DC Comics is trying something new. In the wake of their Rebirth initiative, the publisher has rapidly expanded its content to include diverse new imprints such as Young Animal, Wildstorm, Black Label, Ink, and Zoom. As their lineup expands, it can be hard to figure out what to pick up each week. That’s what our team is here to help with, every Wednesday, with the DC Round-Up!
THIS WEEK: Looks like we broke magic again…Wonder Woman recruits a chimp, a bat, and a plant to take a walk on the darker side. Speaking of dark, what the hell is wrong with the kids these days??
Note: the reviews below contain **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Justice League Dark #2
Writer: James Tynion IV
Pencils: Alvaro Martinez Bueno
Inks: Raul Fernando
Colors: Brad Anderson
Letters: Rob Leigh
The Justice League Dark is back at it again, and I’ll admit I was surprised to see the title resurrected. The first time around was about seven years ago, with a grab bag of magical heroes like Zatanna, Constantine, and Madame Xanadu exploring the mystical side of the DCU along with some real oddball choices like Deadman, Shade the Changing Man, and Dove. It had some redeeming qualities (the team operating out of the House of Mystery was a nice touch) but it was a pretty bizarre series and after a while it felt like it was just a vehicle for random C-list cameos. Why an outlier book that featured Amethyst and I, Vampire was called Justice League never really made much sense.
This new group that is calling themselves the Justice League Dark has a much better claim to the title. The team was assembled by Wonder Woman and operates in an official capacity out of the Hall of Justice. So we’re at least starting with some credibility here. Like just about everything in the modern DC universe, the events in the book were set about by the breaking of the Source Wall in Dark Nights: Metal. We’ve now got four categories of heroes (Wonder, Wisdom, Mystery, and…I don’t know, Lobo?) and they each get to form a team under the JL umbrella to try to fix some terrible consequence of defeating Barbatos.
Let’s do a sidebar here to unpack that last bit, because I’m not sure I really understand what happened at the end of Metal. The heroes were in an all-out final battle with the dark lord Barbatos, who is basically some kind of evil bat god who wants to invade the DC universe. Hawkgirl had just flown herself right through his torso, exploding out of his chest (gross) and bringing him down for the moment, but they realized that it would obviously take more than a chest wound to stop a god. So they took the advice of the Monitor (who was hanging out with the heroes for some reason) that Barbatos could only be defeated by joining hands and singing Kumbaya to every person on the planet, which they obviously did immediately without question. And I guess they did it too well, because their love bomb reached all the way to the Source Wall and broke it open, which left the universe vulnerable to whatever lies beyond the wall at the end of everything. Comics, right?
Anyway, everything’s broken and bad stuff is leaking into the universe all over the place. Magic doesn’t work right anymore, as the mystical heroes are all discovering. Wonder Woman’s team is tasked with figuring out why spells and incantations are backfiring in such gruesome ways. Their investigation so far has revealed that the “original owners of magic” are coming back to infect the earth with horror and burn all living things. It’s always something. The book has also introduced a terrifying new creature called the Upside Down Man who’s acting as the vanguard of the oncoming enemy, adding an element of impending dread.
The overall tone of Justice League Dark is a magic/horror mashup, channeling classic Vertigo titles like Swamp Thing or Constantine. Both of those titular characters are present here, as well as Zatanna to round out the old crew. Some classic Swamp Thing stories have been cemented back into continuity with references to Zatanna’s father, the magician Zatara, meeting a fiery demise in Baron Winters’ manor. There are also hints of Shadowpact, with Detective Chimp begrudgingly taking on the role of Nightmaster. If you have any idea who the Shadowpact were or what a Nightmaster is, you’re a true comics aficionado and this series might be right up your alley.
With all of these mystical characters, Wonder Woman can seem like an odd inclusion — but only if you overlook her deep ties to magic. Diana isn’t just a tough Amazon warrior. She has a magic sword and a magic lasso, and she claims a magical origin if that’s still in continuity. Even with these mystic bona fides, she finds herself considered an outsider by the occult community and has to continually assert her right to participate, making her an ideal point of view character to guide us into the world of the DC spellcasters.
Will this book be your cup of tea? It depends. It is definitely recommended to anyone who loves the ongoing soap opera between John Constantine and Zatanna Zatara. It could be interesting if you’d like to see the full ramifications of the events in Metal on the DCU, or if you want to keep tabs on how the different Justice League teams are faring. While I appreciate the official sanction of this new team, my hope is that we continue to explore the magical realms outside of the Hall of Justice, like Fate’s tower or the Parliament of Trees grove. There are plenty of dark corners in this world and the realms beyond that don’t get enough exposure. Detective Chimp better hop to it — the realm of Myrra ain’t gonna Nightmaster itself.
Teen Titans #21
Writer: Adam Glass
Artist: Bernard Chang
Colorist: Marcelo Maiolo
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Well, speaking of new teams, the Teen Titans have gotten another refresh. Let’s check it out.
Introduced in Teen Titans Special #1 in June, Damian Wayne has pulled together some lesser known sidekicks and proteges for what looks to be a harder, more violent teenage club. A few of the members are brand new on the scene and almost all of them are fed up with the way the “grown ups” handle law and order. Like most teenagers, they think they know better.
Objectively speaking, and without room for debate, the best member of this new squad is Crush, Lobo’s daughter. A Czarnian makes any book better as a general rule and Crush is a great concept. She’s a badass chick who doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her and will likely punch you if you look at her funny. She’s brawnier than the other kids and offers young readers a different vision of what beauty can look like. Her punk rock style and simmering rage are a perfect fit for this type of book.
I wish I had such nice things to say about the rest of the team.
Red Arrow (Emiko, daughter of the assassin Shado and half-brother of Oliver Queen) has a hard edge as well, but not in the fun way like Crush. It mostly comes off as…dickish? Sort of like a female Damian Wayne who woke up on the wrong side of the bed. She’s constantly at her teammate’s throats, pointing out their mistakes and making it clear that she doesn’t want to be here. In her defense, her own mother tried to kill her a couple of issues ago, so maybe she speaks to that particular segment of teens. I personally couldn’t relate.
There’s a Flash on the team; Wally West. No, the other Wally West. Kid Flash. I’m having a hard time figuring out how he’s being played in this book. In the Special, he was an angry young man, sick of playing by the rules and vowing that “Anyone who gets in my way is gonna be sorry”. But in this week’s issue he’s all smiles, cracking the typical speedster jokes and telling his teammates to “relaaaaax”. Sure, people have moods that change from day to day and among different audiences. But is he kicking ass and taking names or not?
Roundhouse is another new character to the DCU, and (while he’s not Japanese) he feels reminiscent of Big Atomic Lantern Boy and the Super Young Team from the pages of Final Crisis. Or is that just me? He’s the most lighthearted of the group, happy to be included and hanging out with other young heroes. Two issues in, his power set is still ambiguous…he can roll into an armored ball and maybe has some kind of elemental fire/ice powers? Mostly Crush just throws him at things. We’ve yet to learn much about him.
The third brand new character (and kudos to this creative team for trying out fresh concepts!) is Djinn, a 4,000 year old teenage genie. Her initial debut in issue #20 was somewhat unremarkable — Robin found her living in an alley and she could bring out people’s worst fears. I had almost written her off as a knockoff Raven. In this week’s issue we get a deeper glimpse of her background and it’s enticing. She has the vessel that held her captive for thousands of years and reveals that she can perform even greater magical feats if someone holds the vessel and commands her. We can debate whether divulging this information to Damian Wayne was a dumb move or the dumbest move ever. Surely this is a setup for future tensions between the team members.
FInally we have the team leader, Damian Wayne. He’s got to be a difficult character to write, especially following the extensive runs by Grant Morrison and Peter Tomasi. What makes Damian so fun is his over-the-top confidence and superiority, softened by a willingness to still learn from his mentors and (reluctantly) follow orders, usually making a “Tt” sound to show his displeasure. He has a definitive teenage voice. What we get here is a less plucky, less lovable version, and it’s not terribly compelling. Add in the ultra-violent subtone and this book lost me very quickly.
Teen Titans is a very hit-or-miss title, with more misses over the years than hits. This particular lineup doesn’t feel like a natural fit or one that has staying power. I don’t know what others look for in a “rated T for teens” comic, but when the series turns away from the dark and grim torture plots and returns to a brighter, more playful tone I’ll tune back in.
- If I’m being honest, this was a pretty weak crop of DC comics. And on my birthday! This cranky old man has a few complaints.
- Does every book get an annual these days? Suicide Squad did, and it doesn’t even feature the roster we know and (let’s say) love. Instead we are treated to the not-at-all-thrilling adventures of Merlyn the archer, Shimmer from the Fearsome Five, four characters that even I’ve never heard of, and a Ragdoll that was decidedly not written by Gail Simone. Hard pass.
- I was hopeful for Damage after the very first issue, but it hasn’t held my attention at all. We certainly didn’t need Damage Annual #1, which is a completely skippable one-shot that is basically a multi-freak slugfest. There are a good 15 pages that don’t even have words printed on them, just one monster punching other monsters. I’m falling asleep over here, guys.
- Not to be outdone, Flash and Trickster turn into giant hulking monsters and beat the tar out of each other for a while in The Flash #53. This title lost some steam after the “Flash War” storyline when they took Wally off the board.
- Batman: Kings of Fear belongs in another decade. Wonder Woman #53 is generic. Detective Comics #987 put me to sleep.
- …oh god, it’s me isn’t it?
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