With Nabu seemingly defeated and sealed once again within the helmet, Wonder Woman must find a new person fit to bear the mantle of Dr. Fate. The survival of the Multiverse hinges upon it. Unfortunately, the two most qualified individuals for the job, Kent Nelson and Khalid, are not interested in the Lord of Order’s power. Meanwhile, Zatanna’s eye-opening encounter with Mordru has left her with more questions than answers regarding John Constantine and her father. What secrets could John Constantine possibly be keeping from Zatanna about her father’s plans?
“John. I know this story. You don’t have to -“
Broken into three chapters, Justice League Dark #13 is a masterful retelling of Kent Nelson and Constantine’s origins. Some readers may side with Zatanna when she says that we already know these stories. However, Tynion IV’s skillful approach makes these origins enthralling. Through twisting what we already know, he provides new insight into each character while also pushing the narrative forward. Additionally, Tynion IV’s expert use of themes draws a previously unseen connection between these two characters.
The first chapter concentrates on Kent Nelson’s tenure as Dr. Fate. During this chapter, Nelson reveals that Nabu manipulated him into murdering his father. Afterward, Nabu would repay this loss by rewriting every molecule in his body, bringing him to his physical and mental peak. Given the lengths that Nabu went to ensure Kent would discover the helmet and become Dr. Fate, it is not hard to see this character as a villain. Additionally, Kent’s statement that it feels as though there may never have been a choice in putting on Dr. Fate’s helmet is particularly insightful. Although the Lord of Order’s intention to save the world is good, his methodology could undoubtedly be considered villainous. Specifically, Nabu’s brand of order means the removal of free will, thereby allowing him to manipulate others.
Mark Buckingham’s pencils with Mick Gray’s inks and Adriano Lucas’ colors do an excellent job rendering this chapter. The artwork used during the flashbacks evokes the Golden Age of comics. Additionally, the team’s work during the present day does a good job of conveying the characters’ emotions throughout their conversation. Although I am not always a huge fan of heavier inks with more vivid colors, I do think that it does help to maintain consistency for visual tone between chapters.
Focusing on John Constantine’s failed exorcism at The Casanova Club, this issue’s second chapter is easily my favorite. During this sequence, Constantine reveals that Zatanna’s father, Zatara, had recruited him from the mental institution and made him do his dirty work for years. When probed for further information, John states that he can’t say anything due to a spell placed on him by her father. Zatara has been manipulating Constantine, using him as a pawn to investigate a magical crisis while keeping Zatanna out of the loop.
Sampere’s pencils with Albarran’s inks and Lucas’ colors are perfection in this chapter. The muted colors and darker inks do a great job illustrating the two characters’ emotional turmoil. Additionally, Sampere’s artwork perfectly captures the frustration and struggle for each of these characters. Like the previous chapter, the artwork evokes the era of the character’s creation during the flashbacks. In these panels, I feel like I am reading a comic book straight from the 1980s. Additionally, I must give the art team props because their work on the demon has given me more nightmare fuel. What makes these pages perfect is that they never lose that sense of horror that is inherent in Constantine’s origin.
Although the artwork is excellent, I think what truly sells this sequence is Constantine’s introspective narration. Constantine states, “I just wanted to prove to my friends that I was some kind of exorcist straight out of the movies.” This dialogue gives a great deal of insight into Constantine’s motivations at the time. His motives for saving the girl were not altruistic; he only wanted to show off to his friends. These moments of introspection help to illustrate his sense of remorse, as well as his growth as a character. Additionally, when Constantine states, “You should kill me for all the things I’ve done. It’d be a relief, honest. All the things he made me do and all the things he didn’t,” we genuinely get a sense of Zatara’s manipulation without the complete removal of his free will.
“It was scraps of papers, and dusty old grimoires telling me and my mates that if you had the balls, you could boss around the worst kind of dark forces.”
One of the things that I love most about this issue is that Tynion IV uses the idea of manipulation as the connective tissue between these stories. Given the nature of these two characters, one might find it hard to reveal a connection beyond magic. However, Tynion IV’s use of manipulation as a theme expertly draws parallels between Kent Nelson and Constantine. Each “mentor” manipulated both characters into doing bad things for the greater good. I think this theme is perfect given the last arc’s exploration of the Lords of Order and Chaos. Every magical being manipulates reality. Where the Lords of Order use scrolls and spells to ask for permission, the Lords of Chaos exert their will. The notion of manipulation helps maintain a narrative theme as we progress into the next storyline.
Trust me when I say that this is no manipulation: Justice League Dark needs to be in your pull list. Justice League Dark #13 is a masterful retelling of Kent Nelson and Constantine’s origins that provides new insight into the characters while pushing the narrative forward. Tynion IV’s work with manipulation as a theme serves wonderfully as the connective tissue between each chapter in this book as well as the previous story-line. Moreover, the artwork continues to be top notch and expertly conveys the turmoil each character is experiencing.