Jeff Lemire, Ray Fawkes and Mikel Janin’s “Justice League: Dark” #16 finds the team split in two, with Zatanna babysitting Timothy Hunter, and the rest of the group in serious peril as they’re stripped of all the things that make them “special.”
There’s some fun to be had in this issue, especially as John Constantine struggles to get through even the simplest things without the charm, sarcasm and fast-talking wit that makes him able to do what he does so well — that is to say without the very things that make John Constantine John Constantine. However, it’s hard to take the humor fully in stride, while Madame Xanadu is literally dying of old age next to him as her centuries of life catch up with her moment by moment. For their part I think Lemire and Fawkes actually play it as right as they can in that Constantine shows genuine concern about Xanadu’s plight, but as a reader there’s conflict about what you should feel.
Unfortunately, the back-story about Timothy Hunter feels both cliche and forced. The pages spent on it, though probably necessary from a storytelling perspective, yank readers right out of the action and away from the characters we’re otherwise interested in and concerned about. This is of course not an uncommon problem for stories in all variety of mediums, but I wish Lemire and Fawkes could have found a more engaging way to deal with it. Perhaps if the “chosen one” idea had a fraction of creativity to it or we were emotionally attached to the characters involved it might have read better, but as it is, it was a big boring speed bump that threw everything off track.
For Janin’s part, he continues to deliver really stunning artwork for this book. In this issue particularly he excels at drawing the rapidly aging Xanadu. This is something a lot of comic book artists struggle with, likely since they get so used to drawing nubile young superheroes, but Janin really nails it (as the cover can attest). It’s powerful and scary in a way that it just would not be without his realistic take on the situation. Similarly, the “evolution” as it were of Black Orchid is visually interesting, though “purple Swamp Thing” does spring to mind.
“Justice League: Dark” is the dark horse of my pull-list. I wanted to like this book from go based on concept and characters alone, but it still struggles to convince me to fall in love, despite Mikel’s lovely artwork. But I’m not giving up; I’ve read enough “almost great” issues that I’m going to stick it out. Even when the book doesn’t hit on all levels it’s still a compelling read full of potential.