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Synopsis "War For The Books of Magic Part One" (20-pages)
Doctor Nommo Balewa, alias Doctor Mist, was a medic working at a refugee camp in Northern Uganda alongside his wife Mosa, a nurse. Nommo turned to magic looking for a way to resurrect Mosa after she was killed in the civil war. The sorcerer Felix Faust offered to share with Mist the Book of Death, one of four Books of Magic, in exchange for help finding the entire set. Mist infiltrated A.R.G.U.S. and appeared to help Constantine’s group until they had opened the box which contained the Map of the Books’ location. Mist them knocked-out John Constantine. The rest of his team arrived just in time to see Mist and Faust teleporting back to their unseen collaborator with the Map.
Steve Trevor accuses Constantine of bungling the entire operation, but they have no time for recriminations. Constantine caught a glimpse of Slaughter Swamp on the Map, but Zatanna’s spells show that Mist’s mystical signature has returned to Faust’s temple in Peru. They agree to split their efforts and investigate both locations. Constantine and Black Orchid (along on Trevor’s orders) will investigate the swamp while Zatanna and Deadman will investigate the temple. In London, Timothy Hunter explains to Madame Xanadu how he shaped all the magical energy he possessed into a tangible form, a flaming eagle, which he then exorcised from himself. Xanadu leaves him, but she feels helpless without a clear vision to guide her.
Mist and Faust meet the unidentified third member of their conspiracy at Faust’s Peruvian temple. He has the same double-headed dragon tattoo as Constantine and warns them to leave John and Zatanna to him. They will split the Books of Magic between them – Mist gets the book of Death, Faust the Book of Chaos, and third man gets the Books of Order and Life. Faust opens the Map and discovers that the Books are in the legendary land of Nanda Parbat. The third man then sends Faust to London to deal with Xanadu, while Mist remains with him to prepare for Zatanna’s arrival. However, his plans change when Faust tells him that Constantine now controls the House of Mystery.
John Constantine and Black Orchid are using the House to travel through limbo to Slaughter Swamp. She asks him about his relationship with Zatanna. John says they use to be closer, but he was responsible for her father’s death by getting Zatara involved in the battle that killed him. They investigate the Swamp, but walk into a trap and are confronted by Black Boris (“Cannibal King of the Fire Trolls”). Meanwhile, Zatanna and Deadman are moving through the Peruvian jungle — with Deadman flirting as they go — but, they run into the massive living tree of Blackbriar Thorn. In limbo, Faust’s backer pays a visit to Doctor Occult in the House of Secrets. He kills the older mystic and then takes possession of the House.
- Doctor Occult was in possession of the House of Secrets.
- The ritual from Swamp Thing #50 which resulted in the death of Zatara is still in continuity.
This is the first part of a new story arc called “War for the Books of Magic”, but it blends seamlessly into the previous “Black Room” story arc – to the point that they don’t even seem to be truly separate stories. Through the “Black Room” Lemire had focused on Felix Faust as the bad guy, but he now shows us that Faust is part of a larger conspiracy to seize control of the Books. The plot rattles along faster than it has done for a few issues and we get to see the War opening on several fronts. This leads to the classic Justice League trope of splitting the team into separate groups to combat different facets of the threat.
Artist Mikel Janin and colourist Ulises Arreola once again produce a fabulous looking book. I particularly like Ent work-up on Blackbriar Thorn. Lemire gives him a great tag line and I’m looking forward to how Zatanna and Deadman cope with him. The two sequences in Slaughter Swamp and the Peruvian Jungle are nicely handled. The backgrounds are almost monochrome, but are layered with different types of indistinct foliage. It gives the feeling of depth while not distracting from the foreground characters. I’ve never seen Black Boris before, but I get the feeling that he’s quickly going to become a fan favourite character for a lot of people.
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It’s as though someone literally had a toybox filled with almost eighty years worth of supernaturally themed DC character toys (including playsets) and just dumped them at Lemire and Janin’s feet. The fact that this book can contain such fan favorites as Constantine and Deadman right next to Doctor Mist and Blackbriar Thorn is a spectacle that simply has to be seen to be believed.
His [Janin's] Constantine is grungy and smug, his Deadman is ghastly and pallid, and his take on the old Global Guardians character Dr. Mist is at once mysterious and inviting, echoing the characters roots in Ramona Fradon’s gonzo, Fourth World-esque design, while also updating the character to fit amongst a team of psychics, shapeshifters, and ghosts.
Even though thereâ€™s a legitimacy to Dr. Mistâ€™s motives to help Faust, itâ€™s a little thin and kind of generic. I am glad that his reasons are covered in the very beginning of this book instead of it being revealed in a much later place in the arc, but for it to be summed up in one page and then have it be the reason why someone who isnâ€™t a bad guy taking the risk of giving really bad guys super powerful items kind of falls flat.
Lemire works these characters almost as if he created them himself. I have to wonder how many comics heâ€™s read starring many of these characters, especially Constantine and Zatanna, because I feel like heâ€™s just always right on target.
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Page 1. Doctor Mist makes a specific reference to refugee camps in Northern Uganda and to a civil war. There is a current civil insurgency running in Uganda and the surrounding countries created by a militant cult called the Lord’s Resistance Army. They’ve been accused of an entire litany of human rights violations and for widespread use of child soldiers. It’s the same environment that was the inspiration for Batwing‘s New 52 back-story.
Balewa references the “tribal magic of my ancestors”, but he doesn’t name the tribe.
Page 3. We’ve seen in previous issues that Mist’s speciality is absorbing an enemy’s magical attack and redirecting it elsewhere (usually back against them). There is a very nice example of that here where he turns back Zatanna’s backwards magic and we actually see the words displayed the correct way round (reversed backwards).
Page 4-5. Faust banished Deadman to the afterlife last issue, that’s left him weak due to the effort of coming back into the mortal world. Mikel Janin shows that nicely by illustrating him as thin and a corpse like in the first few panels of this page, but as the issue goes on he becomes healthier and healthier (for a ghost).
Page 9. Nanda Parbat is a hidden land in the Tibetan Himalayas first shown in Strange Adventures #205 (Oct 1967). It is broadly based on the legends of Shangri-La — and whatever hidden enlightened kingdom DC needs at the time. It is probably most famous as the home/domain of the goddess Rama Kushna, the blue-skinned woman who cursed/empowered Deadman.
Page 12. Constantine is relating events from Swamp Thing #50 in the mid-1980s. DC were running their line-wide Crisis on Infinite Earth crossover with all the super-heroes running around trying to stop the Anti-Monitor. At the time Alan Moore was writing Swamp Thing and he went off on a tangent with the meta-physical/mystical implications. A great primordial darkness/shadow was unleashed and threaten to destroy the spiritual realms. John Constantine was a supporting cast member in Swamp Thing at the time and he orchestrated the multiple defences against the Dark Thing.
That involved six magicians communing sÃ©ance like around a table in Baron Winter’s mansion. They were directing mystical forces on a higher plane and had to keep the circle complete to be successful. The power flowing through them was so vast that Sargon the Sorcerer spontaneously combusted. However, the circle held. Zatanna began to feel the heat build within herself so her father pulled the energy into himself and sacrificed his life to save her. Even then, still holding the hand of her father’s smouldering corpse, Zatanna had to maintain the unbroken circle until the emergency was over. Needless to say the event was rather traumatic for her.
Those sat around the circle are Zatara (in the top hat), Zatanna, John Constantine, Sargon the Sorcerer (in the turban/headscarf), Baron Winters (of Nightforce with his New 52 look), Mento, and Doctor Occult. Mento was Steve Dalton, the adopted father of Beast Boy. Whether this is him or a stand in character in the New 52 isn’t obvious, it’s certainly a different helmet/costume from the original Swamp Thing appearance. Doctor Occult is meant to be the one underneath Constantine’s hair. However, he’s coloured here in blue and not grey/brown as shown later in this issue. To be fair that’s probably to give a greater contrast between him and the foreground face of John Constantine.
Page 13. Slaughter Swamp is a mystical location near Gotham City. It is best known as the place where the pre-Flashpoint Solomon Grundy was created. Gangsters murdered a fellow gangster called Cyrus Gold and dumped his body into the swamp. The mystical energies of the waters saturated his corpse and brought him back as the undead swamp monster called Solomon Grundy. Post-Flashpoint Grundy instead exists just on Earth 2. However, it seems that his Swamp didn’t cross over with him.
Page 14-15. Blackbriar Throne first appeared in DC Comics Presents #66 (Feb 1964) as a Welsh druid who escaped slaughter by the Roman Legions by transforming himself into wooden statue. He lies forgotten for two millennia until he’s found by archaeologists and put on display in Gotham City. He reanimates and then battles Etirgan and the Batman. Thereafter, Blackbriar becomes a running enemy of the Justice Society and a general member of Earth’s evil mystical community. It now appears that he thinks he’s an Ent – the animated trees from the Lord of the Rings.
Page 16. Alec Holland is the Swamp Thing. As mentioned above John Constantine first appeared as a supporting character in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing series. He was the character who explained Holland’s transformation and who always seemed to be two pages ahead of everybody else.
Page 18. “Black Boris, Cannibal King of the Fire Trolls.” Is, I believe, new.
Page 19-20. The House of Secrets is the counterpart to the House of Mystery shown in Justice League Dark #10 (Aug 2012). The normal caretaker of this House was Abel, the brother of Cain. However, he doesn’t appear to be home.
Doctor Occult is one of DC’s oldest characters. He first appeared in New Fun Comics #6 (Oct 1935) and was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster three years before they created Superman. He and girlfriend Rose Psychic were raised by a cult called the Seven to be anti-occult champions and crime fighters. Despite the epitaph of “Ghost Detective” he wasn’t really a ghost (that may change now he’s dead). The symbol he holds up at his attacker is the Sign of the Seven and is a focus for this power. Doctor Occult and Rose Psychic were guides for Timothy Hunter in the third of The Books of Magic. They escorted him through the various extra-dimensional magical realms. What remains to be seen is how Rose will react to Occult’s death.