Review: JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK 2021 ANNUAL #1
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writers: Ram V, Dan Watters
Artist: Christopher Mitten
Colours: Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Letters: Rob Leigh
Reviewed By: Derek McNeil
Justice League Dark 2021 Annual #1: After barely making it out of Atlantis alive, the Justice League Dark regroups and prepares themselves for the ultimate battle for magic against the finest sorcerer to ever live – Merlin. It’ll take the minds and memories of Wonder Woman, Randhir Singh, and an unexpected visitor to unlock the mystery behind the villain’s sudden appearance and what he’s after. Only with that vital information does our team of magical misfits stand a chance at saving the world from a threat the likes of which the Justice League could never survive! You won’t want to miss this oversize tale that’ll affect the future of magic in the DCU for years to come!
Although the Justice League Dark has had to share a title with the main team, DC has seen fit to get their own separate annual. Justice League 2021 Annual #1. The story is a little out of synch with the backup stories in Justice League, though. It takes place after the team’s current battle with Merlin, which concludes Justice League #71. However, it spoils little, other than to reveal that the fight with Merlin is far from over. The current storyline is just the prelude to the main confrontation.
Following their encounter with Merlin in Atlantis, the team regroups in the Hall of Justice to strategize for their next encounter with Merlin. The team is joined by Randhir Singh and Elnarra, the Eternal Knight. This comes as no surprise as both characters have figured greatly in Ram V’s current storyline so far. But there was another surprising guest to this meeting – Mister E.
One thing I found particularly interesting. Mister E relates the story of how he has newly arrived in the present, having walked backwards from the literal end of time. This, of course, refers to the original The Books of Magic miniseries. In issue #4 of that title, Mister E attempted to kill newly introduced Tim Hunter at the end of time. Death herself condemned E to “take the long way” back to his own time, ordering him to walk back to the present.
What’s interesting about this is that it implies that Tim Hunter and the events of The Books of Magic are once again canon to the DCU – or at least that first miniseries. While the recent Sandman Universe relaunch moved Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and associated series to a separate universe, this story hints that those titles DCU roots have been re-established. Or perhaps alternate versions of Gaiman’s titles happened in both universes.
Randhir also raises some disturbing questions about Jason Blood. He reveals that Jason had been freed of his bond to Etrigan and ascended to Heaven. But somehow, Jason had returned to Earth, once again bound to the Demon. Singh states that no one can be forced to leave Heaven, so Jason had to have done so willingly. He then asks the pointed question, “Tell me, then, Jason what offer did entice you from Heaven?”. And Jason evades the question, merely stating, “That is not fair to ask me”. Clearly there is a deeper story here begging to be told.
Mister E tells the group of something he learned on his way back from the end of the universe. While passing the remnants of the Source Wall, he witnessed an encounter between Merlin and Yuga Khan. Khan, the father of Darkseid was released from his imprisonment in the Source Wall by it’s recent destruction. Mister E further reveals that Khan removed a part of Merlin’s soul.
But Mister E reveals more to Zatanna and Doctor Fate after the rest of the team has departed, offering a deal to Zatanna. He explains that the fragment of soul is “the youthful half of his being. The part of him capable of feeling wonder and joy at the new and marvelous. The Merlin you face is the adult alone. The cold, calculated experience and nothing besides”.
Mister E had stolen that fragment from Yuga Khan and offers it to Zatanna for a price. He asks for the magical ruby that Merlin wears around his neck. Zatanna realizes that the team will be defenceless against Mister E if he gets the jewel. And Fate warns that “trading in souls doesn’t end well”. But Zatanna sees little choice but to accept Mister E’s bargain.
With the bargain made in blood, Mister E leaves, clearly satisfied. But Zatanna and fate are left wondering if the bargain was worth it. Khalid worries that they may have “traded people’s lives for nothing but some childlike hope”. But Zatanna sagely reminds him, “Childlike hope is everything we’ve been missing. Everything magic should be”. This is an important statement about the nature of magic.
And perhaps about the nature of the DCU itself. That seems to be the same lesson that DC seemed to learn with the demise of the New 52 and the rise of the Rebirth era. The New 52 streamlined the DCU to make it more marketable, but it lost the hopeful sense of wonder of the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe. Rebirth started the process of bringing that magic back to DC’s comics, but seemed to falter. But Infinite Frontier seems to finally be getting things back on track.
I’ve felt that Ram V’s story has been hampered by only having a brief 10 pages each issue. The Justice League Dark 2021 Annual proves that how good the story when there is more room to unpack it. Happily, the Justice League Dark will soon moving into their own separate title. I look forward to seeing Ram V’s story, now that he will have a full page count to work with.
I also have to commend the fine artwork of Christopher Mitten in this story. His work lives up to the high standard set by Sumit Kumar in the earlier chapters of Ram V’s story. His artwork, aided by Romulo Fajardo Jr.’s colours sets the perfect foreboding mood of this interlude in Ram V’s storyline.
Some might complain that there is no action in this annual’s story. However, I like these stories where the characters take a break between encounters, focusing on character interaction and introspection about recent events. If well-written, these breaks in the action can be more interesting than a pitched battle between the heroes and their foes.
In the Justice League Dark 2021 Annual, Ram V and Dan Watters provide an important interlude in which several important threads are set up for the upcoming conflict with Merlin and beyond. I look forward to seeing how this story plays out in the upcoming Justice League Dark ongoing title.