THE PITCH: Imagine all of the strange supernatural characters from Vertigo hanging out, having adventures in the DCU. Well, maybe not quite that.
HOW WAS IT? This might be one to split audiences, I think, mostly because of the sometimes purple prose (sometimes not, see BEST BIT) with which writer Peter Milligan constructs the narration by seer Madame Xanadu (having less fun here than she was centuries ago in Demon Knights). Essentially, she’s reading the cards and see that the world is going to hell because the mad witch, Enchantress, is maybe on purpose, maybe on accident throwing a bunch of bad magic out there, causing all kinds of calamity. The traditional League lineup (here represented by Wonder Woman, Superman, and Cyborg) can’t do anything against this kind of magic, so it falls to an unorthodox group of characters to try to fix things, whatever that entails.
So we get Madame Xanadu drawing cards and flashing to each of the characters who will presumably be joining the lineup of the unfortunately named Justice League: Dark (“your after hours, sexy Justice League”). And since this is a riff on characters primarily associated with Vertigo for the last few years, the future roster is looking kind of dysfunctional, from the creepy punchline of Shade’s argument with his girlfriend, to Zatanna’s scrub status on the Justice League, to John Constantine–well, he’s always been a little bit of a bastard, so there’s nothing new there. Milligan overplays his hand a bit in making Madame Xanadu a junkie on top of everything else–an extra bit of edge that doesn’t add much at first glance.
Now as an introduction to magic in the DCU, this is definitely a late-90’s Vertigo book. From the easy punking of the Justice League by a magic villain to the messed up personal lives of the other heroes of the title. I’m still not clear why books like this get a “T” rating (it’s easily a Mature readers title, but what do I know), but it feels like, more than anything else a stealth Vertigo book–more in terms of tone than in actual content or cast. It’s very much about magic as this dark, catastrophic element of the universe that makes easy work of superheroes, but it can have this sort of sick banality about it that paradoxically weirds things up an extra level.
I’m not sure if new readers are actually going to be able to follow this–I had to go back and reread it just to get my bearings. Still, it’s intriguing, creating a mystery where you’re not even sure what the central mystery actually is while somehow not alienating you in the process. And that’s a very complicated, very accomplished feat.
BEST BIT: The little horror tableaus throughout the book that Milligan details as the world starts sharing Enchantress’ madness. Choice one: “The Local power station threatens to explode when it is imbued with consciousness… and gets bored.” The matter-of-fact, blase way that Milligan describes everything going to hell reminds me of my favorite section of The Stand where King rattles off the miscellaneous, stupid ways that Darwin Award candidates died following the plague. It just sells the horror of it all the more effectively.
WORST BIT: Mikel Janin sure draws some weird lips and mouths for his female characters. Almost uniformly they have pouty, swollen lips that seem strange on Madame Xanadu and outright bizarre on Wonder Woman.
HOW DOES SUPERMAN’S COSTUME LOOK HERE? Not great, people. Too armor-like, too rigid. I can’t blame artist Janin, really–that’s what he has to work with. But it makes he Man of Steel look like he’s wearing rubber for some reason. Also, I realized that no matter who draws Cyborg, no matter what their talent, I will never like Cyborg.
ACCESSIBLE TO NEW READERS? Kind of. There’s a rush of new characters, and because this is Milligan there’s an extra layer of… density, I guess to everything on the page that makes it feel like you walked in on the middle of maybe five different stories.
WILL YOU BE PICKING UP ISSUE 2? Yes. Confusion aside, I’m hooked enough by the characters that I want to know where they go next.