The conclusion to “In the Dark,” the opening story of “Justice League Dark,” is surprising in the way that it subverts the usual concepts of heroism and team-building. By this point in the ‘origin story’ of a superhero team, the members will have united to fight their common threat and, once defeating it, realize that this little team they’ve formed is pretty great and should continue. That doesn’t happen here. Instead, what we get is the singular triumph of one man despite the best efforts of his supposed teammates and a splintered group of individuals who want nothing to do with one another. It is both an impressive feat to pull off and the logical endpoint (or, jumping off point perhaps?) of this series.
The Enchantress is on a magical rampage, destroying everything in her path to get June Moon, her host of sorts, back. John Constantine recognizes this and sets about putting the two back together despite the protests of Deadman. Every other character is cast aside and contributes nothing. The level of subversion of usual team dynamics here is high: only one ‘member’ accomplishes anything, while his ‘teammate’ goes to the length of possessing him with the goal of killing him to stop him from saving the world. Constantine is a cold man that does what’s necessary even though it’s not ‘nice.’ While this goes on, the rest of the ‘team’ gets caught up in their own attempts to stop the Enchantress, ultimately accomplishing nothing.
The coldness of their victory and their reaction to the revelation of how the Enchantress and June Moon were separated works for and against the comic. As an individual issue and conclusion to a story, it’s gripping and surprising. Peter Milligan doesn’t back away from hard choices or nasty characters, destroying a team that never actually formed. 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. All of the brazenness of this issue will be dialed back to satisfy the needs of the continuing adventures of this dark Justice League despite this issue showing why such a team wouldn’t work. In essence, this issue is such a definitive conclusion, both literally and conceptually, that it makes the prospect of another issue unwelcomed.
Adding to the cold and disturbing elements of Milligan’s writing is Mikel Janin’s art, walking the line between excessive realism and fantastic visual flair. Deadman is almost grotesque in the way he looks, while Constantine has the menacing sneer he’s known for. The appearance of Deadman to stop Constantine from saving the world parodies the usual superhero flying in to save the day shot with Deadman looking more villainous, and rightfully so. 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.
It seems unfair to praise a comic for its boldness and willingness to subvert conventions before condemning it as a dead end issue for the series. But, that’s exactly what “Justice League Dark” #5 is. Any sort of follow-up will seem disappointing after a finish like this, like a surrender of principles set out here against the entire concept of the comic. A natural jumping off point.