Justice League Dark has had a fractured narrative as of late, as the team members were split in the wake of Justice League Dark Annual #2. This has given writer J.M. DeMatteis the opportunity to tell smaller stories focused around the individuals of the team.Justice League Dark #37 focuses on Black Orchid, Deadman, and Madame Xanadu, with the latter serving as the issue’s main voice.
The trio finds themselves in a place of inverted time, as each second appears to replay itself, resulting in a growing swarm of duplicates. Xanadu uses her powers to escape her own selves, as well as rescue her teammates, before the trio ultimately find a place without time, ruled by Arif, Lord of Now. Arif explains that his Kingdom is one of eternity, a single moment stretched to an infinity, therefore no one ages, and no one dies. Arif is fascinated by the Justice League Dark and asks them to explain how time passes. They become welcome guests, though not without a few rules. The main provision is that the Justice League Dark is not allowed to visit a dark ribbon in the sky, a place Arif calls the Beyond Beyond.
The Justice League Dark’s interaction with Arif takes another turn when Xanadu, affected by the way time works in the Kingdom of Now, begins to fall for Arif. Their mutual affection catches Black Orchid and Deadman off-guard, and Xanadu’s teammates decide to look into the Beyond Beyond.
Juxtaposed with this plot are short scenes with Zatanna, separated from her teammates, attempting to commune with the World Tree. These little snippets suggest that something larger is at work, and that these disparate stories over the past few issues are more interconnected than they initially appear.
Justice League Dark #37 is a successfully disorienting issue. Writer J.M. DeMatteis and artist Andres Guinaldo do a great job selling the idea of a timeless place. There’s a surreal quality to the way Xanadu narrates the story. And little details like fruit reappearing instantly after being picked from a tree help the reader buy into the bizarre world. And while the issue is primarily plot driven, there are some small character moments that add to the issue, such as when Black Orchid calls Deadman out on his jealousy over Xanadu’s affection for Arif.
Guinaldo’s gets to flex his muscles with his linework, in one panel showing the collapse of a place where time runs on repeat, and in another showing a nexus of fetuses and immortal elders that do not age. There’s a lot of imagination in these visuals that add to the supernatural feel of the book.
The fractured nature of Justice League Dark’s most recent arc means that some of the story beats here feel repetitive. Issue 37 sees a section of the team, face a foe intent on keeping them entrapped in a location, which ultimately leads to a physical conflict. This repetition is likely intentional, but there isn’t enough in Justice League Dark #37 to differentiate it from prior issues. As such, some of the issue falls flat, in a “been-there-seen-that” type of way. For these characters, this experience is new, but for readers, this is likely too similar to previous issues to feel novel.
Ultimately, Justice League Dark #37 is another good entry in the series. There’s still a lot of energetic creativity by both DeMatteis and Guinaldo, but the series is starting to feel a bit repetitive in its beats. The ending to this issue however suggests that some of the threads woven through since the second annual are about to payoff and give the series a breath of fresh air.