Ray Fawkes slides into the first chair for the writing credits in “Justice League Dark” #21 as his mentor Jeff Lemire shifts from this title to a more involved role across the Justice League line for the looming “Trinity War.” The duo wraps up the team’s hunt for the House of Mystery and battle against Doctor Destiny in this issue as Deadman and Madame Xanadu get some love with larger roles in this comic.
Fawkes and Lemire do a great job wrapping up a complex storyline while making it feel organic, revelatory and exciting. John Constantine and Deadman are both witty characters, but in different enough ways through the writers’ dialog as to be distinct. The writers do not apply cookie cutter molds to any of their characters, giving Frankenstein a true battle against N’aal and the house itself. Madame Xanadu is confronted with her worst nightmare in Doctor Destiny, which leads to even more nightmares bearing down on her in the future. Fawkes and Lemire transform Xanadu from advising mystery woman to action heroine in this issue. While she’s been integral to the series to this point, the writing pair really takes her to the next level before the final page of “Justice League Dark” #21.
The issue opens with a stunning display of Mikel Janin’s artwork as Doctor Destiny preaches in front of a collection of heroes and magic-tinged characters run through with pikes. Mikel Janin is one of the best artists working for DC Comics and shows as much in this issue, easily delivering deranged demons, swinging swords, Swamp Thing pressing the limits of his power and the Flash zipping through Manhattan. Janin gets an assist from Vicente Cifuentes in “Justice League Dark” #21. If you’re looking for it, the change in art is present, but Jeromy Cox does a magnificent job of holding the like styles of Janin and Cifuentes together quite nicely. The artistic trio fill this issue with washes and shadows, heavy red shades and lush coloring all the way through. The red-tinged shadows have become a hallmark of this series, exemplifying the uneasiness of blood and magic and the uncertainty these characters struggle against in every issue. The visual spectacle of “Justice League Dark” #21 is rounded out with masterful lettering from Rob Leigh who not only provides distinct voices for every character, but also transcendently adjusts those voices throughout the issue, such as when Deadman takes possession of Swamp Thing. My mind reels at what could happen if this creative team was on either of the other “Justice League” titles. For now, however, I’ll continue to enjoy their wonderful work on this book.
Despite the apparent odd coupling of the Flash with this crew, Barry Allen fits right in and looks marvelous under the pencil of Mikel Janin. Lemire and Fawkes definitely have a grasp on the character’s own misgivings and motivation and make a strong case for serious consideration to be given to make the Scarlet Speedster a permanent addition to this team. “Justice League Dark” #21 sets Flash and Frankenstein side by side in battle again, which is the type of pairing and team-up comics should be providing readers more often. It’s a fun pairing, but it is even more poignant as Frankenstein and Flash both have their New 52 origins firmly melded to “Flashpoint.” After all, since “Flashpoint,” this has consistently been the best title of the relaunch. Hopefully the high standards of quality will persevere throughout this title’s involvement in “Trinity War.”