It’s become apparent that at the very least, with “The Witching Hour,” James Tynion IV has no intention of telling a story of the Dark Justice League. This is Wonder Woman’s story, everyone else is there to shift the perspective as needed. Now, to fans of the other members of the cast here – Swamp Thing, Constantine, and others – this may, of course, sound like a tough sell, but a largely successful Justice League Dark #4 makes the case that it just might work in the end.
What’s it all about? DC’s preview reads:
“The Witching Hour” part three! Everything the Justice League Dark thought they knew about Wonder Woman and Hecate has proven to be wrong…and the Parliament of Trees is about to pay the price! Hecate knows this world isn’t strong enough to resist the Otherkind, so she’s going to burn it down and replace it with a world of her own…starting with that ancient grove!
Whoa. It’s a dark, surprising issue to say the very least as Hecate reveals that not only are her agents going for the last Godly bastions of life, magic, and death but the very living roots of its nature on Earth. Swamp Thing, seemingly alone now, is powerless to do anything to stop it – set to be a casualty in a story that’s all about our warrior princess’s struggle with power.
Some readers may find this ever-increasing death toll, extending now to the very foundations of DC’s magical world, frustrating while characterization in its wake feels largely left untouched – that’s understandable. But, therein, too, lies the coming thing that makes it so damn interesting to see play out – as it’s becoming painfully clear Tynion IV knows – teasing out little details here and there: the impending fallout.
How will Wonder Woman herself deal with the aftermath of all of this? Can she at all? How do other people see her now? How will they? Will it all be worth it when Hecate is defeated? Will the Otherkind cease then, too (it seems unlikely)? It’s not only very real, physical fallout but also emotional fallout – issues of trust, sensibility and ability that are finally being touched on that make this issue and story feel worth the buy-in.
For the first real time in this series, we get some answers to those questions as Tynion IV smartly shifts the still clunky and cumbersome narration to a more relatable, character level and allows us to see Diana through the eyes of Zatanna – afraid and angry at her friend’s flippant misuse and blind trust of power. To the eyes of Boston Brand, fearful and furious as he tries to save his deity’s very life, so she can save the lives of others. It’s a small, somewhat minor shift in focus but one that indicates more to come – that this will not end pretty but it will be great, narratively speaking.
To get to that end, though, it seems we will have to struggle through some frustrating, oftentimes banal, singularly focused passages that offer little answers, shock for shock’s sake (Hecate can seemingly do whatever she wants with next to no resistance) and a lot of focus on one character over all others – especially as she flips between hero and puppet villain in an uninteresting cat and mouse game.
When the issue does lag, as it does, it’s nice that Alvaro Martinez Bueno’s artistic efforts do not as this issue is a totally honed special effects extravaganza. In fact, pound for pound, this may be one of the best-looking books of the year. A singular page of flowers, beautifully blooming and colorful with a stark blackness set below them – a scared, panicked Swamp Thing cutting through like a diver – entirely indicative of the mastery of form, composition, and execution that Bueno is consistently capable of. It’s not a total balm for the uneven (but again, necessary) narrative work here, but it does help things along with a suitably magical, dark, visual storytelling that is near untouched in the big two today.
In the end, with a clear direction finally in sight, the choice before you is if all this feels worth it. For me, it oftentimes does. This issue and others in the Justice League Dark run up to now speaking to that. Other times it doesn’t, Wonder Woman #56 a good example. Your mileage will vary. But it does feel, finally, that these ends will justify the means. I’m on board.