Peter Milligan and Daniel Sampere's "Justice League Dark" #8 starts out promising enough with some fun back and forth between John Constantine and Boston Brand as they head into the land of the dead to seek out the soul of the recently dead (again) vampire Andrew Bennett.
Unfortunately, the story devolves pretty quickly from there into a confusing mix of too many characters and too much exposition, most of which feels forced. It's too bad because I'm hard pressed to think of a book with more characters I like and am highly interested in. In fairness, I'm also hard pressed to think of a more difficult book to write than one filled to overflowing with magical characters.
Magic can be so wishy-washy and unearned in stories, even in the hands of a careful writer. The stakes are easily driven so high that it's too easy to write yourself into a corner. Have a bunch of plot problems you can't solve? Magic them away! It's a common problem and I'm sorry to say that this issue of "Justice League Dark" falls victim to it especially hard. Almost nobody does anything of merit in the book. At one point Zatanna makes the bold decision that she's no longer going to wait for her death but instead face it. Mary Queen of Blood and Xanadu join her and I mentally cheered that we were going to see something actually happen. But less than a page later the three of them fold and escape again without ever having made this "big stand."
Sampere's art doesn't help matters either. Though the illustration work itself is frequently lovely, the storytelling is confusing and the artist too often opts for flashy pin-up type panels, rather than those that actually give us action and explain what's happening. Sampere's visuals play deeply into the worst stereotypes of magical characters -- people throw pointless energy around willy-nilly and it either does nothing or saves the day, but it all looks the same and thus has a relentless pointlessness to it that is maddening. Add to that Zatanna, Xanadu and Kathy looking almost exactly the same and Mary Queen of Blood's design not working at all when not drawn by "I, Vampire" artist Andrea Sorrentino and the book is an unfortunate mess.
Next month Jeff Lemire will be taking over writing tasks for this title, and I sincerely hope he can find a way to make "Justice League Dark" work. The character line up is an embarrassment of riches, but those characters come with a lot of power and thus they need a very careful hand. These first eight issues never managed it, despite some bright spots, but I look forward to seeing another writer try.