Justice League Dark #3
In a flashback to her youth, Zatanna recalls her father Zatara waking her up at every day at five in the morning to practice her magic, whether it was through counting cards, escaping a straitjacket, or other things. This continued through her youth and into her teenage years, where she was able to feel the magic in the air around them. When asked why Zatanna had to learn how to speak backwards, Zatara explained that magicians like them harnessed the magical power around them, but they had to do so with some sort of order, so that the original owners of magic couldn’t see the people of Earth do what they do.
Unfortunately, the original owners of magic – the Otherkind – are ready to come to Earth, and Diana, Zatanna, and the rest of the Justice League Dark are facing off against one such being – a creepy, eyeless, scaly white being who has taken a vaguely human shape. Calling himself the Upside-Down Man, he explains to the women that they are there to remind them to fear the darkness, but before he can do much more, Detective Chimp and Man-Bat arrive, momentarily distracting him. Zatanna says she doesn’t know how to stop the Upside-Down Man because he seems to be made of living magic. The Upside-Down Man makes short work of Chimp, and soon Swamp Thing is towering over him, proclaiming that he will not let him hurt the world. Unfortunately, the living horror is stronger than even an Avatar of the Green and Swamp Thing finds himself defeated.
John Constantine – having witnessed the horrors of the Otherplace before – knows of a sigil that would kill a god. He uses it, and though the power is clearly something stronger than even Constantine himself is, for a moment, it seems as though his plan worked. Zatanna is angry at Constantine because despite his demon blood, he clearly couldn’t control the spell. It didn’t work anyway, because the Upside-Down Man appears then, calling them children, suggesting that them using magic against him is like throwing a bucket of water into a tsunami – it has no effect. He attacks Constantine then, causing blood to seep out of him since that is where his powers lie. Zatanna attacks with a simple spell of her own but the only effect it has is getting the Upside-Down Man’s attention – and he tells her that the Otherkind have her father and that they have been playing with him for all the years she’s believed he’s been missing. He tells her that she can join him if she wishes, but before the magical bolt he releases can hit her, Wonder Woman steps in, blocking it with her shield.
The Upside-Down Man is curious about Diana and asks her what she is. She introduces herself as the Amazon daughter of Zeus, the deputy chair of the Justice League, and the protector of the world. The Upside-Down man tells Diana that’s not what he meant – there's something strange inside of her – something he doesn’t understand. He reaches for Diana’s forehead, sensing a font of power there. Diana screams as her tiara flies off her head, revealing the triple moon symbol that had been burned into her forehead by Hecate when she was a child. Her skin turns pale and magic starts to seep forth from her – she feels as though she’s burning up. Realizing that the power is hurting the Upside-Down Man, Zatanna tells Diana to clear her mind and teaches her a spell to banish the Upside-Down Man. As he disappears, all the damage he had done rights itself and Diana passes out, the triple moon symbol fading away. Detective Chimp asks if they have won, but Zatanna tells him that whatever is going on, it’s only the beginning.
That. Was. Intense. For a moment there, it didn’t seem as though the Justice League Dark was going to be able to defeat the Upside-Down Man and save the day, especially because he so easily took down both Swamp Thing and John Constantine, characters who are generally incredibly powerful, and all the more so because he so easily sidestepped Zatanna’s own spells. This was a very strongly-written, beautifully illustrated issue, though, and a very satisfying conclusion to the very first arc of this new Justice League Dark book.
James Tynion IV has previously shown how good he is at writing characters in team situations in his Detective Comics run, and the work he’s doing here is only building on that wonderful work he did there. He knows how team dynamics work and how characters should bounce off of each other, and because of that, these characters here work beautifully. Outliers like Detective Chimp and Man-Bat fit in well and add a lot to the proceedings, and he has the voices of Diana, Zatanna, Constantine, and Swamp Thing down pat. On the outside, it seems like a mish-mash of characters, but Tynion clearly has future plans in mind, and as a team, these characters fit together well. The smartest thing that Tynion has done is that, even though the book is called Justice League Dark, these characters are fighting off supernaturally dark forces, but aren’t mired in grim, gritty darkness themselves. Man-Bat is especially bright and interesting, even though there would be plenty of reason to shove him into darkness because of his having to deal with his past as a villain. It is wonderfully solid work.
Another smart thing that Tynion has done is that instead of stretching the arc out to six issues – which would have been easy to do, though inadvisable – he told it in three issues, bringing the team together neatly and quickly, and setting up future storylines and mysteries – Diana dealing with what Hecate has done to her and the power that comes with it, the possibility of finding and saving Zatara the Great, Detective Chimp and his Nightsword, Swamp Thing and the Parliament of Trees. The Otherkind also likely won’t stay off-panel for long, and they’re a very big threat, especially if someone doesn’t manage to reign in someone like Doctor Fate, who seems to have left order behind to ally himself with these chaotic beings. It’s a bunch of meaty stuff to chew on and, as solicits suggest, things that will pay off as the series continues.
One of the greatest things in the issue was Zatanna and Diana coming together to cast that spell to take out the Upside-Down Man. So far in the series, Zatanna has gone from being outright against teaming up with Diana to being a little uneasy working with her, given Diana’s status as an outlier in the magical community, and so her teaching Diana how to cast the magical spell to defeat the enemy was great. Watching this friendship develop will be a wonderful thing indeed, especially as they’ve never gotten much of a chance to share panel time, despite both women having been in the comics for a long time. It’s about time this friendship was solidified as well as it was in JMS’ beautiful Brave and the Bold #33, which was nearly a decade ago now. There are also small moments that he gives all of the characters to shine – Man-Bat’s belief that science can fix what magic has destroyed, Constantine’s story about where he got his sigil from – that shows how well Tynion understands these characters. They all get even a little moment, and that’s never easy to do in a team book.
Alvaro Martinez Bueno’s art continues to be incredible – expressive and open, creepy and atmospheric, but filled with magic. His Diana is wondrously strong, his Swamp Thing imposing, and his John Constantine is almost ridiculously good-looking. Scenes like Swamp Thing towering over the Upside-Down Man, Diana’s mysterious power releasing from her, and Detective Chimp melting are beautifully rendered, and his Upside-Down Man is wildly creepy and unnerving to look at. He allows his characters to be very expressive too – the look on Zatanna’s face when she finds out that the Otherkind have her father emotes her pain and sadness so well, and that determined smirk of Constantine’s when he’s about to cast his sigil is perfect. Brad Anderson is a great match for the pencils – his palette is bold and bright, though never sunny, and the effects he gives the magic makes it glow and leap off of the page. It’s been a strong opening arc overall and I cannot wait to see more from this team.
Though it's the conclusion of an arc, it's clearly only the beginning for Tynion, who seems to have plans for each of the characters and has deftly sown the seeds for those plans. Well-written, beautifully illustrated, with a great blend of horror, action, and humor, this is book comes highly recommended.
Justice League Dark #3: What Are You?
Writing - 10/1010/10
Storyline - 10/1010/10
Art - 10/1010/10
Color - 10/1010/10
Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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