Despite the $4.99 pricetag, "Justice League Dark Annual" #1 was the top title on my list of must-read books this week. Jeff Lemire and Mikel Janin have completely won me over with their work on the monthly series, but the addition of Frankenstein and Amethyst couched in the promise of a conclusion to "The Books of Magic" story made this issue a must-have, must-read. Let me tell you this, gentle readers: it does not disappoint.
Not only does Lemire pour a dozen magic-brandishing characters into this issue, but he also adds in a number of scenes and a great deal of history, packing "Justice League Dark Annual" #1 so full of the very best the DC Universe has to offer right now that I would have paid an extra dollar (maybe even two!) to get this story. Thirty-eight pages gives Lemire enough room to remind readers of just how ruggedly charming Frankenstein can be, how vivacious Deadman should be and that whenever heroes meet they needn't necessarily fight, especially when confronted with a common threat. Despite their oddities and the extraordinary circumstances they face, the characters comprising the Dark team are remarkably human and enjoyable to read.
A great story, no matter how expensive, can certainly be crippled by patchwork art, but that hasn't been a concern on this series yet. Mikel Janin delivers panel after stunning panel of magical characters without resorting to pinup-filled splash pages or photo-traced figures. The splash pages Janin does deliver serve a purpose and enhance the story, but even the smallest of panels carries as much detail and measured beauty as those splash pages. Colorist Ulises Arreola's work melts into Janin's drawings and Rob Leigh's letters complete the visual presentation quite nicely. Janin is just as comfortable drawing an obviously uncomfortable Timothy Hunter running his hand through his hair as he is Frankenstein hoisting John Constantine up into the air by the neck.
Add pretty pictures to a great story filled with incredible characters and you've got me hooked. The only way to improve that package is to make the story thicker, which "Justice League Dark Annual" #1 does quite nicely. Even though this is the third installment of "The Books of Magic" story, the issue is completely approachable as though it were simply issue #1. What isn't addressed through the story itself is made clear in the various editor's boxes spread throughout the issue, helping round it out. The annual does not bring full closure to the Books of Magic plot, but it does offer a complete -- and completely entertaining -- adventure. We were just given "Justice League Dark" #13 last week and the annual this week, so it's going to be another four weeks before our next hit, but this story is strong enough to be read more than once in that span.