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Justice League Dark #23 – Review

By: Jeff Lemire (story), Mikel Janin (art), Jeromy Cox (colors)

The Story: If people want Pandora’s Box this much now, imagine how they’ll feel when they find out what’s inside.

The Review: Even though I’ve claimed that a big part of my reviewing process is to try to figure out the writer’s intention before making a judgment about his product, this process is sometimes closer to divination than analysis.  It’s actually quite difficult to confidently predict what’s part of the writer’s original conception and what’s a marketing/editorial ploy.  Subsequently, I’ve gotten in the habit of assuming everything is intended by the writer unless indicated otherwise.

Now, don’t hold me to it, but I have a strong suspicion of marketing and editorial powers at work in this storyline.  Admittedly, that conclusion is a bit complicated by the involvement of two writers, which always muddies up the direction of a story.  Still, I can’t shake the feeling that Trinity War started off as much more modest idea than it has since become, that it was perhaps never meant to accommodate three Justice Leagues at once—at least, not in their current state.

I have little evidence for this except from the story itself.  Neither Johns nor Lemire have made good use of the characters at their disposal, moving them around and involving them in all sorts of activity without allowing them to do anything really memorable—that is, aside from Superman’s killing of Dr. Light, which is starting to feel more overblown with every issue.  It just strikes me as convoluted, ineffective, and juvenile, the way the Leagues have gone about trying to prove his innocence and cure his illness.  These are our finest, most competent heroes?

Juvenile seems apropos as a descriptor here, as Pandora’s Box proves not only corrupting to those who have it in their hands—except for the relic’s namesake herself, interestingly enough—but to everyone else around it as well.  Eventually, the entirety of Wonder Woman’s team (with the exception of Zatanna) falls prey to selfish brat within themselves.  You expect that from Shazam (“I’m tired of everyone telling me what to do!”), but even the usually mature Frankenstein taps into his jerky side: “I am the only one who’s [sic] heart is pure enough to withstand—withstand—sinners…abominations.  All of you!”

This all seems to be one big distraction, a way for Lemire to stall for time as the story heads inexorably towards September’s Forever Evil event.*  You do realize what that makes Trinity War  don’t you?  One overlong, overhyped, and overelaborate teaser.  We’ve had so many pointless exchanges and battles on this series, few of which have actually gotten the story anywhere.  After five issues, we still don’t have a sense of the Secret Society’s long-term aims, nor much of an idea of why the Trinity of Sin had to get involved, nor how the plot got this messy in the first place.

In the end, this issue bears only one very modest, strawberry-sized bit of fruit: the revelation that Pandora’s Box is “not a prison…it’s a doorway!”  To which your response will most likely be, So what?  Even if the next chapter concludes with the Leagues being jettisoned through the Box to some other world, leaving Earth free for the villains to take over, as DC has been advertising, that’s only leaves us with a premise for a new storyline, not a resolution to the current one.  Think of how you’d feel if Marvel had somehow spread the events of the first chapter of House of M across six issues.

Janin’s art is solid enough, but there’s something inescapably artificial about his art.  I don’t know if it’s Cox’s colors, which are generally pleasant-looking though rather clayish in tone, or if the highly posed postures and expressions of the characters, but I always feel very aware of that I’m looking at something unreal with Janin’s work.  This seems to be an entirely personal hang-up of mine, however; I imagine the average reader will have greater enjoyment of the art.

Conclusion: If I had any optimism that Trinity War might reignite my interest in Justice League Dark, it is deeply disappointed by this uneven, flat, largely aimless read.

Grade: C-

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * And may I just say how lame Forever Evil sounds?  Exactly which middle-schooler did DC consult for that name?

- Um, isn’t Deadman supposed to be invisible to people except for those with magic power?  On the other hand, they are inside the House of Mystery…

- Amanda couldn’t have made herself sound any more unconvincing than with her emotional response to Green Arrow’s accusations regarding the dead A.R.G.U.S. soldiers: “These were my people…my family!”

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