It’s about to get macabre and mystical in the DC Animated Universe with the forthcoming “Justice League Dark” movie. Set to debut in January, the animated, Rated-R feature promises to take the audience on a trip to the magical side of the DC universe. Justice League Dark consists of heroes (and antiheroes) who deal in extraordinary and seemingly impossible events, even for a world filled with metahumans.
Lots of heroes make their names stopping bank robbers, fighting alien invasions or rescuing the occasional kitten stuck in a tree. Justice League Dark, however, tackles very different challenges, where things that go bump in the night tend to be just the beginning. Before they take a bow in the animated world, here are a few things that make the JLD stand out.
13. Dubious Heroes
The Justice League Dark team brings offbeat characters and themes to DC’s mainstream. Black Orchid‘s arms were cut off during her participation in the strange experiment that bestowed her with plant-based powers. Timothy Hunter is a powerful young sorcerer born from magical realms with several possible origin stories and a destiny to be the one to use the fabled Books of Magic. Amethyst, a princess from a world filled with magical gems, joined Justice League Dark to get back a magical stone Constantine stole. They even recruit monsters on the team, such as Frankenstein and vampire lord Andrew Bennett.
Many members of Justice League Dark have a few skeletons in their closets, as well. For example, occasional team member Raven is the daughter of Trigon, an interdimensional demon, and has frequently fought to resist his efforts to draw out her dark side. Constantine once conducted a fateful séance with a group of sorcerers to stop the Great Evil Beast from destroying the higher planes and the rest of existence. The séance, however, led to a couple of deaths, including Zatanna’s father, who gave up his life to save his daughter from bursting into flames.
12. Powerful Enemies
There are simply jobs that Superman and his ilk are just not suited for. Even the Justice League’s master of magic Doctor Fate can only tackle so many supernatural issues alone. While the Justice League takes on the likes of Darkseid or the Dominators, Justice League Dark steps in where Batarangs and super-speed prove ineffective.
The enemies the Justice League Dark deal with include slippery sorcerer Felix Faust, who has menaced the world for several thousands of years, drawing forth demons and infernal powers. In his ongoing quest for more mystical strength, Faust has formed cults and sold his soul numerous times for more power. Another dark mage who plagues the JLD is Nick Necro, who was mentor to Constantine and Zatanna… until he tried to sacrifice them both as part of his pursuit of the Books of Magic. Necro wound up getting condemned to Hell.
The Spectre and Enchantress, meanwhile, exist in a sort of a grey area; they can be both very helpful and volatile liabilities all at once. In fact, Justice League Dark first formed as a team to take on Enchantress, in a much different way than the “Suicide Squad” movie handled it.
11. Diverse Membership
A constant theme for the Justice League Dark team, ironically, is that the lineup changes rather frequently. Given the dangerous work heroes engage in, injuries are not uncommon, but this team in particular faces demons and demigods who will gladly tear their souls apart just for laughs. That said, death can be just a knock at the door away for this team, leading to a rotating roster. Furthermore, tension among teammates, who may have a hard time getting along with their distinct personalities, can drive some to quit.
Mainstays such as John Constantine, Zatanna and Deadman frequently form the core of the team, but Justice League Dark has also seen such members as Swamp Thing, Pandora, Raven, Nightmare Nurse and even Frankenstein. Though not typically featured as a member of the team in comics, Etrigan the Demon will also be on-board for the “Justice League Dark” animated movie, further diversifying its eclectic multimedia roster.
10. Shady Figureheads
John Constantine is a mystic detective and conman, making this leader of Justice League Dark a character who cannot always be trusted. Sure, he will have a laundry list of reasons for his actions, which can include cutting deals with shadowy entities or tricking others to make an unexpected sacrifice, but at the end of the day, only Constantine knows what exactly he has planned.
Not even Constantine’s lovers are safe from his schemes. For example, he selfishly attempted to force his ex-girlfriend Phoebe Clifton-Avery back into his arms by using a love potion. Though Phoebe saw through this attempt at manipulations, and faked being under his sway, Constantine’s complicated association with a jealous demon named Julian would ultimately cost Clifton-Avery her life — and then condemn her soul to Hell. Constantine tried unsuccessfully to bring her back from the dead and converse with her spirit. However, all of his efforts simply furthered Clifton-Avery’s torment until the hard-drinking, cigarette-smoking mage let her go. Constantine might apologize for screwing his friends over, but they might not be alive to hear his mea culpa.
9. There Are Others
There have been several attempts to make a supernatural team comic book at DC, with many Justice League Dark members being alumni of groups such as Shadowpact and the Sentinels of Magic. The latter team included Madame Xanadu, Deadman, Phantom Stranger, Zatanna and Enchantress, who grouped together to face off with supernatural threats. One of the group’s key tasks, during the “Day of Judgement” crossover event, was to deal with the Spear of Destiny, a biblical artifact and weapon capable of destroying even the Spectre. Thanks to the team’s intervention, magics cast on the Spear of Destiny made it so only the Sentinels could wield it. Their mission accomplished, this loose-knit band of mystics went their separate ways… at least for a while.
After the Sentinels were kaput, Shadowpact formed during the “Day of Vengeance” crossover with a comparable purpose, only this time they had to deal with the Spectre going on a rampage to destroy all magic in existence. At various times, the team included Enchantress, Zauriel and Detective Chimp, along with other heroes connected to magic. That’s right, even though they had a crime-solving simian on the team, the “Shadowpact” series was cancelled.
8. Grave Implications
Though the team’s comic book series ended in 2015, Justice League Dark remains part of the underpinnings of the DC Universe. The team’s members remain heavyweights in their own right, and can easily turn up in other books when there are conflicts that involve dimension-traversing demons who threaten the populace.
Characters such as Zatanna, Constantine, and Swamp Thing have headlined their own solo series, where it was not unheard of for fellow Justice League Dark members to make appearances. Furthermore, Zatanna still has her ties to the main Justice League and Batman to keep her busy. The forthcoming animated movie, and the planned “Dark Universe” live-action feature, open the door for possible renewed interest in the team, but that will ultimately depend on how well the feature is received by the audience. Right now, there is plenty more to explore in the world of magic.
7. Live-Action Hopes
The animated feature is a step towards making Justice League Dark more well-known, but it isn’t the team’s first dalliance with cinema. Guillermo del Toro had been attached to direct a live-action adaptation of the team, but he departed the project early to focus on making “Pacific Rim 2” instead. The possibility of a Justice League Dark live-action movie is not dead though; a new project called “Dark Universe” is in development to feature the team. No release date has been set yet though.
Even without “Dark Universe,” several Justice League Dark members have already been depicted in live-action media. Swamp Thing was featured in a pair of rather campy movies from the 1980s, with a follow-up television series. Enchantress was central to this year’s “Suicide Squad” movie, playing the key antagonist. Zatanna was a recurring character on the “Smallville” television series. John Constantine made his a live-action debut in 2005’s “Constantine” movie, which starred Keanu Reeves. More recently, Matt Ryan (who voices the character for the “Justice League Dark” animated feature) portrayed the mystic detective in the “Constantine” television series on NBC, then revived the character on the CW’s “Arrow” along with Madame Xanadu. They may not yet be as renowned — or connected — as the Avengers or Justice League, but they are certainly well on their way.
6. Downright Biblical
A few members of Justice League Dark can trace their history to biblical and ancient times. The Phantom Stranger, for example, is at first portrayed as having vague a connection to Heaven, facing some mysterious penance rendered from on high. In at at least one version of the truth, it was revealed that the Stranger was Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Christ. He clashes frequently with the Spectre, the proverbial Wrath of God made pale flesh. This odd couple, who both have tremendous power, were intended to counterbalance each other, but the Spectre sees the Phantom Stranger as the reason why he is stuck playing the spirit of vengeance.
While not biblical (though certainly grounded in religion), another JLD team member, Pandora, is the very woman named in myth as the one who let loose the sins of the world onto its unsuspecting populace. Cursed to live forever and carry the blame for her act in the DC universe, Pandora, along with the Phantom Stranger and The Question, is part of the so-called Trinity of Sin, as seen in the “Trinity War” event series. The team’s adversaries share biblical backgrounds as well, including Cain, the father of all vampires, who threatened to overwhelm the world with his cursed offspring.
5. Leading Ladies
Well-respected by Batman and also a member of the mainstream Justice League, Zatanna Zatara is powerhouse of magic power with familial ties to the heroic life that eventually led to her taking the helm of Justice League Dark. As one of the homo magi, she is a prodigy to the mystic arts who effectively has talent for wielding magic ingrained in her DNA. Trained by her legendary father, Giovanni Zatara, she is one of the most powerful magic-users on Earth. Zatanna in turn has been a mentor to budding sorcerer Timothy Hunter.
Like many members of the team, Z’s powers have seen some questionable use. During the “Identity Crisis” series, it came to light that Zatanna had been wiping the minds of the worst villains that the Justice League brought down. This led to a moral conflict that divided the league. Though Zatanna is far from perfect, when Constantine’s mercurial and deceptive ways proved to be more trouble than the Justice League Dark team could stomach, she took over as leader. Not exactly the lesser of two evils… but not too far off, either.
4. Mages And Secret Agents
It is hard to escape the long arm of the government, regardless of having bolts of magic at one’s fingertips. On more than one occasion, members of Justice League Dark have worked for A.R.G.U.S., an agency connected to the main Justice League, to deal with supernatural matters. Doctor Mist and Black Orchid both started out on payroll as agents with A.R.G.U.S., before joining Justice League Dark to be the eyes and ears for the agency in its dealings with Constantine.
For a government entity, A.R.G.U.S. is steeped in magic and seeks to employ mages to deal with supernatural issues — sort of like when the CIA or FBI employ hackers. Constantine even once cut a deal with the leaders of A.R.G.U.S. to do their dirty work, taking down immortal sorcerer Felix Faust, in exchange for a few minutes alone in the Black Room, a highly secure facility where the agency stashes away the most potent and perilous mystical items. Those artifacts have included Pandora’s Box, the Spear of Destiny and the Seven Spells of Shazam. Thus, the JLD are not just well-versed in the black arts, but also in black ops, making them a very dangerous team to mess with, indeed.
3. Power Climbers
The truth about the magical world is that there is always some evil wizard, demon or demigod looking to gain more power. In response to these threats, members and allies of Justice League Dark tend to take their powers to the next level. Swamp Thing evolved from a walking pile of shape-shifting vegetation to being briefly imbued with the power of the Life Entity during “The Blackest Night” series. On top of that, in a separate story, he absorbed the collective might of the Parliament of Trees, a group of high elementals, in order to thwart their plans to destroy and remake the world.
Other members and allies of Justice League Dark often pursue magical artifacts or sources of power that elevate them to greater heights. Timothy Hunter, for example, is a boy who can open the Books of Magic and is fated to one day become one of the greatest sorcerers in the world. However, it is reluctant JLD member (and vampire), Andrew Bennett, who became the ultimate power climber. Killed by a vampire hunter and then resurrected by Madame Xanadu, Bennett wound up hijacking half of the power amassed by Cain, the sire of all vampires, who had been mucking about absorbing magic. After Cain’s defeat, Bennett took over as the head vampire in charge, trying his best to turn theirs into a peaceful race… to varying degrees of success.
2. Dark Shadows
There are no parades when Justice League Dark gets the job done. Within the DC universe, the members of the team are not well-known to the general public, and it’s arguable whether superheroes are even fully aware of what this group really does, or if they actually exist. Then again, the way Nightmare Nurse humble-brags about her rampant romantic trysts with sylphs and dryads, it is probably best the team stays under wraps — they’re not exactly “safe for work” most of the time, or even safe for the world.
Furthermore, a few team members simply cannot casually walk amongst the public. Deadman, for instance, is a literal ghost. Most folks cannot see him at all, though he can possess the living and interact with our world. Due to their exotic appearances, Swamp Thing and Frankenstein are also more likely to keep out of sight for the sake of not being bothered with gawkers. Though Zatanna is renowned among bona fide sorcerers, she maintains a persona as a stage magician, which is a more palatable way for the public to accept her talents. That notwithstanding, being on this team means less glory, despite all the hard work. Maybe that’s why Batman wants a piece of the action in their first animated foray — great minds slink alike.
1. The House Of Mystery
It’s not as well known as the Hall of Justice, but that doesn’t mean the Justice League Dark’s HQ isn’t without plenty of character. Sure, the House of Mystery may try to kill you with its changing walls and moving floors, but it is also one of the coolest secret bases in the history of comics. The House has long been a fixture in the DC Universe, and through its various incarnations, has connected the “real” world with the otherworldly realm of The Dreaming, the place where people go when they slumber. It’s also been a home to such denizens of the macabre as Cain and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
In its initial appearances, “The House of Mystery” series was the setting for a horror anthology. Though the tone of the stories that came out of that now-legendary series shifted back-and-forth from horror to black comedy, DC maintains that the different versions of the House are one and the same. Constantine eventually took up residence there, which he claimed to have won in a card game with a pair of cosmic entities. Thereafter, he opened it up to his teammates to use as a base of operations, literally housing them in the very mystery that defines them.
What do you think makes Justice League Dark so magical? Let us know in the comments!
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