Threatening to plunge the Multiverse into darkness, the Otherkind seek to devour all magic on Earth. Fortunately, The Lords of Order, led by Nabu, have a plan for preventing this apocalypse. The remaining magical beings will be offered a choice: Return to earth after being stripped of all their magic, all knowledge of magic, and every memory of lifetimes tied to magic or die. Wait, wouldn’t that cause a shift in power so immense that entire worlds would blink out of existence? Sure, a majority, if not all, of life would cease to exist but at least the Otherkind will starve! I’m starting to feel like this is only eleven percent of a plan. Thankfully, Wonder Woman and Zatanna were able to garner Mordru’s aid and become the new Lords of Chaos. Now, they’ve returned to chew bubblegum and shred Nabu’s magical rule-book, and they’re all out of gum.
“We can win by embracing the full horror and power of imagination untethered by your paltry laws.”
As if possessed by Mordru, the Lord of Chaos himself, Justice League Dark doesn’t ask for your attention; it demands it. This is the result of a seamless blend of powerful themes, intriguing narrative and striking artwork. Tynion IV, Martínez Bueno, Fernandez and Anderson execute their story with the finesse of seasoned magicians. Justice League Dark #12 has a lot of moving parts. The true magic trick is how the creative team maintains forward momentum in such a way that it progresses the series’ overarching conflict with the Otherkind while also providing closure for the current conflict with Nabu.
None of this showmanship would work without the level of world building that James Tynion IV has put into this series. One of the things that I loved about this storyline is that Tynion IV does not do a bunch of handwaving to explain magic within the DC Universe. He has put so much detail into explaining how the Lords of Order and Chaos operate within this system for magic.
Throughout the preceding issue, Tynion IV explains that The Lords of Order use spells, pentagrams and books to ask Universe for permission to rewrite reality whereas The Lords of Chaos simply take what they want. I love this explanation for how each order works. It is simple enough for every reader to understand, and vague enough that it could be expanded upon in future issues. By issue’s end, Justice League Dark #12 serves as a huge payoff both thematically and visually for this explanation.
“The power of magic comes from belief.”
Interspersed with scenes depicting Wonder Woman’s creation of the team, Justice League Dark #12 largely focuses on their battle with Nabu. James Tynion IV does an excellent job weaving these sequences together thematically. Although the Lords of Order and Chaos may have different methods for accessing their abilities, the source of their power ultimately comes from belief. As a result, belief serves as the theme for not only this issue, but the entire story arc.
One of my favorite sequences throughout the issue involves Detective Chimp. Throughout the story, Bobo has struggled with the use of Nightmaster’s magical sword. Having recently acquired the sword, he is unsure the weapon’s capabilities. After the realm of Myrra has fallen that we get a true glimpse of Bobo’s despair. The one weapon that he could use against the Lords of Order in battle, however inexperienced he is with it, has been effectively rendered useless. It is only after being bestowed with chaos energy that we see Detective Chimp’s change in demeanor. He is no longer bound by his inexperience with magic. Bobo simply decides that his sword can cut through magic and the sword obeys. Ultimately, Bobo’s belief gives him his greatest power.
All of this wonderfully conveys the message that we can accomplish anything if we believe in ourselves. Detective Chimp can give his sword power simply by believing that it can do these extraordinary things. I think Nabu’s actions serve as a cautionary tale about sacrificing your belief. In order to “win” against the Otherkind, the Lord of Order is willing to sacrifice magic, or more broadly speaking his belief. Although this sacrifice may seem noble, Nabu’s betrayal of his convictions ultimately causes harm to himself and those around him. It would be a hollow victory. Therefore, Wonder Woman’s Justice League stands against him to preserve all life. Essentially, Tynion IV is preaching that we should not betray our own convictions to accomplish our goals. It is the expert exploration of these themes that gives the issue an overall sense of timelessness.
“Magic is madness. Magic is belief in the impossible. And I have an impossible belief right now.”
Martínez Bueno’s artwork with Fernandez’s inks and Anderson’s colors are a huge selling point for the issue. It is the art team’s ability to manipulate the reader’s perception throughout the narrative that makes their work feel like an experience. At one point throughout the battle, Kirk Langstrom questions what he is supposed to do with this newfound power. Zatanna replies, “Break it all,” as she squeezes each panel to move between the images. Additionally, by playing with the negative space, Martínez Bueno’s artwork gives us sense that every part of the page is a part of the story.
After Zatanna begins to break all the rules by shattering the panels, we are given a true sense of their chaotic power. Each of the panels is now shaped like broken shards of glass as they tumble down. It is only once Wonder Woman restores the order that the panels assume their traditional boxlike shapes. However, the new panels hint that everything may not be completely fixed as the panels still contain some rough edges. It is this wonderful balance between narrative and artwork that allows this issue to transcend the medium.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about Zatanna’s lettering throughout the issue. Traditionally, Zatanna’s words are written backwards when she is casting a spell. However, Rob Leigh plays with this well-established structure. Now, the letters of Zatanna’s words are completely mixed up when she casts spells as another means of visually representing her turn to chaos. Little touches such as this help to elevate the overall narrative.
Expertly written and illustrated, Justice League Dark #12 is a comic book that demands to be experienced. James Tynion IV’s exploration of themes surrounding belief give the issue a sense of timelessness. Moreover, the narrative’s blend with the artwork is a huge selling point for this issue. Martínez Bueno’s artwork allows the story to feel like an engaging experience that utilizes every part of the page.
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