There’s a lot going on in the wonderfully busy Justice League Dark. Rather than going for the slow-burn that Johns took in Justice League a few weeks back, Peter Milligan has introduced us to all the books major players, set up a major bad guy, and raised the stakes considerably. Milligan has an uphill battle to fight with this book, dealing as it does with characters even casual fans will have never heard of, but for the most part he has crafted a confident, unsettling debut that, unlike most books of the relaunch, might actually move a bit too quickly.
Mikel Janin’s art is fantastically expressive, and he does a good job at evoking the weird horror of the threat the new team of magicians and oddballs will be combating. It seems a powerful witch, trapped in a small house in the middle of nowhere, has started to go mad – and she’s driving the world mad with her. Superman, Wonder Woman and Cyborg are quickly defeated, and a new team begins gathering to save the world from a threat few people even begin to understand. Meanwhile, one lone, confused woman – June Moone – seems to be the epicenter of these bizarre happenings.
There’s very little character work done in Justice League Dark – it’s all plot, all forward momentum. We get to know a little bit about some of our central heroes. Shade, who a madman with a dark streak and the ability to manipulate reality, is lonely and desperate not to get involved. Zatanna, powerful and confident, is a woman used to getting what she wants – and used to standing up to figures like Batman. Madame Xanadu, worldly, wise and tired beyond measure, may be the only one who truly understands the threat they face.
But are these flashes enough to entice new readers to stick with the book? It’s conceptually solid, and the first big plotline looks like it’ll be a doozy, but Justice League Dark #1 gives you little reason to care about the characters. Still, Milligan shows a deft hand at characterizing his cast through small gestures and brief moments, and Janin’s art is perfect for the book. All this suggests a promising debut, albeit one that may require time to really grow into something truly fantastic. There’s a lot of ambition here, and Milligan only occasionally overreaches.