If you want something dark, a bit twisted, and filled with supernatural awesomeness, you must read Justice League Dark. Ram V is showing us how good a super-team book can be when it dives head first into the darkness we all know is there on the fringe. In the latest issue, out today, Zatanna must confront a dark memory and try to save her father, Swamp Thing makes a change, and Wonder Woman stands guard to help her team.
This series has always felt like it was the connective tissue between the magical and the supernatural with the mainstream books. It allows creators to reveal there’s a lot we don’t know about the universe, and a lot that goes on to keep literal evil at bay. This issue opens with a flashback to Zatanna’s childhood where she used her magic to do something potentially harmful. It’s a reminder that her father took care of her and watched out for her, but there’s also a price when it comes to using magic. This pays off later when Wonder Woman and Zatanna face off against the Upside-Down Man.
Swamp Thing fans won’t want to miss this issue as the character plays a big part in its conclusion and writer Ram V appears to be shifting the character forward in his journey. The concept of the Green has always intrigued me and there’s a new layer added to it here, or at least a layer I wasn’t aware of. The connective tissue of Swamp Thing to something far greater is felt in a big way here, and it also seems to be setting up the character for real change. The character is written in a mature way, as if he’s more at peace than ever. If DC Comics wants to announce a Swamp Thing book, this has me ready and waiting.
Being a serial story, the chapter-based nature of the book hinders this issue a bit. The flow doesn’t quite work, further being untethered from the bigger picture by the opening flashback and then an almost random cutaway to Bobo to end the book. I do wonder if this story arc would read better when read in one sitting, but as a single issue, it feels disjointed in its flow. Another gripe is the use of Upside-Down Man, who continues to sort of flail around as a menace, but a character who can’t do much. The idea of the character, and the visual horror of him, is quite strong, but new ideas need to make him feel relevant. Maybe we’ll get one with this ending.
The art by Amancay Nahuelpan and colors by June Chung are impressive. The opening flashback has an interesting juxtaposition to the rest of the book with color almost voiding from the character’s faces to convey the past. It feels magical, with well-placed rays of light as if it took place in heaven. Again, this juxtaposes well with where Zatanna is in the present, which is like a form of Hell. The main portion of the book has a more traditional color palette you see in comics, though there are shining examples of color being used you don’t normally see. The redness in Wonder Woman’s cheeks, for example, or the void of space that hangs over them and its light twinkles helps bring meaning to the things that are alive and well.
Two stand-out pages show off what happens when Swamp Thing “levels up” so to speak. As something takes effect (I’m staying vague to avoid spoilers), the panels literally shatter into shards and ever smaller pieces. This helps convey the dissembling of what we see and the powers that be. Swamp Thing himself is rendered in a way that is reminiscent of the best Swamp Thing tales of the past, right down to cool roots as panel gutters and beautiful flora.
I can’t help but wish this series lasted forever to prove to the world it matters in a deeper way than most superhero team books. The idea of darkness needing to be vanquished by the strangest heroes in existence is strong here. Justice League Dark remains one of the most visceral and interesting supernatural comics on the shelf.