Okay, yeah. This is really quite bad, isn’t it?
As the Witching War rolls on, things continue to get worse for Wonder Woman and the Justice League Dark. Frankly, it seems like absolutely nothing is going right. The villains keep escalating the scale of their own threat and making everything exponentially worse, while the protagonists flounder around, running from symptom to symptom unable to even consider the actual disease. This is a tone drawn straight from the ongoing narrative of Scott Snyder’s Justice League, which James Tynion IV has written and cowritten throughout its run — it’s obviously intended to feel similarly hopeless. Unfortunately, this tone for the story isn’t new or unique to this arc of Justice League Dark — it’s wholly reminiscent of just two arcs ago, when The Witching Hour just had everything consistently get worse for the team until the Otherkind were released. While the book is still well-written and the antagonists are compelling and memorable in their own right, there’s just this constant escalation of the stakes to a point where any threats lose their meaning, combined with an overbearing sense of hopelessness that makes the whole story feel pointless. If we know things are just going to keep getting worse until the story ends, we also know at a certain point it’ll bounce back and be undone. Superhero comics will oftentimes temporarily rock the boat, but lasting significant change is all but impossible.
So tell me, Diana. What are you willing to offer your ultimate destroyer?
Despite this (albeit fairly massive) complaint, this issue still manages to be properly enjoyable. A major part of this enjoyment is that Tynion is able to put Wonder Woman in moral quandaries that don’t feel like the only out is to undermine the core of the character. This isn’t Zack Snyder making Superman kill Zod to save a group of civilians or let his father die just to avoid being seen as Superman – Diana’s compromise comes from desperation and her innate trust for all. This obviously immediately backfires upon her, but Diana making a mistake out of her genuine love and trust for all living things and a desire to find balance rather than eradicate her foe feels far more in character than most moral failings other writers try to give her.
Tynion and Alvaro Martínez Bueno have done an absolutely superb job creating the tone for the book — the art is gorgeous and detailed, making the more horror-ish elements pop. They’ve also been great at making the Otherkind seem properly horrifying from the very beginning, both in appearance and in action. The Upside Down Man, despite being a fairly standard design, ends up being a terrifying entity every time he appears. This isn’t just because of how unnerving Martínez Bueno makes him look — Tynion writes him as shrewd as Lex Luthor, as unpredictable as the Joker, and as inevitable as Darkseid. His negotiation with Wonder Woman and the way he immediately takes advantage of the terms of their agreement is one more bit of character building for the leader of a group of antagonists that have been memorable and striking from their first appearance.
Ultimately, this book’s greatest weakness is its inability to convince the audience of the weight of its conflict. Tynion is able to sell the internal struggle of the characters, especially Wonder Woman, but the external conflict and overall damage being done to the world just never lands properly. As it’s been for a little while now, Justice League Dark is a character book wearing the clothes of a team book. I’m still definitely enjoying this book and excited for the rest of the arc, but in all honesty the change in writers is something the title really needs.