By: Jeff Lemire & Ray Fawkes (story), Mikel Janin (art), Jeremy Cox (colors)

The Story: To his immense relief, Deadman finds that he truly lives up to his name.

The Review: I know I’m reaching broken-record levels here, but I’m gonna go for it anyway; I don’t get why mainstream comics have such a hard time telling stories about magic.  I think the last time I ever felt like a mass-market title really handled the occult exactly right was John Rozum’s Xombi, a series for which I still hold a grudge against DC for cancelling. Xombi knew how to take bold imaginative leaps and stay grounded at the same time; that was key.

Justice League Dark errs, as nearly all Big Two titles do, by patronizing its audience.  Frankly, Lemire-Fawkes’ plot is nothing special, but rather amateurishly simple: a world where magic once roamed, where science conquered, and where a revolution is at hand, with a promised but reluctant savior at its head.  The issue spends a lengthy amount of time telling this story, but really, it sounds more like Lemire-Fawkes dressing up a generic plotline with a few semi-original details.

Even the little wrinkle about the last great mages stealing portal technology to cross over to Earth doesn’t feel that unique or outrageous.  No, this is all mostly safe material, easily accessible for almost any reader, but nowhere near the level of creativity and ambition of a Vertigo occult title, which I believe mainstream series can easily achieve (see again, e.g., Xombi).

Much as Lemire-Fawkes would like to believe they can get away with just some World of Warcraft-inspired names delivered with a crack of doom, I’m afraid that gets nowhere if the character himself fails to impress.  Sure, you can have a supernatural foe introduce himself as the “Tolltaker of the Damned…the Worldbridger…the Infernal Core!”  But beneath that lengthy title, he’s just another bulky demon with flames in various places who can get knocked over by a ghost-punch from a former acrobat and basically doused to death by man in a cyber-suit.

This issue doesn’t even sport the usually entertaining group dynamic that made previous issues, if not super-creative, at least enjoyable.  Everyone’s just too distracted with the sudden changes to their bodies and personalities (minus Frankenstein, who remains the confident, unflappable badass he always is) to deliver winning lines.  Even Constantine, who’s not only lost his ability to lie but is also compelled to tell the truth, only produces a few cheap laughs with his sitcomy frustration.  To Vikar, the science-cop attacking them: If I can just get you to stop and talk, I can distract you long enough for Orchid to smash you from behind… Dammit!

Janin does a fine job as always, and with Cox’s colors, he certainly renders a pretty-looking issue.  In fact, the way he handles faeries, goblins, demons, and other assorted magical creatures shows that he has the chops to handle the technical parts of a serious occult title.  However, there’s something a little soulless and cold about the final result of his art.  I can’t really put my finger on it, but somehow everything appears too poised, artificial.  Still, a very attractive style of art, enough to cover up the blandness of the script itself.

Conclusion: Though competently executed, the plot is undeniably familiar, with only a few spots where Lemire and Fawkes try something new.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Between this ridiculous “WTF-certified” campaign and the painfully hokey Channel 52, DC is really pulling out all the stops to win Cheeseball Company of the Year, aren’t they?