Each weekday, Tim will take a look at what we know about each of the upcoming 52 new comics from the September DC relaunch, one series at a time. Today: JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK!
The Concept and Characters: At first, the title seems like a parody. Justice League Dark? Is that like the Dark Avengers series from Marvel last year, featuring a bunch of villains? Or is it a satire on the eternal grim and gritty trends of the traditional superhero comic ever since the one-two punch of Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns all those years ago?
It turns out that it’s none of these. What it is instead is the DCU reclaiming a handful of Vertigo characters and bringing them back into the superhero fold. And bringing at least one creator along for the ride.
This is Peter Milligan doing the kind of Justice League book that stalks the shadows, that deals with the occult side of the superhero universe. It’s John Constantine, Deadman, Shade the Changing Man, and Madame Xanadu (and more) exploring the underbelly of the relaunched, bright-and-shiny DCU.
Until this spring, characters like Constantine and Shade and Madame Xanadu were under the Vertigo umbrella. Though all three characters began their fictional lives in the DC Universe, once they became part of DC’s mature readers imprint in the 1990s, they ended up stuck there, and no DC writer or artist could include them in any stories. They belonged to Vertigo.
Recently, with the after-effects of the DC restructuring after former DC President Paul Levitz retired, the walls between Vertigo and the DC Universe began to crumble. And a few months ago, as Brightest Day came to an end, we say John Constantine, and his old pal Swamp Thing, back in their old familiar superhero universe.
This series doesn’t hinge on any of those past events, but one of the things that makes it special is that many of the characters in the series haven’t been allowed to interact with each other, or the rest of the DC characters, for a long time. And the hook of the team, that they’ll investigate supernatural forces in the DCU, makes this series different from the other comics with “Justice” or “League” in the title.
But that doesn’t mean it’s deadly serious, either, for as Milligan tells us, “It’s dark rather than grim. And any comic with Constantine in it has its fair share of humor. There’s painful humor too.”
The Creative Team: Peter Milligan, long-time Vertigo writer (heck, long-time writer), scripts this series. If there isn’t something called “The Peter Milligan Divergence” than there should be, because out of all the comic book writers who have ever worked in the industry, it’s impossible to find someone who has such a huge gap between their highest highs and their lowest lows.
When Milligan is at his best, he’s brilliant. One of the best writers to ever script a comic book. We’ve seen this guy in Strange Days, Shade the Changing Man, Hellblazer, X-Statix, and Enigma. When he’s off his game, his comics are unreadably dull, soulless and sad. We’ve seen that guy in Greek Street, Infinity Inc., X-Men, and Elektra. Which Milligan will show up here? It’s impossible to say for sure, but with the characters in this team, it would seem that this series has a chance to be closer to the former than the latter. Milligan tends to approach his best when his characters are mystical oddballs, and Justice League Dark should give him what he needs.
Artist Mikel Janin has almost no American comic book credits to his name, yet his work on Flashpoint: Deadman and the Flying Graysons shows him to be an astounding talent. He only ended up drawing a portion of the second issue of that book, presumably because he was pulled off that miniseries to get started on Justice League Dark, but the one-and-a-half issues of the Flashpoint spin off establish him not only as an Artist to Watch, but as an Artist Worth Buying Immediately. His style is light, almost chalky, but with a strong sense of figure placement and page design. His ethereal work will fit nicely in the mystical side of the DCU.
Recommendation: Wait for the collected edition, with your ear to the ground. It seems like everything is lined up to make this series a success, with characters who are right inside Milligan’s wheelhouse and a hot new artist making it all look good. But there’s something I haven’t yet mentioned—Flashpoint: Secret Seven. In that miniseries, Milligan is writing some of the same characters he’ll be writing here, and though that is an alternate reality take, it’s one of the clumsiest pieces of superhero melodrama he’s written in years. It doesn’t bode well for this series. Then again, because of The Peter Milligan Divergence, we can never be sure what level of quality we’ll get, so it’s safest to wait and see what kind of reaction the first few issues of Justice League Dark get before rushing to pick up any copies. The trade paperback will wait patiently for you, and I hope that it’s full of the best Milligan stories ever.
Tim Callahan writes about comics for Tor.com, Comic Book Resources, Back Issue magazine, and his own Geniusboy Firemelon blog.