I've always loved the magic side of the DC universe, and as might be expected, I was pretty excited when Justice League Dark was announced. It didn't hurt that the book's line-up was awesome. Zatanna! Constantine! Shade the Changing Man! But with high levels of excitement come high expectations, and every once in a while, I'd get worried that this book wouldn't live up to the hype. It didn't help that this was one of the last numbers ones to be released, and by the time I had this book in hand, I was feeling pretty nervous. But by the time I was a few pages in, I knew I'd had nothing to worry about.
Writer Peter Milligan does a great job establishing most of the main cast. Even John Constantine, whose appearance in the book was unfortunately brief, was established enough to give readers a feel for his personality and his history with a certain backwards talking girl. Although it's Madame Xanadu's creepy and foreboding narration that guides us through the issue, it was Zatanna who was the standout for me. She comes across as witty, brave, and clever enough to get past Batman himself. Fans of Shade will be happy to know that Milligan still has a strong handle on the character, and seems interested in incorporating elements of his Vertigo series in this new title.
Artist Mikel Janin is a relative newcomer to comics, but he makes it clear that he was the perfect choice for this book. He's able to bring softness and sweetness to characters like Dawn Granger and June Moone, but where he really shines is during the book's more horrifying moments. His Enchantress is twisted and inhuman, and he finds ways to make even simple moments feel a little more terrifying. There's some fantastic background work that really made a few scenes for me, like the little royal guard bear we see when Constantine crash lands into a pile of souvenirs, or the beautiful stained glass window behind Madame Xanadu. Janin's style feels very modern, but Ulises Arreola's colors help give it more of a 90's Vertigo feel that suits the book well.
While I think this title is fairly accessible to new readers, I don't know that they'll appreciate it on the same level long time fans of these characters will. You don't need to know who June Moone or Kathy are to follow the book, but certain scenes will be much more powerful if you do, and there occasionally seems to be an assumption that the reader knows certain details. On the other hand, I was a little annoyed to see Superman seemingly unaware of his weakness to magic, but I think it was an important thing to establish for those less familiar with the DC universe. It highlights the need for the Justice League Dark, and what makes this crew of characters so special.
The story Milligan is spinning here feels really ambitious, and I can't wait to see it come together. There are elements of things like Morrison's Doom Patrol and Swamp Thing here, and I'm excited to see where some of the weirder concepts in this book go. He seems to be bursting with ideas, from cows birthing meat slicers to envelopes that can compress time. The descriptions in Madame Xanadu's narrations are both creative and unsettling, and really set the tone for this book. In the line of titles like Justice League and Demon Knights, this is a "building the team" book, but there's enough going on in this issue that the book doesn't feel overly compressed. The issue's conclusion is fairly dramatic, and is going to make it hard to wait a month for the next issue.
I'd recommend this to Vertigo readers, fans of magic based characters, and to anyone looking for a less conventional team book. There are some very funny moments, but I'd advise against this one if you're looking for a more lighthearted read. There's some pretty disturbing imagery, and Milligan seems to be holding true to his promise of keeping the book emotionally dark. There was the occasional clunky moment, but overall, this is an intriguing first issue, and I think it's only going to get better once the set-up is out of the way. There's a vast selection of magical characters to use in this title, and Milligan clearly has the imagination to create compelling new ones. I'm looking forward to seeing what his twisted mind comes up with next.