fredag 8 februari 2013

Peter Milligan & Mikel Janin: Justice League Dark Vol 1: In the Dark

OK, so everything's falling to pieces, right? There's this young woman on the run from monsters and stuff, and she keeps getting killed, right? Only it's not actually her getting killed, but the world is obviously seriously out of whack, an so's Shade, the Changing Man, by the way: he keeps creating women that aren't really real, and his relationships with them always end up sour, not just sick – but he doesn't seem able to help himself.

The gorgeous cover art by Ryan Sook raised my expectations to quite unjustified levels.

It seems that that describes the Enchantress as well; apparently she's gone mad, and her madness is rippling through reality, tearing it apart. Thus, the Justice League has sent its heavy-hitters – Superman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg – to deal with her. They didn't think it necessary to let their magical expert Zatanna tag along, though, and are swiftly – far too swiftly and easily, IMO – defeated by a swarm of flying teeth. They are not heard from again for the rest of the book. Apparently, a lethal threat against the world, a threat strong enough to dismiss Superman, Wonder Woman and Cyborg with ease, doesn't warrant the JLA's attention anymore.

So Zatanna decides to have a go at the Enchantress herself. Meanwhile, the young woman being hounded and killed – or rather, simulacra of whom are being killed – finds Boston Brand, Deadman, and asks him for help. Since he's just offended his girlfriend Dove by making some somewhat kinky sex suggestions, he's currently quite free to help June, as the young woman called. More help is in the offering, it seems: Madame Xanadu is trying to gather a team of supernatural heroes to fight the Enchantress. Unfortunately, they're mostly not really all that eager to join – and besides, it seems Madame Xanadu is also simultaneously egging the Enchantress on in her madness and destructivity.

Anyway, Zatanna goes to face the Enchantress alone and is handily defeated. She's saved from the protective coma she puts herself in by John Constantine, whom she's apparently had it off with in the past. They argue, he disappears, and for some undisclosed reason Zatanna then feels it would be a good idea to have another go at the Enchantress – alone.

Etc. Credibility basically falls apart at a very early stage in this book. I can accept a person being pursued by demons and being repeatedly killed while not actually dying; after all, I'm a pretty seasoned superhero comics reader, but the JLA just walking away from an obviously dire threat to the world, that's just not on.

And it doesn't get better, as Zatannas unexplained desire to go and get her ass kicked once more by the Enchantress illustrates. The story is told so disjointedly that there isn't time to do the character development Milligan seems to want to do; for example, when he introduces the characters' sexuality in the story, it generally comes off as more kinky and tacky than interesting (the exception being the obviously desperately lonely and unhappy Shade). Madame Xanadu's rationale for creating the very menace she then tries to gather people to fight remains unclear to the very end. The horrors created by the Enchantress are mentioned en passant in a matter-of-fact manner that is probably intended to make them all the more scary, but it doesn't work. The method used, brief summaries like "In a neighboring town, a shower of books in a dead language kill six people"sounds like something Grant Morrison might use (in fact, it sounds so Morrisonesque that I kept wondering if it was a quote), but Milligan's story is already so disjointed that it just comes off as something he threw in because he couldn't be bothered to make something more coherent.

It would have been more OK had Milligan been so cavalier with these parts of the story, the logical structure of it, in order to focus on the personalities and problems of his main characters, the mystical heroes who in the end have to go up against The Enchantress – but as noted, I don't think he really succeeds in telling a good story about them, either. He doesn't really manage to elevate it above "these are pretty screwed-up people", and people like Steve Gerber already did that over at Marvel as early as the seventies (and better).

The bland art does little to enhance the too-incoherent script.

Nor does the art manage to provide the stability and structure the writing is lacking. The first couple of pages actually look awful, with no elegant linework and colors that are just dull and bland, and while the art picks up after that, it never reaches the exquisite elegance of Ryan Sook's cover art. Worse, it never manages to take charge and push the storytelling, either, even though the script practically cries out for that sort of help. The art more or less illustrates the script, and since the script is lacking in vigor and drive, perhaps it is fitting that the art is, as well.

(The book lists no less than three editors for the original story; perhaps this is why the firm editorial hand this story seems to be crying out for wasn't there.)

I've read far better from Milligan, and Janin's character sketches at the end of the book show  ore promise than this, but regardless of the two creators' individual talents, this wasn't really worth it. Not recommended.

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