Wednesday, July 24, 2013

New Comics Wednesday: Justice League Dark (DC New 52)

Intro: As many of you know, Wednesday is New Comic Book Day, the day when new comics go on-sale at comics shops around the country, and also the day when most publishers also release the digital versions of their comics to platforms like Comixology or their own internal digital platforms. Each comic featured on Daddy Rolled a 1's New Comic Wednesday posts is one that I personally get at my local shop. 

Please note also that every Wednesday, I tweet out which issues I picked up that week, and then over the course of the week I send out individual tweets with 140-character reviews of each issue. You can follow me on Twitter here.

As with all of my comic book overviews, I will attempt to explain what makes this comic interesting without giving away any spoilers.

I think it's pretty well established on my blog that I'm a big fan of DC Comics - the characters, that is (not necessarily their business practices). I grew up with a steady diet of the Superfriends cartoon, and its various incarnations, and I always liked the episodes that focused on more than just the "big three" of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.

When DC did their re-launch of the New 52, I resisted for quite a long time. I even mentioned in a post here how annoyed I was by it and how much I hate change in comics.

As I noted in my review on Batgirl, I eventually decided to dip my toe into the New 52 with only four titles (Batman, Detective, Flash, and Justice League). The first title I picked up beyond those core four for me was Justice League Dark.

DC, unlike Marvel, isn't a company about "teams" - they focus more on individual heroes. Marvel is the opposite - at Marvel you've got Avengers (and Secret Avengers, New Avengers, Young Avengers, Uncanny Avengers...), the Fantastic Four (and also simply FF), the Defenders, the X-Men (and 800 spin-off teams like X-Force and X-Calibur and X-Factor and X-Ray Specs...), the Invaders...

At DC, you're got Justice League and Teen Titans, and if you want to include them, the Legion of Super Heroes. That's really it for the main stuff. Sure, you've got Suicide Squad (if you want to call them a "team"), and in the past Batman had his Outsiders, and I'm sure there were a couple more short-lived teams in the past. But, really, you've got Justice League and its spin-offs (such as Justice League Europe and Justice League Detroit). So, it wasn't a huge surprise to me that DC would create a Justice League spin-off book for the New 52, but I was a bit surprised that it was Justice League Dark.

Let's get something out of the way quickly - my friends always make fun of the name. They snicker and think that it's stupid and who would ever name their "team" that? Well, without giving too much away, I'll just say that the members of the "team" don't really consider themselves a team, and don't refer to themselves as "Justice League Dark." That label has been slapped on them by others, who wanted a label to be able to refer to them when talking about them. The various members of the "team" were not happy when they found out that people were calling them this.
What's It About?
This book covers the "magical" or "darker" characters in the New 52 universe. The initial premise is based around John Constantine of Hellblazer fame, who ends up recruiting some fellow magic-based anti-heroes like Zatanna, Shade the Changing Man, Deadman, Madame Xanadu, and others. Over the course of the comic so far, a few of the characters have left and others have joined the "team" but in the interest of not spoiling things, I won't mention that here.

John gathers this group together to help fend off a mystical attack that the "regular" Justice League finds itself incapable of dealing with. Once that happens, unbeknownst to most of the members of John's team, they come under the surveillance of some government agents, who keep tabs on the group in case the need ever arises for their unique magic skills again.

Along the way, we are exposed to the wider world of magic in the DC Universe, which really isn't dealt with in the other New 52  titles. Important concepts from DC's past, such as the House of Mystery and the Books of Magic feature prominently in these stories. There are some tie-ins, as you can imagine, with other "dark" titles, such as I, Vampire, Amethyst: Sword of Sorcery, and Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. (all sadly canceled now), along with Phantom Stranger and of course Justice League.

 Who Are the Creative Team? 
Writing duties were originally handled by British author Peter Milligan, best known for his work on Shade, the Changing Man, post-Morrison Animal Man, and work on Detective Comics that resulted in the creation of the character Azrael during the Knightfall storyline in the 1990s. More recently for DC, he wrote the end-run on Hellblazer (which recently ended), and the New 52 titles of Red Lanterns and Stormwatch in addition to writing Justice League Dark up through Issue #8.

Since issue #9, writing has been handled by Canadian writer and artist Jeff Lemire, of Essex County and Sweet Tooth fame. Lemire also handled the New 52 reboot of Animal Man, one of the most critically acclaimed titles of the company relaunch, as well as Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. More recently, he's taken over writing duties in Green Arrow, making that particular book one of my favorites.

Ray Fawkes, who collaborates with Lemire on the new title Constantine, has also been co-writing Justice League Dark with Lemire recently.

All of the writing in JLD has been very solid, making it, story-wise, one of my favorite New 52 titles. The dynamics between the characters are intriguing, especially considering that you're essentially dealing with a conman, a spirit who can take over other peoples' bodies, and a woman who can see the future (and has, in fact, seen horrible outcomes for herself and her colleagues). How and why this group of characters chooses to work together issue after issue is one of the strongest parts of the book and much of what keeps me coming back each month.

Spanish artist Mikel Janin has handled the pencils on Justice League Dark since the first issue, with just a few gaps, giving the title one of the most consistent looks in all of the New 52. A relatively young artist, Janin did some pre-New 52 work on JLA and on the Flashpoint mini-series Deadman and the Flying Graysons, which led to him being offered Justice League Dark. One of the things I like best about Janin's work is his expressive characters and his ability to tell stories through the visuals alone.

Vicente Cifuentes has been providing "finishes" to Janin's work lately, and the pairing works well, as Cifuentes' work helps give a softer, more "human" feel to Janin's computer-generated work.

Who Will Like It?
This is a great book for people who like some "magic" with their capes and cowls. In fact, with the exception of the current "Trinity War" story-arc that's running through all three Justice League titles (Justice League, Justice League of America, and Justice League Dark), for the most part, the adventures and characters in Justice League Dark exist pretty separately from the rest of the New 52, so you don't really need to know what's happening in the rest of the DC Universe in order to enjoy this title.

The art is also really strong, so just from a purely visual standpoint, this is a fun book to look at. 

Any Good Fodder in Here for My Role-Playing Games?
There's great stuff in here! The portrayal of magic in a modern setting should give you great ideas if you're playing a modern supernatural type game, similar to some of the old WotC d20 Modern stuff like Urban Arcana or even Shadowrun.

There was a whole story arc a few issues back that actually inspired me enough to start making notes to file off the serial numbers and potentially turn it into a campaign setting (not sure what I'm going to do with that yet, but that's just an example of how you can find ideas from any source).

Lastly, in terms of character development, John Constantine is probably the best example I can think of as a model for a rogue/sorcerer character - a conman who is great at reading people and bluffing (even against supernatural entities like demons and undead necromancers) but also has the magical ability to back up his bluffs if need be. A player or GM could find a lot of character traits to emulate during a tabletop RPG by reading how Constantine deals with the various situations he finds himself in.

Is It Good for Kids? 
No, not so much. It's rated "T" for "Teen" and that's about right. Sometimes I find that comic ratings tend to be a little too conservative, but Justice League Dark has dealt with some pretty, well, dark issues that would definitely be scary for younger kids.

  • Format: Monthly 32-page full-color series
  • Where to Buy: Try to buy it at your local comics shop. If you don't have one, try a bookstore or convenience store. You can also buy the digital version on Comixology. That link leads to the page on the series; issue #22 came out today. Also, there are some collected editions available: Justice League Dark Volume 1: In the Dark contains issue #1-6, and Justice League Dark Volume 2: Books of Magic contains issues #7-13, issue #0, and Annual #1. There's also a Volume 3 to cover issues #14-19, scheduled to release in February 2014. All of those links lead to the book on Amazon.
  • Price: $2.99 per issue
  • Rated: Teen
  • More Information: The official DC site for Justice League Dark
Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Alesmith I.P.A.
Listening: "Spirits in the Material World" by the Police

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