Justice League Dark #7
A storm rages outside the Hall of Justice, and within the hallowed halls of the sublevel that houses the headquarters of the Justice League Dark, Dr. Kirk Langstrom klaks away on his typewriter, specifically having chosen a time that wouldn’t aggravate Bobo. He turns to you, the viewer, and fills you in on what he’s doing – unable to sleep, given the horrors he’s witnessed, Langstrom spends his nights drinking and writing stories of the horrors he’s witnessed or heard.
The first story concerns a man named Patrick Cadence who goes to a club called the Morning Star. It’s a very discreet club that can fulfill the darkest, deepest desires of its clients, no matter what that desire might be. Coincidentally, while Cadence is being led to his desires, Zatanna Zatara is there, conversing with the owner of the club, telling him that she’d never be foolish enough to make a deal with them for power. The owner tries to convince Zatanna to join him – they'll all need to work together because of the coming war- but Zatanna warns him that the war isn’t coming: it’s already there. They’re interrupted by the receptionist of the club, who is being held aloft by a green humanoid demon, one of the Otherkind. The demon kills the receptionist and the owner teleports Zatanna away before she can do anything to help. He tries facing off against the demon, but the demon floods the nightclub with a bright green liquid the same colour as itself – the soup of this vignette’s title – and kills everything inside the club.
The second story takes place in New Orleans, where I...Vampire, aka Andrew Bennett, is stalking some vampires. Bobo and Swamp Thing are in town as well, and while at first Swamp Thing mistakes Bennett for one of the evil vampires, Bobo vouches for him. It turns out that Bennett is aware of a new darkness in New Orleans – one of the Otherkind – but he doesn’t realize exactly how outside of his area of expertise the Otherkind are. He manages to get to where the demon is holed up and finally finds himself face to face with a conjoined monstrosity, one surrounded by other humans or human-looking beings who are becoming conjoined themselves. The demon asks Bennett to join them, but Bennett flees instead, horrified.
Meanwhile, in the Arctic Circle, the appropriately-named USS Miskatonic is being investigated by Frankenstein and the Agents of SHADE. The captain of the nuclear submarine had called the US Naval Command to tell them that the ship was lost, the cargo could not be delivered, and that no one should set foot in the submarine. The captain then killed themself, and the last thing heard on the recording was the sound of small teeth ripping through flesh – probably the captain’s. Diana, already on the ship, tells Frankenstein that he and his team need to leave, because they’re not dealing with a usual monster. Frankenstein tells her that they’ve seen many dangerous things before, and continues his investigation. Diana tells him that this incident has the highest body count she’s seen from the Otherkind attacks, and that it’s one of the first times they’ve attacked non-magic users. She then shares her theory that these attacks are being done to create stories, because stories have power, and the more that people believe in the stories and these monsters, the harder they will be to get rid of. They come across a headless humanoid with a lot of little bumps crawling around inside the skin. The thing finally bursts open and a bunch of tiny Otherkinders pour out. Frankenstein sacrifices himself while telling his team to get out of the submarine.
Langstrom doesn’t quite remember writing that story, though he does remember hearing it. The Justice League Dark later retrieved Frankenstein’s head (where there’s a brain, there’s a resurrection, after all), but Langstrom can’t recall writing the story. Nor can he recall another story on his keyboard...one written in the backwards langauge that only Zatanna and her father Zatara use. The story that follows is one about Zatara and Sargon the Sorcerer trying to get out of the dimension they’re in. Zatara’s realized that the Otherkind have invaded Earth, and that the veil of reality has been pierced, so the barrier between worlds is weaker than usual. Sargon somewhat unwillingly gives Zatara the Ruby of Life he wears – it's the only thing that will survive the journey between both dimensions – and Zatara sends it across the rip, asking it to give Zatanna the answers she needs.
Back at the Hall of Justice, Langstrom realizes that the story about Zatara isn’t one he knows, and he starts to wonder if Bobo’s playing a prank on him. He’s never feared the end of the world before and now he’s worried that he’s helping to write the tale. He doubts himself, then, and realizes he needs sleep. Before he gets up though, he sees the Ruby of Life on his desk and he pockets it, intending to show it to Zatanna in the morning. He leaves, not once noticing that the Upside-Down man has been watching him. Langstrom shuts off the light, closes the door, and leaves. Once he’s gone, the klak-klak-klaking starts on the typewriter again...
If there was ever any doubt about James Tynion IV’s writing abilities – and honestly between his work on Detective Comics and everything he’s done on Justice League Dark so far, there shouldn’t be – but if there was any doubt about his storytelling abilities, this issue should do away with them. This was a strong installment, essentially a bunch of small, stand-alone vignettes which tie together into a bigger whole. The conceit of having Kirk Langstrom directly address the audience – and possibly the Upside-Down Man – is a smart one, presenting the stories the way an old-school horror host might have. Man-Bat has been one of the most delightful characters in all of Justice League Dark, an absolutely surprise, and Tynion continues to use Langstrom in fun and interesting ways. Each of the stories is effective and serves to show how great the looming danger is in ways that a more decompressed style of story-telling wouldn’t have. It also allows Tynion to use some characters he wouldn’t otherwise usually get to write, such as Frankenstein and the Agents of SHADE and Andrew Bennett, all of whom are used masterfully. Bennett and Frankenstein are both very welcome guest stars, and it’ll be fun seeing if Tynion ever uses them again.
There are some great story tidbits dropped into the story in this issue. One of them is the fact that stories and belief in those stories are what will keep the Otherkind rooted in our world. That idea is a nice callback to the Justice League Dark’s adventure in Myrra, Myrra having been a world of pure magic where ideas could come to life and take root, and the Otherkind needing to use the same sort of power in belief and magic to take root on Earth. The Justice League Dark already fled to Myrra once for answers and power; it’s a possiblity that the magical world may come into play again to offer a solution against the Otherkind. Maybe the son of Nightmaster, who was hinted at in the last issue, could come into play with a necessary solution. The other interesting tidbit is the fact that Zatara and Sargon are alive and, well, sort of well, in another dimension. Zatara and Sargon could possibly be saved and brought back to Earth, and they’d be welcome additions to have amongst a cast of usable characters again. With barriers thin, it’s also possible that the two men could find a way to break the barrier and bring the Otherkind to where they are, eliminating the threat. The possibilities are absolutely exciting and absolutely endless.
Alvaro Martinez Bueno continues to show why he’s a rising star with this issue, having to illustrate a bunch of different monsters and demons, a whole host of characters, and some horror beats that pay off extremely well – especially the reveal that the Upside-Down Man has been watching Langstrom type up his stories. There’s also a series of panels shaped as a countdown of numbers during the Wonder Woman and Frankenstein vignette that’s used to incredible effect. Martinez Bueno’s storytelling is crisp, clear, expressive, and Raul Fernandez’s inks and Brad Anderson’s colours help to make sure that the visuals don’t get too murky or difficult to follow, the way that they sometimes can when stories veer into horror territory and the art team wants to evoke a specific mood. It’s a beautiful looking book, even with all the terrifying, ugly demons in it.
Justice League Dark is, simply put, masterful storytelling at its best.
Justice League Dark #7: Horror Takes Root
Writing - 10/1010/10
Storyline - 10/1010/10
Art - 10/1010/10
Color - 10/1010/10
Cover Art - 8/108/10
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