‘I’m afraid this is only the beginning’ -Zatanna, Justice League Dark #3

With horrors like the Upside-Down Man and the Otherkind invading, I can understand why the heroes of the Justice League Dark may be feeling apprehensive. However, for those of us living here on Earth Prime (Earth-33 in the orrery of worlds), where the trials and tribulations of superheroes are entertainment, I think it’s worth letting out a triumphant cheer at the promise of more exciting adventures courtesy of James Tynion IV and the JLD gang.

Before we get to this month’s adventure, we’re graced with another flashback. It’s Zatanna’s turn this time, and the main purpose of the scene is to remind us that even in Zatara’s day, all magic was borrowed from the sinister Otherplace. Impressively, Tynion simultaneously gives us a good idea of the relationship between father and daughter, and an insight into the magicians’ abilities as both stage performers and genuine sorcerers.

The rest of the book belongs to the Upside-Down Man, and though I wouldn’t like to meet him, he’s a pleasure to read about. Unlike the many manageable villains we’ve seen in comics lately, the Upside-Down Man earns the reader’s respect by tearing the Justice League Dark apart in unique, targeted ways, almost reminiscent of Batman using his contingency plans on the Justice League in the first issue of ‘Endgame’ (2014). He’s no cliché orator either; he’s incredibly creepy, sadistic and loquacious. He clearly enjoys his work and views his enmity with the JLD as a mere game. The worst thing I can say about him is that if you review that lists of qualities, it seems he’s somewhat similar to the Joker and The Batman Who Laughs. The other thing I didn’t quite get about him is his motivation; he tells the League he’s come to punish the world for stealing magic but he seems to have plenty of his own so is he just being petty?

Despite this momentous threat, there are still moments of levity this issue, no mean feat in such horrific circumstances. Also, though they’re a team of misfits who have only just come together, the Justice League Dark are full of compassion for one another throughout the issue.

Spoiler

More miscellaneous matters of interest I encountered in issue #3:

  • Zatanna’s room features a poster of real-life magician Harry Kellar performing a trick called ‘The Levitation of Princess Karnac.’
  • Her bookshelf features Henry James’ ghost story, The Turn of the Screw, Edgar Allen Poe’s gothic masterpiece, ‘The Raven’ and the unsettling works by writer and illustrator Edward Gorey.
  • I like the way Tynion mostly keeps the team in the pairs they split into in issue #2. Zatanna/Diana, Bobo/Kirk, Constantine/Swamp Thing make for fun reading as their friendships are given space to grow.
  • Wonder Woman is already quite a complicated character so I think it will ruffle a few feathers when readers discover that she has secret, magical powers. Anyway, I suspect these will only last until the end of ‘The Witching Hour.’
  • Upside-Down Man admits he has Zatanna’s father captive, and taunts the League that they’ve ‘only delayed the inevitable’ when he is vanquished. It’s clear (and auspicious) that both characters will return. Also, I hope the JLD track down Nabu; that helmet has a lot to answer for!

About five pages into the book, Wonder Woman shows up and it was around this time that my socks were blown clean off by artist Alvaro Martínez Bueno. It’s like the first time you see Gal Gadot as the Amazon Princess; it only takes one look to tell this wise, beautiful woman is about to kick some ass. The sky roils overhead, her hair and cape billow in the breeze, her expression is defiant, her posture is protective and it looks as though she’s poised to spring. She’s also half in shadow, in keeping with Martínez Bueno’s cool aesthetic. In this world there is no Swamp Thing to use as photographic reference, yet Martínez Bueno manages to imbue him with realistic light and shade.

The opening page of the book is uniquely laid out, in the shape of an hourglass. The first panel mirrors the last, the second panel mirrors the penultimate one, and so on until they meet in the middle. It’s a nifty method of tying the art to the theme of language running forwards and backwards.

As with previous issues, Martínez Bueno revels in the supernatural horror, giving us detailed insight into what it looks like when someone melts, or is burnt to ash. The world bends around the Upside-Down Man and he pulls at reality like a curtain, causing folds in the people nearby; it’s a treat for the eyes. Plus, that has to be the creepiest cover I’ve ever seen!

Recommended if:

  • You haven’t had nightmares for a while and rather miss them.
  • You like gorgeous, atmospheric artwork.
  • You like reading good superhero comics. If you’re not already reading this series, then you should be!

Overall: ‘The Last Age of Magic’ concludes within only three issues and, thanks to Tynion’s tight writing, we’ve already met the heroes, we’ve got to know some of them better, we’ve been educated about the world of magic in the DC Multiverse (but not so much as to bore us with unnecessary detail), we’ve encountered a memorable new villain, we’ve been thrilled by some awesome action, and we’ve witnessed the set-up for the next arc. There’s no filler here; it’s all magic.

SCORE: 9/10

 



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