By: Jeff Lemire (story), Mikel Janín (art), Ulises Arreola (colors)
The Story: Everyone knows the best part of a magical quest is the loot.
The Review: It’s been a while since my last lecture on magic in fiction, but now that this title has started to get its mystic cred again with Lemire on board, the time seems ripe to talk about it once more. To start, let’s discuss Harry Potter. A major part of that series’ appeal is its finite, highly constructed, almost scientific approach to its magic. Spells must be done in a certain way, have limited effects, and bear enough resemblance to real world physics for us to understand.
But J.K. Rowling had the luxury of establishing all the magical laws of her story-world herself. The sprawling universe of a major comic book publisher is a whole different deal, with each writer and artist having their own ideas for how things should and shouldn’t work. But DC has a grand opportunity here, with its relaunch, to set some clear stakes for future writers to work with, even if those stakes are only tenuously propped up and stretch far and wide.
And since Lemire now has control of DC’s premier occult title, he has the greatest opportunity to lay the universe’s magical groundwork. He takes some baby steps here. Dr. Mist gets berated for the “low-grade” seals placed on the Black Room; golems are “simple witchcraft” compared to demons; and Constantine whips out a “skeleton key. Said to have been carved from the bones of St. Peter himself. It can open anything.” Lemire is rightfully hesitant to state anything too specifically or assertively, and loose, malleable exposition is better than none.
At some point, though, you hope the magic of this series grows bolder and more imaginative than just various flashes of energy that does whatever the story requires as needed. Right now, the only difference between Zatanna and Dr. Mist’s spellweaving is hers requires backwards talk, while his does not (though he occasionally throws out a few exotic words himself—“Kanta selome r’anda.”). John dukes it out with Faust using a whole outfit of magical artifacts (e.g. Etrigan’s shoulder armor and Merlin’s staff), but the scene still winds up being a laser light show with no meaning.
That aside, Lemire continues to put the cogs of his long-term storylines in place, using a mixture of cool continuity bits and mysterious hints. Obviously, the inclusion of Timothy Hunter (of Neil Gaiman’s Books of Magic fame) holds all kinds of tantalizing possibilities for the DCU’s mystical development. But the more interesting question is: if he “gave away all [his] magic,” where did it go and how is it already throwing wrenches in our heroes’ ways? And here’s another interesting question: what’s up with John’s tattoo and why does its association with some nameless “him” freak Faust out so much? And here’s yet another: what does Dr. Mist mean when he—spoiler alert—betrays Constantine yet apologizes, saying “there is no other way”?
In my mind, it’s the artist who can really determine the shape of magic in a story, and Janín has been squandering all of his chances to do so. While I liked the fancy glyphs he threw in during this series’ initial arcs, they had too little context for us to appreciate, and the splashes and swirls of energy he uses here have even less. His style delivers a more grounded, CW-show aesthetic to the supernatural, but it also removes the eerie sense of the otherworldly that made great works of magical fiction—for example, oh, I dunno, The Books of Magic—so compelling.
Conclusion: The series is still in the gestation phase, tentatively laying out the building blocks for its future. Though interesting enough, much of its value is locked up in potential, rather than actual, enjoyment.
- Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: - Before running after Faust, Constantine tells Steve Trevor to get the fallen Zee some medical attention. Hm. Maybe he does care.
- Glad to hear that Lemire got Gaiman’s blessings before using Timothy Hunter—unlike certain other folks writing so-called tributary spin-offs to great works right now. Look, I know legally, they’re not doing something wrong, but there’s a sacred quality to an original work that should be respected beyond the rule of law, don’t you think?
Filed under: DC Comics, Reviews Tagged: | Black Orchid, Boston Brand, DC, DC Comics, Deadman, Dr. Mist, Felix Faust, Jeff Lemire, John Constantine, Justice League Dark, Justice League Dark #11, Justice League Dark #11 review, Madame Xanadu, Mikel Janin, Steve Trevor, Timothy Hunter, Ulises Arreola, Zatanna, Zatanna Zatara