J.M. DeMatteis sure knows how to kick off a new story arc. This month’s JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK by DeMatteis, Andres Guinaldo, and Walden Wong & Raul Fernandez is well paced, dramatically effective, beautifully illustrated and well-written, throwing in enough twists and turns to get us hooked without confusing us, and ending on a great cliffhanger. This is what superhero comics should be, and it’s the best single issue of a monthly comic I’ve read in months.
I’ve mentioned that JLD often feels a little like a sitcom. I don’t mean that disparagingly, but the characters’ collective ability to solve just about any problem in a couple pages by pulling the right magic spells out of their butts lends everything a sort of low-stakes sense of drama. It’s a series that delves into dark material with a lightweight feel, and although that has kept it from ever feeling very “serious,” it’s also helped to create a very unique, playful and enjoyable series, sharply contrasting all of the tedious grit and grim that dominates supernatural stories in all mediums lately.
But, that doesn’t mean that it’s without its dark, heavy and frightening moments, and this issue delivers some surprisingly sad and creepy ones.
If you haven’t read it yet, but plan to, you’ll probably want to skip this paragraph and the next one. The central sequence of the book involves a bunch of Lovecraftian Elder God pricks called Pantheon using Deadman as a Trojan Horse to ride into Paradise, and it doesn’t take them long to wreck the place up. As if Deadman didn’t have enough to worry about. Early on, we’re reminded Deadman isn’t deeply familiar with magic, which is just enough foreshadowing to tell us that he has no way of knowing whether or not this is a trip. Their exact nature remains unclear, but they appear to have been stowing away in Deadman’s mind for quite awhile now, or they could be of his own creation.
The issue ends with Deadman having regained his living, breathing human form, being locked up in a physical dungeon, and probably considering changing his name to Aliveman as the rest of the league get their butts kicked by Pantheon.
The art team for this book has been uniformly brilliant and this issue is no exception. The only surprise is that they keep topping themselves. My favorite panels this month involved melting Deadman, the appearance of a two headed dragon, the epic scale of the destruction of Paradise, and of course, Pantheon themselves, particularly the one-page splash of the big dude holding Deadman in a single hand.
In previous months, I’ve felt a little on-the-fence about claiming JLD as my favorite of the current supernatural themed titles, but July’s issue has finally tipped me over. This is one of the best issues of one of the best books DC is running.
Makes me wish all of DC’s other series were this strong.
Deadman’s relative vulnerability as the least magical member of the JLD allows DeMatteis to create a more high-stakes setup than we’re used to from the series while maintaining the weird, abstract elements of JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK.
Not just a good issue but a surprisingly strong one that makes the whole series it’s a part of even better. A tour de force of confident writing and art while still delivering what has made the series so appealing thus far: an opportunity to spend 20 pages a month hanging out with a cool bunch of characters inside the House of Mystery.