The concept of magic in the DC Comics Universe has always been a fickle beast. When it’s used properly as a story element, it acts as a fascinating facet in a world where aliens, parallel dimensions, and street level crimes co-exist. And just to clarify, we’re not talking about wizards or wish-granting entities or Shazam; what we’re talking about is occult ceremonies and, for lack of a better term, witchcraft.
For quite some time (specifically during the ’80s and ’90s, the dark magical world of DC had been largely relegated to very niche titles, which often appeared under the Vertigo imprint. Comics featuring characters who still had a foot in the primary DC Universe (e.g. John Constantine, Swamp Thing, Zatanna, and so on) always seemed to march to the beat of their own drum, making their magical elements feel out of place at times.
Now this isn’t always a bad thing. The weirdness of magic can create some really interesting conflicts in traditional superhero comics. The fact magic can do almost as much damage to Superman as Kryptonite is fascinating. If someone is well-versed enough in the dark arts, they could potentially take down the Man of Steel with some spells and runic markings.
Recently, DC Comics has been taking a more proactive stance in bridging the gap between the occult and the traditional fantastical elements of their pantheon by reintroducing predominately Vertigo characters under their flagship banner in titles like Justice League Dark and revamping certain character backstories to have them mired in magic (the New 52 Wonder Woman comes to mind). The results, while interesting, have been mixed.
Wonder Woman & Justice League Dark: The Witching Hour #1, which is the start to a weekly crossover event, exemplifies what works when it comes to magical characters and what doesn’t. Let’s talk about what’s good first, shall we? Writer James Tynion IV feels rather comfortable in this world. After all, he is the writer for Justice League Dark, which, so far, has been mostly excellent. The dynamic between heroic icons and weirdo characters is often humorous and natural (any time Wonder Woman and Detective Chimp have a conversation, it’s impossible not to chuckle at the absurdity of it). The art by Jesus Merino is strong, too, even if it isn’t exactly revelatory. His panel layouts flow well despite being buried by exposition dumps, and his take on drawing Swamp Thing like a big, green Jason Mamoa is consistently charming.
The initial event in this first issue is also interesting. It turns out that Wonder Woman was marked by the Greek goddess of witchcraft and magic, Hecate and must bend to the deity’s will when summoned (we think). This plot element certain hearkens back to the amazing Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang era on Wonder Woman, and opens the door for some really revelations for a character we all through we knew so well.
Sadly, The Witching Hour shows its hand much too early. What could have been a slow progression on intrigue gives away so much information in its front half. This issues is bogged down with heaps of exposition dumps and needless narration to the point where it feels like one big recap of a story that has already happened. The most disappointing part is that Tynion can handle complex story elements by using the visual aspect of the graphic medium. He’s built entire worlds (and has ended them) with fewer words. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher as to why this book wasn’t treated with the same authorial respect.
Despite some strong artwork and an pretty cool premise, Wonder Woman & Justice League Dark: The Witching Hour #1 just can’t seem to break from the drag of its plotting or how painfully mundane a lot of the exposition reads. However, the comic is good enough for us to want to read what happens next in Wonder Woman #56, so obviously there is something be said for cliffhangers.