way Milligan writes a guy like Constantine fairly easily.