This is one of the relaunched books that I've most looked forward to since the roster alone is the things dreams are made of. Shade The Changing Man? Deadman? Zatanna? Madame Xanadu? John Constantine? Well, how about all of them rolled into one book! Yes, they're all here and that makes it an easy buy, but it also sets the bar quite high. So does this first issue sufficiently deliver those expectations? In short, yes. In long? Well, let's examine this puppy:
First and foremost, one of the great appeals to me of "Justice League Dark" is its definitively Vertigo feel. Like "Wonder Woman" #1 from last week, this DC book feels heavily dipped in Vertigo, and that's a good thing. However, "Justice League Dark" feels like it should be rated T+. In addition to the issue ending with a massive pile of dead bodies and us almost seeing Enchantress' shriveled naked chest (ew), four pages in there's a double page spread of a busy freeway that shows about five women being hit brutally by cars and there are at least another five bloody dismembered versions of her already on the road. Additionally, Shade The Changing Man can apparently "make a woman" to be his girlfriend. Beyond Shade having suspect fashion tastes, I found the concept of that really fascinating, but I cringed at the idea of a twelve year-old ingesting it. I know this is the new more brutal DCU and maybe I'm being overly sensitive, but part of me also just doesn't want this book to hold back the way I feel it should if twelve year-olds are going to be reading. I'm selfish like that.
Questionable ratings aside, however, this is an interesting premise well executed by Peter Milligan and Mikel Janin. Milligan does a good job of introducing our characters in some of the most compelling ways I've seen yet in DC's New 52; setting in motion the idea that the "magic team" needs to exist in the first place - namely by Superman, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg getting their asses handed to them in battle against Enchantress; and also setting up what looks to be a powerful larger storyline involving Enchantress. Batman's appearance in the book (though I'm always happy to have more Batman) was odd and his voice was very out of character, so that one scene rang very false, but it was the only one, and so it's easy to forgive. Mostly the book feels smart and cool, edgy and modern, and all of those without trying too hard to be the cool kid at the table. It's hard to tell how new reader friendly this book is because, though Milligan does a fine job of introducing our heroes, there's just a lot to take in from who these people are and why they're important to what exactly is going on. For me, it works beautifully; for a new reader, I'm not so sure.
Janin's work is, on the whole, very strong, though there are some weak areas that are a bit inconsistent. The fight scene with Enchantress is kinetic and compelling, his backgrounds are nicely realized, and the storytelling is very clear despite a lot of potentially confusing magic shenanigans going on. But some sections felt rather stiff (the beginning especially) and some of the expressions were a bit off. The character designs are good throughout, although the ladies are suffering from a fair amount of "same face" that is unfortunate and a bit distracting. However, the work feels like the kind of work that is only going to get stronger and stronger until it's just mind-blowingly good at all times. And I can wait for that.
The colors by Ulises Arreola don't work as well for me, unfortunately. The look is very painterly. While at times it's very powerful (like in the battle with Enchantress), on the whole it feels a bit too soft and disappointingly blunts some of the impact that should be coming through.
All in all, this is one of the more intriguing #1's I've read, thanks to a cast of characters that are some of the best around, a compelling introduction, and a solid cliffhanger. If you love these characters and have always wanted to see them come together for epic adventures, here's your book and it's damn cool.