Here’s a challenge to anyone who has kept up with Justice League Dark: think about how you would explain the last two story arcs to someone who doesn’t follow the series. Maybe you would try to go into detail, in which case any attempt to describe the plots would get swallowed up in the New Agey mumbo-jumbo writer J.M. DeMatteis has brought to series since he took over from Jeff Lemire. Conversely, you could try to generalize, in which case it will quickly become clear that most every issue of this series has followed the same formula since the end of DC’s Trinity War event, with the team facing a series of existential threats all of which happen take the form of gigantic, easily tricked demons. I’ve defended Justice League Dark through its highs and lows, but issue #33 feels so phoned in that for the first time I’m seriously considering whether I want to keep the series on my pull list.
Even if this new story arc didn’t start with yet another return to the mystical mountains of Nanda Parbat—a setting the series has barely escaped since Lemire’s wacky New 52 retelling of Neil Gaiman’s Books Of Magic—it has the extra downside of focusing once more on the team’s least likable member, Deadman. I never understood Lemire’s fondness for the character, and DeMatteis is yet to do anything to change my opinion of him. Like Lemire and Peter Milligan before him, DeMatteis portrays Boston Brand as a po-faced, self-pitying creep who only sticks around to chase after doomed hook ups with the various women who cross the team’s path. The contrast between Deadman’s womanizing and his constant moralizing toward teammate John Constantine could be spun out into something interesting, but DeMatteis seems to think he’s really a sympathetic character. Apparently he doesn’t remember the incident earlier in the series when Boston possessed a woman and attempted to force Dove into an unwanted lesbian encounter.
There’s nothing else going on here that you haven’t seen played out over and over throughout the series. The team goes to Nanda Parbat, they all bicker, then get attacked by giant monsters bent on destroying their minds as well as their bodies. Even the “surprise” reveal at the end of the issue is recycled from a twist Lemire used earlier in the series, and played off as a single page gag. With Mikel Janin having departed to work on the new Grayson series, there’s no spectacular art to distract from the uninspired storytelling (though to be fair, his replacement Andres Guinaldo isn’t bad). I’d love to think that as this story progresses, we’ll get some twists on the formula that could reinvigorate the series, but nothing in recent issues has gotten my hopes up.
Justice League Dark is yet to become a truly bad book, but it gets more frustrating with every issue (especially with former co-writer Ray Fawkes doing such a vastly better job writing Constantine’s solo book). Its original premise—a super team stocked with classic Vertigo characters—departed with Peter Milligan, but even in its current watered down form, it could be so much better than it is. While I generally like J.M. DeMatteis, his hippy New Age take on magic often makes what should be a cutting edge book feel dated and hokey, and the fact that every issue feels as if it’s just different magicky buzz words plugged into the same script is quickly becoming unbearable. There’s never been a book that I wanted to like as much as Justice League Dark, but if this issue is any indication, DC isn’t particularly interested in making it likable.