"Justice League Dark" #20 is in many ways typifying an argument that's started to rattle around in my head a bit over the past six months, but which has been hard to quantify until now. Namely, what's the point of this series? Ray Fawkes, Jeff Lemire, Mikel Janin, and Vicente Cifuentes haven't turned out a bad comic, but it is starting to become increasingly clear that this is a series in need of a stronger direction.
John Constantine, Madame Xanadu, Deadman, and Frankenstein fight monsters in Manhattan (plus guest-stars Swamp Thing and the Flash), and on the surface that sounds like it could be fun. At the same time, it's hard to get a strong grasp on why exactly these characters work together. The Flash at least stumbles into the problem, but it's a little odd when you consider that the guest star is the one that has the most concrete reason for appearing in the comic. Despite having been vested as a Justice League team by Steve Trevor some time ago, there still doesn't seem much more than a reactive nature to "Justice League Dark" #20 as well as the series in general these days; things roar up and come after the characters, which is how they end up on adventures, not because they're actively seeking them out. A group of passive characters isn't the most riveting hook for a reader.
I feel like Fawkes and Lemire try to work on that at least a little bit, which is a good sign. The Flash's revelation on how he found the rest of the Justice League Dark feels like a shift in why the team is together is just around the corner, and in doing so we might hopefully get a better reason for existence for this group of characters. And even when the overall setup feels a bit lacking, I do appreciate that Fawkes and Lemire are at least linking Doctor Destiny directly to one of the other characters in the comic, so that there's some sort of connection out there (even if we didn't initially know about it). So it's a start.
Janin's been joined by Cifuentes providing finishes for this story arc, and so far the collaboration is working well. I feel like Cifuentes is providing a slightly more rounded form to Janin's characters, but at the same time Janin's high level of detail hasn't been lost when the two work together. That final panel of Doctor Destiny and the character he's attacking is a good example; the pulled skin that stretches across Destiny's face is intricate and carefully rendered, while the other character's face is very cleanly drawn and expressive. I do think that some of Jeromy Cox's computer-rendered effects hamper the art, though; when Swamp Thing is attacked by Doctor Destiny, all detail is lost in that sickly bright red glow that over-saturates the panels. Less would have been more, there.
"Justice League Dark" #20 continues what feels like a real slow-down for the series. There's a possibility for a new direction around the corner thanks to what happens in this issue, but without it the book could be in trouble. I like the concept of "Justice League Dark," and in the past I've had enough fun that I've stuck around. But it's starting to feel a little thin, and if I'm noticing that, I can't be the only one. Here's hoping for something a little more juicy, and soon.