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Synopsis "In The Dark Finale: There was a crooked man" (20-pages)
Madame Xanadu ripped the Enchantress from her mortal host, June Moone, and set in motion the deadly events which have gradually brought together a group of damaged magicians to undo her meddling. The nightmarish chaos caused by the Enchantress’s poisoned magic continues to spread as the Resurrection Man, Frankenstein, and Animal Man face the consequences across the world. Unconnected to them, the Enchantress’s monster – a giant comprised of the bodies of hundreds of June Moone and Enchantress simulacra closes in on the real June Moone. She is saved at the last moment by John Constantine who pulls her into a magical circle.
Xanadu has finally brought Deadman, Rac Shade, and Zatanna together to help her, but Deadman is worried about June Moone and leaves without hearing Xanadu out. With no options left Rac Shade teleports himself Zatanna and Xanadu to the Enchantress battle. They encounter the storm of rotting teeth which had earlier defeated the Justice League (in Justice League Dark #1 (Nov 2011)). Shade’s reality warping vest keeps the maelstrom back for a moment, but the Enchantress pulls the memory of Kathy from his mind and taunts him with images of her. The shield around them begins to collapse forcing Zatanna to improvise. She grabs Shade and forcibly kisses him, demonstrating the reality of herself against the illusion of Kathy. However, no sooner has Shade recovered than Zatanna and Xanadu fall to more of Enchantress’s illusions. Shade is aided by the last minute arrival of Mindwarp’s insubstantial seizure-self which is not effected by the maelstrom.
Constantine talks with June Moone and learns that she has the nursery rhyme about a crooked man going around in her head. He recognises it as the spell Madame Xanadu used to separate June from the Enchantress. She has been unable to remember the complete rhyme because it causes her pain. However, Constantine knows it and begins reciting it in order to rejoin her with the Enchantress and stem the chaos. June pleads with him to stop, but Constantine contends that it the only way. Deadman appears and tries to stop Constantine by possessing him. However, he is immediately forced out of Constantine’s body by the filth and darkness he finds there. That distraction is enough for Constantine to finish the rhyme and the spell.
Suddenly everything changes. The maelstrom of teeth, the simulacra, everything conjured by the Enchantress vanishes. That includes poor June Moone. The sky clears and the magicians find the Enchantress, whole again, sat on the ground watching them with a puzzled expression. She has no memory of what has happened. Later, after Xanadu has moved the Enchantress to a secret place where she can heal in peace, the magicians meet at her Parlour. Deadman demands to know where June and the Enchantress are, but Xanadu refuses to reveal their location. She says that she unleashed the Enchantress because she saw in her cards that the future was even darker unless she could somehow bring them together as a team. An angry Constantine kicks over her cards and then leaves with the other disgusted magicians. Xanadu is left looking at the scattered tarot cards, but even then she cannot resist the temptation to turn them over and prophetess what the new future may bring.
This is the final part of “In The Dark”, the opening arc in Justice League Dark. Writer Peter Milligan has orchestrated a scenario that forcibly brings these individuals together in a manner that they would not normally choose to be part of. None of them are natural team-players so this sleight of hand is needed to turn them into a team. It could easily have been contrived, but Milligan has handled it masterfully. We’ve seen the characters individually, then as different pair combinations, and now finally in this issue we see them come together as a group. However, even there they don’t work as a single group. Xanadu’s own attempt to intervene with a group fails. It’s John Constantine alone, who has been moving diagonally to Xanadu’s plans, who shuts the Enchantress down.
This portrayal of Madame Xanadu matches that we saw in Matt Wagner’s late Vertigo series and in her Demon Knights appearances. She may have all this precognition, but she has real judgement problems. Double dating Jason Blood and Etrigan, need I say more. Xanadu is just as flawed as the men and women she tries to bring together. However, I’m not really sure what the point of Mindwipe is. The character just comes across as some odd bloke that Rac Shade knows. Even his last minute arrival is a bit pointless. Maybe Milligan would have done more with him if he knew he was going to stay on the series. The one character that sparkles all the way through is Constantine. As I wrote in last issue’s review, he’s an s.o.b., but he gets results.
Over this arc Mikel Janin’s art has grown in leaps and bounds, and it was already pretty good to start with. I think the high light of the entire series is the sequence with June being chased by the Enchantress golem and the swirling storm of bodies surrounding Constantine’s circle.
Surveying the Internets
The shape of this story vexed some reviewers who felt that Milligan has written himself into a corner. Chad Nevett (CBR) wrote that:
As an individual issue and conclusion to a story, it’s gripping and surprising. [...] But, as the end of the first story arc of an ongoing series, it immediately puts the title in a position where it will have to backtrack immediately next issue.
While Tom Vinton (Player Affinity) sets out what this series still needed to achieve:
We have yet to see if Milligan can bring these characters together in a cohesive way or if it is just going to end up being a book with two many singular protagonists. Whether you want to see this as a weakness or a point of potential is up to you, but I certainly can’t wait to see what comes next.
Mikel Janin’s art was generally well liked. ACB praised that,
Every single page pops with amazing images of characters or monsters. I honestly can’t think of anyone else that could do this series better than Janin. I almost don’t want to see any of these characters drawn by anyone else.
And Chad Nevett (CBR) saluted the detail Janin brought to his work:
Even small things like the changing size of the gutters between panels as the climax approaches show the effort and thought Janin puts into his pages.
Maybe the last word has to go to Jesse Schedeen (IGN) who observed that,
The book isn’t afraid to be weird, and that’s rarely a bad thing.
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Page 1. Each of the characters shown here have their own titles in the New 52. Mitch Shelley is the Resurrection Man, star of the series by the same name. He had a fan-favourite series about 10 years ago, his return was one of the surprises of the New 52. He is a super-human who resurrects after each death with a new and unique set of superpowers. Frankenstein is Frankenstein’s monster, immortal and now working for a covert US Government agency called SHADE which deals with the weirder threats towards the USA (even by JLD standards). Animal Man, like Resurrection Man, is an older cult hero who was brought back for the New 52. He was made popular by Grant Morrison and spent a long time in Vertigo before recently returning to the DCU.
Page 3. It could easily be read that John Constantine is the “Crooked Man” in the rhyme and the title of this chapter.
Constantine: “the circle was designed by John Dee in the 1600s when he wanted to keep the demon Choronzon away”. John Dee was an astrologer and scientist working in the Court of Queen Elizabeth I. He was rumoured to talk with spirits and wrote down notes from his spirit guide in a special angelic language. Like many real alchemists/astrologers he has had a lot of mythical baggage heaped on his history. The demon Choronzon was mentioned in John Dee’s writings and appears to be a chaotic force.
Constantine: “I’m called many things…” In the Books of Magic series, Tim Hunter is told never to ask a magic user’s name because names have power and such a request is considered impolite at the best. Instead one should ask what the wizard or magician wishes to be called.
Page 4. The name on the water tower says “Peters”. An allusion to the writer “Peter Milligan” perhaps?
Page 5. This is the same rotting teeth storm that the Justice League encountered in Justice League Dark #1 (Nov 2011).
Page 14. Deadman is ejected from Constantine’s body. There has, depending on how much of his history is intact, been some interesting things in John Constantine’s body. He once received a had a blood transfusion from a demon called Nergal and that taint was certainly enough to cause the feasting “King of the Vampires” to recoil in pain in Hellblazer #69 (June 1993).
Page 17. Okay, storm of teeth has gone, but where are Superman, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg who were lost into it in Justice League Dark #1 (Nov 2011).