I had a so-so feeling about the DC Comics series Justice League Dark after DC Rebirth ended. Something about the series just didn’t quite work out for me, but I kept giving it more chances because the villains, at least, were intriguing.
But then I got to the end of the Upside Down Man’s story with Volume 4, subtitled A Costly Trick of Magic, and I find myself re-evaluating my thoughts on the book.
Up until this point, the main antagonist of the series are the Upside Down Man and the various otherworldly beings that came to Earth with him from an other-dimensional prison realm. These things have walked all over each and every one of the DC supernatural beings they encountered, sometimes fatally, always in a way that suggested they were unstoppable. Factor in as well that writer James Tynion IV tended to write the team as having their heads handed to them by whatever foe they faced until they tapped some magical potential in the last chapter to finally prevail. Considering this team included the likes of Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing, and Zatanna, that seemed really weird.
This arc, perhaps because Ram V is now listed as a co-writer, showed the team finally coming across as competent. Yes, that means they still have to struggle, but they never seem outclassed. Considering the team by this point includes Dr. Fate in two different incarnations, Detective Chimp, John Constantine, Man-Bat (the scientific consultant), and the three heroes mentioned above, that helps. The team managed to put together the various clues and powers needed to challenge the Upside Down Man in his own realm, mostly due to the fact that magic both has a cost that must be paid but also requires belief to work at all. With some help from Madame Xanadu, Animal Man, and even Zatanna’s dead father Zatara, this is a strong team that finally looks strong.
Again, that doesn’t make the Upside Down Man a pushover. It just means his defeat feels feasible and not just some dumb luck in the narrative because, well, it’s their book and not his.
The bottom line here is I finally felt the series was doing what it should. The character interaction worked. The heroes seemed heroic. Every character, even Man-Bat who has no magical powers, has something to do. The Upside Down Man’s story was more or less explained on what exactly he was, and his weaknesses, never seen before, worked. Plus, considering this trade actually had two storyarcs, it helped that the first, showing the various Parliaments of Life finding a new balance and the return of Swamp Thing, and the finale comes across as something set up from the very beginning as a result. The point is, I finally and unreservedly liked a Justice League Dark trade, so I will be happy to read more and not quite so reluctantly like I did before.
Granted, I didn’t care quite so much for how all the heroes each gave a long speech to the Upside Down Man in the end as that seemed a bit much.
9 out of 10 fungus attacks.
Better Call Saul “JMM”
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Noteworthy Issues: Unstoppable Doom Patrol #2 (April, 2023)