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Xanadu: Listen, I have a theory. You don’t have the powers these people have without paying a heavy price. You know what it’s like, to destroy anything innocent that enters your life? To destroy love? You know what that does to you? A kind of darkness envelops you.
Synopsis "In The Dark Part Two: Dark Matter" (20-pages)
Previously: Magical champions are being manipulated by the witches Enchantress and Madame Xanadu. The Enchantress has been split from her mortal alter ego, June Moon, and has devolved into a bitter and hateful maelstrom of magic. She vanquishes the Justice League, but cannot find June Moon who has escaped across the country. Madame Xanadu’s cards have revealed to her the dark future that the Enchantress represents and she has begun drawing together a group of damaged individuals to seemingly oppose her.
Zatanna Zatara has gone to confront the Enchantress after watching her defeat Superman, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg on the League’s monitors. She finds a Midwestern town overwhelmed by vines and giant glowing ants. Enchantress’s voice calls out to Zatanna through a car radio and accuses her of doing something to her mind. She then “retaliates” by enveloping Zatanna with a wave of darkness. John Constantine has come to America to search for Zatanna after he was mystically teleported by her across Britain. He deliberately gets himself beaten-up and stabbed so that he can channel the pain into an invocation which will find her.
Dawn Granger is waiting in a bar for her boyfriend, the ghost of Boston Brand (alias Deadman), to join her when a handsome stranger starts talking to her. She initially brushes him off, but he reveals that he is actually Boston and has just possessed the stranger’s body. He thought that the borrowed body would allow him to by physically intimate with Dawn, but she is repulsed by the idea. The matter rapidly degenerates when the man’s wife turns up and accuses him of cheating on her. Boston tries to save the guy’s relationship and leaves with the man’s wife, much to Dawn’s confusion. He returns to her apartment later and swears that nothing happened, but they still row over Boston’s description of Dawn as “old-fashioned”.
June Moon then shows up at their door (as shown last issue). She asked Deadman to possess her, to check whether there is anything left of the Enchantress within her. He can’t find anything, but Boston makes the mistake of trying to talk to Dawn whilst still in June’s body. Dawn recoils and storms out. June then warns Boston that the Enchantress won’t rest until she possesses her again and that, by coming to Boston, she’s probably placed him in danger. As Dawn drives away, the Enchantress talks to her through her car radio. Dawn changes to Dove and flies above the Enchantress’s cloud of darkness and it passes her on the hunt for June Moon. Madame Xanadu watches the gathering heroes and talks to the Enchantress, goading her and provoking her to try harder in her attacks upon the broken heroes.
- Boston Brand burnt down his High School science building.
The future members of the Justice League Dark continue on their slow gathering as the Enchantress attacks Zatanna and June Moon talks to Deadman. There are a lot of moving parts in this story and Peter Milligan does an excellent job of keeping the majority of them in motion (did you realise that Rac Shade didn’t appear this issue). Erik Norris (IGN) calls it when he says “when you have a story that’s fundamentally this intriguing, it’s easy to forgive the slower pace of this series”. The same sentiment is echoed by Rebel Rikki (Nerdy Nothing) who writes:
Normally these slow-build arcs don’t do it for me – I generally don’t think it should take til the end of your first full story to establish your team – but when such solid attention is paid to characterization, I can’t really complain.
In another title, this same sort of slow pace have been frustrating, but Milligan and Janin take us on a path that appears obviously linear (separate heroes come together, they fight evil), but is actually more of a slow spiral as events revolve around and inexorably head towards the Enchantress. On this approach, Greg McElhatton (CBR) notes that:
What makes it work so well, though, is that Milligan does a strong job of giving everyone their own moment. From Zatanna’s early confrontation with the heart of the disturbance, to Deadman and Dove’s relationship woes, you quickly get a feel for each character and get a strong idea of how they’re going to interact.
The sense dysfunction around these off-beat characters is maintained through out the story and plays a strong part in the tone and feel of the series. Be it the odd physicality of Constantine’s magic or Deadman’s unwitting creepiness.
A counter-point to the acceptance of the slow pacing is given by Jason Clyma (Broken Frontier) who describes the repeated focus on the same sort of personal dysfunction for every character as “treading of water”. He concludes that:
If Milligan was using his time to explore interesting aspects of his team this pacing could surely be forgiven, but when each character does little more than take up space, it drags the book down to a snail’s crawl.
The Dawn Granger and Boston Brand romance is propelled into something that verges on the Gothic horror, a possessive ghostly lover with a little too much sex drive. Middle-Aged Geek Guy calls it a “post-modern episode of Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased).” The use of the Enchantress was a crazy witch caused several reviews, including Brian Cee Williams (Champion City Comics), to draw a parallel with the Avenger’s Scarlet Witch. The parallel is reinforced when the Enchantress refers to her “Hexes” (SW’s traditional power) being stronger than Zatanna’s spells.
Mikel Janin’s artwork masterfully complements Milligan’s script. His tonal work overlain with Ulises Arreola’s subtle colours create a reality which makes the dark shadows even more horrific and the bright mystical lights all that much more spectacular. I particularly like the parts where Constantine’s attacks are not identifiable and are just cyphers to move his part of the plot along.
How it has to be said, but Janin draws Dawn in costume for all of two pages and still manages to completely outclass Rob Leifeld’s recent work on Hawk and Dove.
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Page 2-3. Enchantress overwhelming a town with vines could be just another random occurance of her magic, but on an archetypal level it represents the vines that grew around Sleeping Beauty’s castle or Jack’s beanstalk.
Page 4. “Demons in the Darkness”. Darkness in the DC Universe has a very particular source. As shown in Justice Society stories by Geoff Johns and Starman stories by James Robinson the primaeval darkness that existed prior to the creation of the first light (“Let there be light!” and all that) was not entirely destroyed. It retreated to the edge of creation and became the plane/dimension/place called the Shadowlands. Some individuals like the Shade (the Starman version, not the Changing Man) and Obsidian (Alan Scott’s son) can access that place and use it to power their superhuman abilities.
Page 6. Joan Armatrading a British folk/blues singer who has been active since the 1970s. Her most successful album was 1980′s “Me, Myself, I” . The lyric “I am not in love, but I’m open to persuasion” is the opening line to Love and Affection, Joan’s first UK chart hit in 1976.
Page 7. Deadman: “I burnt down the science building”. I like this knod to the balance between science and the mystic, the man who rejected science becomes enveloped by the mystical.
Page 17. Dove has personalised number plates: DOV 51DC. The DC could stand for Washington, DC.
Page 18. “Avatar of Peace” – Dawn Granger and Hawk Hall are the superhero duo of Dove and Hawk. They were were created by a Lord of Order and a Lord of Chaos (incorporal mystical entities, the same race as Nabu who powers Doctor Fate) who had fallen in love and were determined to prove that that the two factions could work together. Hank and Dawn were then transformed into the warlike Hawk (the avatar of war) and the more pacifest Dawn (the avatar of peace). The duo currently star in their own series written by Sterling Gates and dawn by Rob Liefeld.