The New 52: Justice League Dark #1

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Magic is a curious thing in the world of mainstream superhero comics, cryptic and undefined, with the power to do precisely what the writer or editorial edict decrees necessary. In (forgotten?) Marvel Comics mega-event The House of M, the Scarlet Witch used magic to significantly alter the reality of the world, creating a dystopian society ruled by her father, where mutants were supreme beings and humans were second class. The biggest complaint, looking past Hawkeye’s rather inconsequential death, was that House of M represented a massive upgrade in Scarlet Witch’s power–before that event, she’d never displayed any powers of the magnitude required to change reality. But changing reality is at the heart of all magic, even parlor tricks. When the way we perceive reality changes, when magicians are writing the rules, anything is possible.

This is why, in the DC Universe, Superman’s other weakness is magic, writ large and ill-defined. His physiology follows very precise rules, but comic book magic undermines all of those, replaces the rules with its own logic. The magician says that Superman is capable of feeling pain? Superman is capable of feeling pain. This is the unexploited crisis of the DC Universe: There are a lot of magicians running around, many of them driven mad by their power. That’s a lot of extranormal juju to be messing with, and a guy like Superman, hell, any number of guys in the DC Universe, are going to be helpless in the face of chaos. When this is the case, who ya gonna call?

In Justice League Dark #1, it’s a yet-unnamed collective of hero magicians, comprised of the expected (Zatanna, Madame Xanadu), the unexpected (John Constantine, back from his incredibly lengthy stay in the Vertigo “universe” ), and the somewhat obscure (Shade the Changing Man). None of them seem particularly pleased to be in this circumstance, which is to be expected, but when Superman, Cyborg, and Wonder Woman fail to stop the encroaching madness of The Enchantress, it’s up to a league of oddballs to stop a mad witch.

The Justice League’s involvement in Justice League Dark is tangential at best, so people picking it up hoping that there’ll be new team adventures featuring Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman may be disappointed to find them easily defeated/on the sidelines. Justice League Dark is a horrible name for a book, and in it, Superman seems to have forgotten both about his weakness against magic and his costume change, but, beyond the book’s ties to the DC Universe’s heavy hitters, Justice League Dark #1 manages to get me interested in DC’s magic-based heroes, which isn’t easy. Seeing Shade the Changing Man and Constantine–who is literally dropped back into the DC Universe–back in DC continuity is welcome, and writer Peter Milligan (X-Force) not only has a handle on his widely disparate cast of characters, but he’s an expert with team dynamics and the offbeat. If Justice League Dark is allowed to be weird and on the outer limits of what constitutes a DC Comics superhero book, it’ll continue being one of the more pleasant surprises of  the brand-wide relaunch.

The art, by Mikel Janin, shows a surprising amount of depth as the issue sinks further and further into the Enchantress’ madness. The first seven or so pages are fairly standard of mainstream comics, but the Enchantress’ attack on the Justice League is drawn huge and intimidating, the chaos enveloping the Justice League convincingly morbid, rightly grotesque. Watching the team come together against a world-threatening event would be enough to get me to come back, but I’m especially looking forward to seeing how the Enchantress pulls reality away from a group of heroes whose ties to it were tenuous at best.