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- I am the demon N’aall. Due to a rather embarrassing set of circumstances I don’t care to relive, I am bound to Mr. Constantine… and to the House [of Mystery]. Now would you please get your feet off my table and show a little class?
Synopsis "The Black Room Part 2" (20-pages)
Previously in Justice League Dark #9 (July 2012): John Constantine has been convinced by A.R.G.U.S. leader Colonel Steve Trevor to get the “Justice League Dark” team back together. They were to investigate how Felix Faust had suddenly become vastly more powerful than he had been before and to find Doctor Mist (Trevor’s magical advisor who was captured by Faust). They trace Faust to Peru, defeat him, and free Doctor Mist. However, they are shocked to discover that the artefact Faust was channelling energy from is actually a magical map that shows the location of the legendary Books of Magic.
Constantine refuses to trust “a bunch of government suits with the map to the most powerful magical artefacts in history” so his Team vanishes before the A.R.G.U.S. clean-up crew arrives in Peru. Deadman possesses Black Orchid, Constantine’s A.R.G.U.S. minder, but he releases her on Doctor Mist’s say so and Mist convinces her that they have to see the investigation out before they return to base. The group needs to figure out their next move so they retreat to the House of Mystery, one of two spooky magical houses that stand at the intersection of all space and time. Constantine won the key to the House in a poker game — much to the indignation of the demon N’aall who servers as the House’s caretaker.
Madame Xanadu is watching Constantine from her Parlour. She had hoped that her apocalyptic visions would have lessened, but they’ve been getting worse and she sees a future version of John Constantine who has been totally corrupted by the Books of Magic. The Constantine in her vision tells her that there is only one person pure enough to possess the books and she must find him. Back at the House of Mystery, Constantine relates the origin of the Books and of the Map that leads to them. The Map was created by Merlin and Mordu in the Dark Ages, but it was believed destroyed before they could use it. Andrew Bennett has heard enough and walks away rather than help Constantine acquire more power.
Zatanna and Deadman think about leaving, but they arrive at the same conclusion as Black Orchid and Doctor Mist. They all realise that they cannot leave John Constantine loose to find the Books on his own. There is a sudden magical explosion as Constantine triggers a booby-trap on the map which releases the Demons Three into the House. Doctor Mist fends off the Demons, but they grab and map and flee. Constantine then realises that Faust has played them into positioning him he really wants to be. And at that same moment Felix Faust is in an A.R.G.U.S. cell block gloating to Steve Trevor about the booby trap. The Demons Three then burst into Faust’s cell saying that they’ve come for their master and for the Black Room.
- The House of Secrets and the House of Mystery are twin houses that exist in Limbo at the intersection of all time and space. Their location and interior architecture can change. A person that has been invited into the House can be summoned back there at any time against their will.
- The Eight-Dimensional Map was created by Merlin and Mordu during the Dark Ages. It took 40 days of diving to create the map, but Mordu tried to seize it for himself and it was believed destroyed after the battle between him and Merlin.
- The Demons Three are a “very ancient evil”. They predate, and are thus immune to, the backwards magic Zatanna uses.
In the second part of the “Black Room” we discover that John Constantine has property in limbo and that Felix Faust’s plans go further than had at first been suspected. This issue also handles exposition about the Books of Magic, the introduction of the House of Secrets and the Demons Three. This all blends together seamlessly to maintain the appearance that John Constantine actually knows what he’s doing until about page 14 when all he can say is “oop” and all hell breaks loose. Its nice to remember that this is a character who can easily get his companions killed.
The departure of Andrew Bennett is a pity as he could have made an interesting team member, but I get the feeling that this is going to be something of a trope as future members of the team rotate in and out. It also underlines the real reason that this group even exists. To keep John Constantine in check. Count the number of times that Constantine has made promises in this story so far — including a big one to Zatanna about her dad that he admits here was a lie — and you have to fear that he’s about to hurt a lot of people very soon.
Seeing the collision of the old Vertigo characters, like John Constantine and Timothy Hunter collide, with DC Universe mystics, like Zatanna and Faust, takes some getting use to. That Jeff Lemire, and before him Peter Milligan, have made it work so well is impressive. Mikel Janin’s art also continues to impress. I really like his and Ulises technique of grey washes with colour applied over the top. The back allay and the House look brilliant. I particularly like the sequence where Doctor Mist cuts loose – the black, green, and red patterns are really a unique character look.
Do you know what I really like about this book? All the characters act like adults – very manipulative, damaged, adults, but adults nevertheless. This is a great improvement to on the Justice League where the Leaguers are all running around like spoilt brats and hormonal teenagers.
Surveying the Internets
Changing writers on a title less than a year into its run often signifies that things are going horribly wrong, but happily Jeff Lemire’s arrival on “Justice League Dark” is quite the opposite. We’re two issues into his run on the series, and he and artist Mikel Janin are acting like they’d worked together since issue #1.
Page for page, Justice League Dark proves its worth of your dollars by advancing the plot, developing the characters, and creating a sense of dread that hangs over the series like a thick fog.
My favorite aspect of the bookâ€™s art has to be the House of Mystery, though. As I said, its only function in the story is as a setting, but what a setting it is. Both interior and exterior shots are consistent in making this place look like every haunted house from every ghost story youâ€™ve ever been delighted to be afraid of. This place oozes ambiance and there is a definite sense of the mysteriousness that it is named for.
Dear Lord — you never leave John Constantine alone with an unopened box!
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Page 3-4. The House of Mystery is a fine old DCU location. The House of Mystery and The House of Secrets were long running DC horror/sci-fi/mystery anthologies whose character changed with the era. The titles are most notable for a revamp in the late 1960s when DC hired Joe Orlando from Warren’s Creepy magazine. Under his editorship the houses in the titles because actual locations in the stories. They also gained caretakers — the caretaker of the House of Mystery was Cain and the caretaker of the House of Secrets was Able — who served the role as hosts who introduced each of the anthologies standalone stories.
When Neil Gaiman created his Sandman mythology he re-purposed many of DC’s obscure horror hosts and characters. Cain and Able were revealed to be the biblical duo who are permanently cursed to re-enact that crime over and over again. They were the Sandman’s servants and the Houses stood on the edge of the Dreaming. How that relates to the new merged DCU and Vertigoverse isn’t clear.
Page 4. John Constantine makes a deliberate point to welcome Andrew Bennett inside the House of Mystery. This may relate to an obscure bit of vampire lore which says that vampires have to be invited into a house before they can cross the threshold. The trope appears at times in Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Or it may just be Constantine being a prat.
Page 5. The original caretaker of the House of Mystery was a man called Cain, not to be confused the the vampire of the same name from a few issues ago. The demon N’aall does look a bit like the old Cain (glasses, manner, pointy hair becomes horns, etc). N’aall appears in Demon Knights #0 as a demon that sides with Etrigan during a failed uprising in Hell against Lucifer.
Page 6. Madame Xanadu’s pile of bodies reappears from earlier issues. It seems that the pile of bodies grows in proportion to the danger. Shade and Mindwarp are not longer there, but they are replaced by the additional bodies of Etrigan the Demon, Swamp Thing, Frankenstein, and Animal Man (the figure in the black tights).
Page 8. “There is only one pure enough to possess them” would probably be an allusion to Timothy Hunter, but we’ll come to that in a following issue.
Page 9-10. The New 52 Merlin as a character that has appeared in Demon Knights and Stormwatch as a man who ages backwards and appears to be repeatedly trying to create the perfect Camelot. Originally Mordu was a sorcerer from the Legion of Super-Heroes which is set a 1,000 years into the future, but Geoff Johns JSA run revealed that he was also active during the present day. The first arc of Demon Knights featured them coming together to fight Mordu and his wife the Questing Queen. A battle between Mordu and Merlin would probably be spectacular.
Page 14. The Demons Three – Abnegazer, Rath, and Ghast. These three characters first appeared in Justice League of America (vol. 1) #10 (March 1962) alongside Felix Faust. Prior to their first appearance the Demons Three had been imprisoned by an undescribed alien race and Faust was seeking to free them by stealing the Green Bell of Uthool, the Silver Wheel of Nyorlath and the Red Jar of Calythos. The Demons Three appear larger in their New 52 incarnations. The Green Bell of Uthool is in A.R.G.U.S. possession and is kept in the Black Room.
Page 15. I believe Mr Von Eeden is a new character. However, take these character’s surnames together and you have Trevor Von Eeden. A comic-book penciller and artist. He may be best known for his 1980s work at DC and as the first artist to work on Black Lightning.
Page 17. The Demons Three were depicted as being of great antiquity with younger more Devil like demons showing them respect for this. This is reflected here when Mist calls them a “very ancient evil” and on the following page when one of them says that their lineage predates Zatanna’s backwards magic.