When the original owners of magic stage a return to Earth, it’s up to Wonder Woman, Zatanna, and the rest of the magical community to band together and protect Earth- and Earth’s magic – from certain doom!
Justice League Dark #1 – ‘The Last Age of Magic: Chapter 1’
Writer: James Tynion IV
Penciller: Alvaro Martinez Bueno
Inker: Raul Fernandez
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Cover: Martinez, Fernandez, Anderson
Variant Cover: Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, FCO Plasencia
Assistant Editor: Andrew Marino
Group Editor: Marie Javins
Editor: Rebecca Taylor
What You Need to Know:
Magic as the DC Universe knows it is broken. Something dark and dangerous is coming, and Princess Diana of Themyscira – known to the world at large as Wonder Woman – is trying to recruit a team of those touched by magic to stop the oncoming threat.
What You’ll Find Out:
Zatanna Zatara, the mistress of magic, is on tour, having taken her act on the road. As she muses on the secret that every magician knows – that their performances establish a specific set of rules which shows the audience a version of impossible that only they wish to see. Unfortunately for Zatanna, she’s lost some sense of control over her powers, and instead of pulling a live, adorable rabbit out of her trusty top hat, she pulls out a dead, bloody one. Right after that, her hat starts glowing and vibrating and an eldritch, many-mouthed horror flows out of her hat. Zatanna gets a spell to get the monstrous entity out of there, but it’s to no avail, as the thing starts to attack the audience.
Luckily for Zatanna, Wonder Woman (who has been trying to get ahold of Zatanna since they returned from an adventure on Colu) arrives on the scene and takes the monster down. Zatanna attempts using her magic again to help take the monster down, but she and Diana soon discover that the creature is turning Zatanna’s own spells back on her. Opting to take a more physical approach to its defeat, Diana leaps for the monster while Zatanna burns it to a crisp, courtesy of her Zippo lighter. Diana then asks Zatanna why she refuses to work with her, and Zatanna explains that though she respects the League, Diana doesn’t understand the magical world, either in terms of its people or the magical world itself.
Later that night, Zatanna approaches Wintersgate Manor, where Baron Winters has called much of the magical community to discuss what has been going on with magic. Outside, Zatanna runs into John Constantine, who tells her that it’s time for her to decide where she stands in this new fight. Zatanna explains that the situation is bigger than the Justice League and Wonder Woman understand, and Constantine challenges that belief, suggesting that those gathered at Wintersgate don’t have an idea to what’s going on either. Zatanna points out that the people in the manor are her people – their people – and Constantine tells her that they aren’t his. When she surmises that he thinks they’re going to lose, Constantine says that he thinks that things will change, which he’s fine with, but questions if Zatanna can handle it.
Meanwhile, Diana finds herself at a curiously empty Oblivion Bar – once a tavern that served the whole magical community, people no longer come here because of recent events. Detective Chimp offers to buy Diana a drink. They discuss recent events that the universe – and especially the magical community – have gone through, like the Tree of Wonder that arose in Salem, and Diana asks why the magical community refuses to work with her. Detective Chimp – Bobo – explains that Diana operates in a world where everything has a clear-cut sense of good and evil, of black and white, and that the magical community is a lot more shadowed and messier than that. Diana argues that she is part of the magical community because of where she’s from and how she was raised. She then discovers that Bobo is in possession of the Sword of Night, which makes him the Nightmaster, protector of a magical realm called Myrra. It was passed down to him by the late Jim Rook, who used to own the Oblivion Bar. The discussion turns back to some dead bodies that Diana had brought to the Hall of Justice to analyze, and Bobo offers to help Diana solve the mystery of the bodies – he is, after all, a detective.
Inside Wintersgate, Baron Winters has assembled Jason Blood, Madame Xanadu, Morgaine le Fay, Deadman, Zauriel, Phantom Stranger, and a host of other people from the magical, mystical community. Jason Blood tells the assembled group that the tear in the creation wall has given something old and powerful a way in and that if they are to survive – if magic is to survive – they all have to work together. While a magical solution is necessary, it doesn’t seem as though the various magical factions will be able to put aside their differences to truly work together. Thank the gods, then, that there is a Justice League Dark, no matter how much Jason Blood may scoff at the idea…
Beneath the Hall of Justice, in an area carved out an area specifically for a magical Justice League, Diana introduces Bobo to Dr. Kirk Langstrom, aka the Man-Bat, who currently has the body of a man and the head of a bat. They snipe at each other a bit – Bobo is naturally sarcastic and Langstrom has been through a lot and is trying to make amends for his past actions. Langstrom explains to Diana and Bobo that the genetic structures of the bodies he has been studying have had their genetic structures changed by opposing energy. He would like to explain what he’s found, but after Bobo’s sarcastic remarks, he no doesn’t want to be a burden. Diana encourages him to explain, telling him that she would be grateful for any lead.
While Langstrom starts to explain his findings to Diana and Bobo, Zatanna visits the Tree of Wonder, where she comes across Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing explains that the tree is not of the Green and that it was simply meant to be a cosmic beacon, not a thing that lived a long life. Zatanna admits that she’s been looking for answers, but can find none, and asks Swamp Thing to tell the tree that she’s angry. Swamp Thing does so, and the tree gives Zatanna an answer in the form of an image of her late father, who warns her that the original owners of magic are coming to Earth and that the old order will not be able to stand in their way. He warns Zatanna of the Otherkind – presumably magic’s original owners – and someone called the Upside Down Man before disappearing.
Back in the Hall of Justice’s magical wing, Langstrom explains that the bodies are going through a sort of extradimensional decay, but before he can explain much further, the dead bodies reanimate and start to attack. Diana requests that Langstrom become a bit more threatening, so he shifts into full Man-Bat form, and the reanimated corpses start to warn Diana and the others about the Otherkind. Diana tells Man-Bat and Bobo to leave because if she’s going to fail against these monsters, she will fail alone, but Diana is not alone, because just in the nick of time, Swamp Thing and Zatanna arrive to join forces. Zatanna tells Diana that things are worse than they thought – magic is going to die, and humanity is going to die with it. Not only that, but one of the people assembled in the room – Diana, Detective Chimp, Man-Bat, Swamp Thing, or Zatanna herself will bring the destruction forth!
What Just Happened?:
Quite a bit! This was a very dense, exposition-heavy issue, but that works in the issue’s favor as there had to be some heavy lifting to move all of the chess pieces into the proper position. In an era where stories increasingly seem to gravitate towards decompressed, heavy-on-action and light-on-dialogue content, it was something of a refreshing change to actually have something to read while appreciating some very beautiful art.
This issue comes off the heels of some larger cosmic events, and James Tynion IV easily weaves those past events into the story, getting new readers caught up enough to speed to understand what’s going on. That’s not always an easy thing to do, but he’s more than up to the task, dropping in important beats of exposition like Detective Chimp inheriting the Oblivion Bar and Nightsword, the genesis of the Tree of Wonder, and other elements.
It is refreshing to see Diana dip her toes more into the mystical side of the DC Universe, as well as making new contacts within that world. Unlike Superman and Batman, both of whom have had multiple books and multiple team-ups, Diana has nearly always been kept to her own solo title and the Justice League line. Sure, there have been team-ups and things peppered in throughout her publishing history, but its somehow always been to a lesser extent than the rest of the Trinity, and it’s nice to see DC allowing her to flex her muscles and lead a team of her own – even if it is a Justice League title. The world definitely needs more Wonder Woman, and Tynion has a great handle on the character. Dialogue wise, she sounds very nearly identical to the version from the Justice League/Justice League Unlimited series, and that’s not a bad thing, considering that she was a very solid take on the Amazing Amazon. Tynion’s Diana is warm, compassionate, brave, determined, and human without being dumbed down in the way that other writers have tended towards when trying to make her relatable. There are shades of the DC Universe Online game with Diana being given her own magical wing in the Hall of Justice, but it works. Moments like how she connects with Detective Chimp and Man-Bat speak to Tynion’s solid understanding of the character, and I can’t wait to see where he takes her.
Similarly, Tynion writes perhaps the best Zatanna Zatara since Paul Dini. His Zatanna is brave, powerful, a little bit proud, and very ingrained in the magical community – enough so that she is going to require Diana’s outsider perspective, which will end up creating a really great dynamic between the two. While Diana and Zatanna have served on various incarnations of the League many times, they’ve rarely been written together as friends. Either of the women tend to usually be paired up with Black Canary or Hawkgirl, depending on availability and continuity, and the fleshing out of this friendship could be a wonderful, powerful thing under Tynion’s able hand.
Tynion also writes a great Detective Chimp and a charming Man-Bat. Seeing Detective Chimp dip into a heroic role as Nightmaster – if the story goes there – will be an interesting development, one with a lot of potential to push Bobo in new, different directions. Langstrom, atoning for past misdeeds, trying to earn his name and respect back – it’s a solid storyline, and it’s nice to see him in a heroic role where he can do better without having to sign up with something like the Suicide Squad, because even though Man-Bat has been a villainous character in the past, Langstrom himself isn’t necessarily evil. He also adds a necessary scientific element to the supernatural proceedings, which is important since, just as with Diana’s outlook versus Zatanna’s outlook, it adds another perspective to the proceedings.
If there’s one complaint about the story, it’s that the book uses two familiar, overused plot points to center the story around. The first is the death of magic type plot, which DC has been pushing at least since Infinite Crisis. I’m not sure how many times magic can die and be redefined, but let’s hope this is the last story told for that particular trope. The second is the fact that one of the team will bring forth the darkness, a plot device that was just used in Mystik U, which also starred Zatanna. Sure, the outcomes will be different, but Mystik U is still too fresh a memory for this to feel like a properly exciting twist. (My personal bet is on Wonder Woman, though.)
Alvaro Martinez Bueno’s artwork here is incredible. He’s done some beautiful work with Tynion in the past, on Detective Comics, and he continues to bring that aesthetic here, with panels full of detail and expression. His Diana and Zatanna are both strong, powerful looking women, and his Man-Bat is – really, he’s perfect. The bat-head on the human body really shows the awkwardness that Langstrom is going through in his professional and personal life, and the panel where he goes full Man-Bat imbues Langstrom’s character with a sense of power and strength that isn’t as evident when he’s in his other form. The monsters are also appropriately creepy. Brad Anderson manages to come up with a vivid color palette for the story and the world – dark, rich, and gleaming. It feels fantastical in a grounded way, which is absolutely appropriate for the title.
Final Thoughts: This is the perfect introduction to a new series – it sets up the immediate conflict, peppers in enough foreshadowing for future stories and conflicts, brings the team together quickly and urgently, beautifully fleshes out the magical corner of the DC Universe, and does it all with a sense of ease and purpose. Add in some detailed, bright and beautiful art, and you’ve got a book that earns a very high recommendation indeed.
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