Justice League Dark #19 came out today, and with it, a new arc has started. And I just want to say now that I love Justice League Dark. It is my favorite team book at DC, and it is a lot of fun. At its core, the series is a fantasy adventure, using B-list and C-list characters from the magical side of the DC Universe. And I think more people should be reading it. So, to help anybody on the fence, here’s a breakdown of the series, in terms of story arcs, characters, and quality. But before any of that…
What is the Justice League Dark?
The Justice League Dark is a magical team, a group of supernatural heroes who protect the world from the paranormal threats that the regular superheroes aren’t equipped to battle. The team has a constantly changing roster, with a handful of permanent members and a bunch of rotating fill-ins. We’ll discuss the members of the team in a bit, but first, there’s another team I’d like to talk about.
The Creative Team:
Writer (Issues #1-#8): Peter Milligan
Peter Milligan is a British writer, largely famous for the work he’s done in the past 20 years such as the Vertigo series Shade the Changing Man, Batman, and X-Men. In DC’s New 52, Milligan has also wrote Red Lanterns up until all the Green Lantern Group books changed writers at issue #21, and he had a short run on Stormwatch. Milligan is not currently writing anything for DC.
Milligan’s run on Justice League Dark is, in short, probably why the comic isn’t very popular right now. People had lots of problems with his initial issues of the series, mainly that none of the main characters were all that likable. In retrospect, when you read volume 1 of the series, “In The Dark”, in full, it seems that Milligan may have had some kind of grand master plan that he never got to carry out. While I would have liked to have seen where his version of the book was going, I’m really not too broken up about the change in writers. Really, there were very few people upset by the change in general.
Writer (Issue #9-23): Jeff Lemire
Jeff Lemire is a Canadian author known for books like Top Shelf’s Essex County Trilogy and Vertigo’s Sweet Tooth. He has also been all over the New 52, writing fan-favorite book Animal Man, the first nine issues of Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., and took over Green Arrow with issue #17. He took over Justice League Dark with issue #9, turning it into one of the best books at DC. Lemire is a fantastic writer, with a real penchant for writing diverse, likable characters, and great relationships between those characters, and his involvement with this comic has been a godsend.
Jeff Lemire left the book after “Trinity War”, to go work on new projects, including the upcoming Justice League of Canada, due for release sometime in 2014.
Co-Writer (Issue #15-21): Ray Fawkes
Ray Fawkes is a Canadian writer who’s worked on books such as Vertigo’s Mnemovore and Oni Press’s One Soul. A friend of Lemire’s, he came on board to help co-write the series starting with issue #15, when Lemire started piling up too many titles at once. He also writes the very good modern Constantine series, and currently writes Trinity of Sin: Pandora. Fawkes is a very good writer, every bit as good as Lemire, and there’s been no noticeable change in quality to the series since he joined it, either good or bad.
Ray Fawkes left the book after issue #21, but is writing half of the “Forever Evil: Blight” crossover. He is contributing the Constantine and Pandora issues of the crossover.
Writer: J. M. DeMatteis (Issues #24-???)
J. M. DeMatteis is a bit of a living legend within the industry, most famous for the highly-acclaimed fan-favorite Justice League International comic he did with Keith Giffen back in the day. He currently writes the excellent Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger book, and is once again working with Keith Giffen on both the current Larfleeze book as well as the upcoming Justice League 3000 book. The man writes both comedy and drama fantastically, and seems to be focusing more on drama. He started writing the book during “Forever Evil: Blight”.
Artist: Mikel Janin (Issues #1-27)
Mikel Janin is a Spanish artist who’s done very little work outside of DC comics. At DC, his art credits mostly include Justice League Dark, as well as his work on Flashpoint: Deadman and the Flying Graysons. Janin’s art is fantastic, and I’d go on about it now, but you’ll see plenty of examples of it later on. But he’s been doing the art for the book since issue #1 (although there are a couple of issues where they’ve had to get fill-in artists), and it’s great. He left the series just before the end of “Forever Evil: Blight” in order to go work on Grayson with Tim Seeley.
Arist: Andres Guinaldo (Issues #30-???)
Andres Guinaldo’s been in the business for a few years now, working on books like Nightwing, Son of Hulk, and most prominently, Gotham City Sirens. Guinaldo will be took over art duties from Janín on the book with issue #30, after a couple fill-in issues by Vicente Cifuentes. He uses a slightly less-realistic, more stylized aesthetic with lots of little details that just makes everything look unique. It finds a happy medium between personal style and DC’s house style.
Starting a comic is hard, but individual stories tend to serve as good jumping on points. They are…
Volume 1: In The Dark (Issues #1-#6):
The origin of the team. When a powerful witch known as the Enchantress goes mad, and her magic starts wreaking havoc throughout the world, not even the Justice League is able to stop her. The immortal fortune teller Madame Xanadu brings together a group of magical misfits to stop the witch’s reign of madness: John Constantine, Zatanna Zatara, Deadman, Shade, and Mindwarp. These individuals must not join together only to stop the Enchantress, but also to stop a great evil Madame Xanadu has forseen coming to destroy the world. These six issues make up the first trade paperback volume of the series.
-Quality: “In The Dark” gets a lot of flak, and not all of it is ill-deserved. The characters are all whiny and unlikable. Zatanna’s magic is totally ineffectual, Xanadu’s a heroin addict, Deadman is a womanizing asshole, Shade is obsessing over his dead girlfriend, and Mindwarp’s inclusion is totally pointless. Constantine’s the only one who seems capable of actually getting anything done. That said, the story and central conflict is interesting, Deadman and Constantine have interesting character arcs, and as I mentioned earlier, it seems like Milligan had some grand master plan, and if he were allowed to continue the story, we’d probably look back on this first story arc and talk about how genius of a foundation it was.
Rise of the Vampires (Issues #7 and #8):
Rise of the Vampires is a crossover story arc that takes place in both I, Vampire and Justice League Dark. The reading order is JLD #7, I, Vampire #7, JLD #8, I, Vampire #8. As a part of Justice League Dark, it’s not a crucial storyline, though it is the story where Shade leaves the team. It’s really more important to the I, Vampire story arc, as it’s where some monumentally important events occur for that comic. If you want to read it, you can hunt down the individual issues, or you can pick up Volume 2 of I, Vampire. The Justice League Dark issues are also included in the Volume 2 TPB of Justice League Dark, but without the I, Vampire issues to provide proper context, are confusing and have no resolution. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t grab Volume 2 of I, Vampire unless you’ve also read Volume 1, because the whole comic is one continuous story.
-Quality: This is basically an I, Vampire story guest-starring the JLD. But since I, Vampire is really good, this story is really good. That said, this is an easily skippable JLD story.
Volume 2: The Books of Magic (Issues #9-#12, Issue #0, Issue #13, Annual #1):
Steve Trevor, the leader of the US Government agency A.R.G.U.S. (Advanced Research Group Uniting Super-Humans) approaches John Constantine with an offer. Get the Justice League Dark together again and help him retrieve his magical operative Dr. Mist, who’s been captured by Felix Faust in Peru, and recover the magical artifact Mist was looking for. If Constantine does this, he’ll get access to the Black Room, A.R.G.U.S.’s treasury of magical weaponry and artifacts. However, the JLD soon discovers that they now hold the key to finding the Books of Magic, the fabled source of all the world’s magic, artifacts too dangerous to let fall into the wrong hands. What ensues is a race between the Justice League Dark and a group of evil magic users for the most powerful magical objects in all of creation, and the stakes are the fate of the world.
-Quality: Jeff Lemire becomes the new writer in this arc, and he knocks it out of the park. It’s a much more fun, lighthearted story than Milligan’s was, but at the same time, the stakes seem higher, and the danger more real. There’s a lot of fun and action here, and the characters go from being a group of useless whiners to an actual team of heroes, working together, using their abilities properly, and just being likable. Deadman and Constantine are constantly taking shots at each other, Zatanna is tough and confident, Madame Xanadu is much more active and less worried about everything, and special guest Black Orchid is a lot of fun. The story is just great, playing with a lot of magical aspects of the DC Universe, and really just redefines the book as a fantasy adventure, rather than the grimdark neurotic tragedy Milligan was writing. And that’s the great thing about this. The book didn’t just undergo a creative team change, it basically turned into an entirely new comic. And I couldn’t be happier with the change.
The Death of Magic (Issues #14-18):
Technically, the Death of Magic starts with issue #15, but issue #14 is a fun filler that takes place between “The Books of Magic” and “The Death of Magic”, allowing the readers to catch their breath before jumping into the next big story. After the events of “The Books of Magic”, a couple members of the team get sent to another universe, and the other members have to follow them and retrieve them. Upon arriving in this other world, called Epoch, the team finds themselves being radically changed. Deadman is alive again. Madame Xanadu’s immortality disappears and she starts rapidly aging. Constantine can no longer lie. In addition to this, Epoch is a world of magic-hating scientists, who have outlawed magic and hunt down and destroy anything remotely magical, which does not bode well for the team. While some members of the JLD are captured by the science police, other members join an underground resistance of fairies, trolls, dragons, and other magical beings, trying to take their world back from the humans.
-Quality: “The Death of Magic” is not quite as good as “The Books of Magic”, but it’s still a good story. Half of it is this great story where the team members’ very natures have been turned against them, and they’re fighting against an enemy that’s basically designed to destroy them. The problem is that the other half of a story is a generic, somewhat boring “Chosen One” storyline, and the whole thing has a really boring Deus Ex Machina ending. Nothing really feels accomplished. There are still good moments, and the whole thing is entertaining overall, and I’d say it’s on par with pretty much any good comic book story. I wouldn’t blame Ray Fawkes either, which may be people’s first reaction seeing as this is the story arc where he joins as co-writer. I know that Fawkes is an excellent writer, and I think he and Lemire both just were working with a flawed premise. But like I said, it’s still good. It’s just a weak follow up to its phenomenal predecessor.
Horror City (Issues #19-#21):
Constantine gets attacked by the Cult of the Cold Flame, causing the House of Mystery to fall into the hands of the villain Doctor Destiny, who can alter reality with his magical dream stone, which brings peoples’ worst nightmares to life. Destiny uses the combined power of his dream stone and the House to flood New York City with nightmare constructs, and it’s up to the JLD, Swamp Thing, and the Flash to stop him.
-The Quality: There is nothing I love more than a good short comic book story arc, and this is definitely a good one. I find that comic book story arcs these days decompress themselves too much, and it’s a shame, because they just drag stories on past the point where they’re really interesting. Lemire and Fawkes haven’t been doing that, either here or over in Constantine, and I love them for it. The three issues are all clearly acts of the story, with issue #19 being an interesting set-up, issue #20 being really fun plot progression, and issue #21 being an epic climax, where Deadman, Xanadu, Swamp Thing, and the Flash all really get to strut their stuff. And I’m grateful for this, because usually the plot of Justice League Dark is “Something bad happens and Constantine fixes it with some help from the other characters”. This time, it’s “Constantine screws up and the JLD actually has to act as a team to take down the threat.” Doctor Destiny is probably the most threatening foe the team has faced so far, which is interesting considering the concentrated nature of this story. Milligan’s run had a witch whose influence was spreading all over the world and the ruler of all vampires. Lemire’s first arc was an 8-issue epic with multiple villains and tons of intrigue, and the follow-up had the team lose their powers and involved a literal war. And yet this feels like the most satisfying story. The threat is built up, and it’s built up well. There are great moments of both plot-progression and character development for members of the team that have kind of been neglected so far, and the short nature makes sure that it doesn’t overstay its welcome. On the visual side, Mikel Janin really gets to do some cool things with the nightmares Doctor Destiny creates, and there is just so much stuff to see in this story that is amazing. “Horror City” is my favorite story arc in the comic so far, and I hope to see more arcs of this quality in the future.
Trinity War (Issues #22 and #23):
Reading Order (Optional tie-ins in italics): Trinity of Sin: Pandora #1, Justice League #22, Justice League of America #6, Justice League Dark #22, Constantine #5, Pandora #2, Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger #11, JLA #7, JLD #23, Pandora #3, JL #23.
Shortly after Superman has an unpleasant encounter with Pandora, Shazam flies to Kandaq to bury the ashes of his foe Black Adam. However, Americans aren’t allowed in Kandaq right now, so the Justice League follows Shazam to try and stop him, which in turn has the US government’s superhero team, the Justice League of America, following to try and stop the Justice League. What ensues is Superman losing control of his powers, killing a member of the JLA, and becoming sick.
Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman split the leagues into three teams to try and figure out what’s going on. Wonder Woman’s team believes Pandora is responsible, and recruits the Justice League Dark to help find her, who are currently investigating the disappearance of Madame Xanadu. Batman’s team (which Deadman joins) is led by the Phantom Stranger to the afterlife to learn about the murdered man, and Superman’s team is guided by the Question to find out who the villain that corrupted Superman is. Can the three Leagues find out who’s manipulating them from the shadows? Can they clear the name of the world’s greatest hero?
This is a pretty good story, mostly because it’s a big crossover mystery. It has its highs and lows (and by “lows” I mean “any scene with Wonder Woman because Geoff Johns cannot write Wonder Woman”), but is really more of a Justice League story mostly written by Geoff Johns, with some JLD parts written by Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes. Overall, it’s enjoyable, but “Trinity War” is really a prologue for the first major crossover event of the New 52, Forever Evil.
Forever Evil: Blight (Issues #24-29):
Forever Evil is the first major universe-wide crossover event of the New 52. After the events of Trinity War, the three Justice Leagues have fallen. Their members have been taken down by the Crime Syndicate, an evil version of the Justice League from an alternate universe, who have rallied all of Earth’s villains and are taking over the world. In the main event comic, Lex Luthor is rallying some of Earth’s villains to fight back against the Crime Syndicate and reclaim the planet from these other-dimensional invaders. But the effects of Forever Evil as a whole will be seen in Justice League, Justice League of America, and of course, Justice League Dark.
JLD in particular is part of a whopping 18-part crossover across four titles. The crossover, “Forever Evil: Blight” is about a magical personification of evil arising while the Justice League Dark is out of commission, and John Constantine having to form a new Justice League Dark to stop them. In addition to this, Constantine is searching for the original Justice League Dark, which will take him and the others to the bottom of the sea, the top of the world, and even the gates of Heaven. Characters involved includ the Phantom Stranger, Swamp Thing, Pandora, and many more. Ultimately, it was a decent crossover. The parts with JLD, Phantom Stranger, and Pandora were good, but the Constantine issues left a lot to be desired. It’s an epic magical adventure with our heroes facing their most dangerous threat yet, and if that sounds like it’s worth reading, it probably is.
Nightmare Nurse Arc (Issues #30-32)
After “Forever Evil: Blight”, things have changed for the JLD. Zatanna has taken over the team, kicking out Constantine, as he can no longer be trusted. Deadman is emotionally vulnerable, both from losing what faith he had in Constantine and Frankenstein and Black Orchid both leaving the team at the same time. Nightmare Nurse is sticking around, and Swamp Thing finds himself dragged into the mix as the Nurse suddenly goes insane.
This is the series at a new high point. J.M. DeMatteis is free of the crossover’s restriction, and is able to play with these characters to his heart’s content. The drama and mystery reached new heights, and the story was overall very intriguing. The personality of the characters especially shines through. It’s a phenomenal starting point.
The Nanda Parbat Arc (Issues #33-34)
This is a two-issue story starring Deadman. After Nanda Parbat’s disappearance during the climax of “Blight”, Deadman finds himself being drawn to the mystical city and its new location in another dimension. He goes there, with the team following him shortly thereafter, only to discover that something horrible awaits him on the other side.
At the current time, only one of the two issues is out so far, so it’s hard to pass judgment on this arc.
So, I’ve talked about the creative team, and the story arcs, and the overall quality of the book. But what about the characters? As I mentioned before, Justice League Dark has a constantly changing roster. That said, there are five permanent members. A core group that always sticks around to give the series a sense of familiarity and consistency. And they are…
John Constantine is a British conman, a chain-smoker, a sorcerer, and an all-around bastard. He’s untrustworthy, puts himself above everybody else, and unfortunately, is almost always right. He’s the team’s leader, due to his magical knowledge, his experience in dealing with the occult, and his ability to make the tough decisions.
Constantine is a great character. While he’s got tons of magical ability, his real strength is his sharp wit and silver tongue. He’s always in some kind of amusing exchange with another character, always cool and collected, and always gets results. At least, in Justice League Dark he does.
As of the end of “Forever Evil: Blight”, Constantine has been kicked off of the team because of how untrustworthy and immoral he is. Unfortunately for them, he’s still involved with their business, even when he’s not welcome.
Constantine is most most famous for being the star of the highly-acclaimed Vertigo comic Hellblazer, which recently ended with issue #300. Hellblazer has always painted him as a more tragic figure, and while there are similarities between the old version of Constantine and this new one, the differences are pretty noticeable. He’s now the star of his own book in the New 52, Constantine, which started in March 2013. This version of the character is more true to his Hellblazer roots, but also stays in line with the character as he’s portrayed in Justice League Dark. This is probably because Constantine is also written by Ray Fawkes, and it pales in comparison to Hellblazer. Constantine has also made cameos in a lot of books in DC’s dark line, including Sword of Sorcery, Animal Man, and The Phantom Stranger. He also has his own TV show, Constantine, coming to NBC this fall where he will be played by Matt Ryan, and was the star of the panned 2005 film of the same name starring Keanu Reeves.
The daughter of one of the most powerful magicians in history, Zatanna Zatara is the mistress of backwards magic. By speaking words backwards, her will becomes manifest. Aside from Constantine, she is by far the most well-known character in this book, and is probably the main draw for a lot of people curious about the series.
In the series, Zatanna and John Constantine are in a sort-of relationship. I say “Sort of” because it’s very complicated, as the two have feelings for each other and have been with each other in the past, but Constantine also caused her father’s death. Still, she’s probably the person Constantine cares most about in the world, and he’d go to the ends of the Earth for her (and does). The driving force of her character is that she helps hold the team together during the start of Lemire’s run, because unlike Constantine, everybody trusts her. Honestly, I wish I could say more about her character, but Zatanna hasn’t really done much yet. In Milligan’s run she was just a combatant whose magic never worked, and in Lemire’s run, she’s been in a damsel in distress role a couple of times, and while she’s still a great character, there’s just a lot of untapped potential here.
Zatanna hasn’t really made many appearances in other parts of the New 52, aside from some minor cameos.
Deadman is my single-most favorite fictional character of all time, and I can write whole essays about why this guy is so great, so while I’ll try to keep this objective, you’ll have to forgive me if I start doing a bit of fanboy gushing.
In life, Boston Brand was one of the greatest acrobats the world had ever seen. Performing under the stage name “Deadman”, he defied death several times a day, until a sniper’s bullet hit him during his act, killing him at his prime. Boston’s soul was intercepted by the goddess Rama Kushna, keeper of balance, and assigned to help the living so he may cleanse his own soul, because he was kind of a jerk in life. In death, Boston is the ghost hero Deadman, who can’t be seen or heard by the living (unless magic is involved) but can possess them and take control of their bodies, gaining access to their skills and knowledge.
Deadman is probably the most heroic member of the Justice League Dark. Having lost his own life, he views it as a very sacred thing, and is all about protecting and helping others. That said, he’s not 100% selfless, and will sometimes possess people simply to indulge in pleasures he can no longer enjoy as a ghost, usually food. He’s got a bit of an attitude, especially when it comes to dealing with Constantine, but he’s a genuinely kind and caring soul, and a great guy.
Deadman was also the star of the first five issues of DC Universe Presents, and that story, “Twenty Questions”, is my favorite story in the New 52. He makes the odd cameo in other books whenever it’s relevant, and sometimes when it’s not, most notable being The Flash #27-29.
Dr. Alec Holland was the world’s most ingenious botanist, until he was killed in an accident at his lab in the swamps of Louisiana. Now, as Swamp Thing, he is the avatar of the Green, the source of all plant life on Earth, able to communicate with and control plants. He is an incredibly powerful elemental, and joined the team for the “Horror City” arc. Starting with J.M. DeMatteis’s run, Swampy kept getting involved with the JLD, to the point where he’s become a permanent member. He currently serves as the team muscle, although his powers of the green give him a lot of diverse and useful abilities.
Swamp Thing is also the star of his own book, Swamp Thing.
The demon Asa may seem strange, but her talent as a magical healer is unparalleled. Inhabiting the body of a human girl named Alice Winter, she goes by the moniker “Nightmare Nurse”. Asa doesn’t have a lot of boundaries, and generally seems to spend her free time in casual sexual encounters. But her intelligence and knowledge on a variety of topics cannot be denied. She originally appeared in Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger, and joined the JLD during “Forever Evil: Blight”.
Nightmare Nurse is still a pretty new character, so a full read on her is going to take some time, but she did have a 3-issue story arc that clears up a lot of the mysteries surrounding her.
Now, let’s get to the past members and guest stars.
Madame Xanadu is an immortal fortune teller and sorceress. Originally Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, she has traveled the planet for hundreds of years. She can see the future, though her visions aren’t always clear, and she tends to have a better understanding of the ancient magics that any of the other members of the team. She’s the one responsible for bringing the team together in the first place, and along with Constantine, shares the leadership role.
Xanadu is interesting, because while she is a capable combatant, she tends to spend a lot of time away from the team, handling related affairs to their current dilemma while the rest of the JLD fights the actual villain. Her main focus seems to be on her clairvoyant abilities, with the sorcery being a lesser aspect of the character, and I find it really impressive that Lemire’s found things to do with a character like that at all. Since Fawkes has come on, Xanadu’s gotten a larger role, as she’s his favorite character on the team, and she’s become more active with the others.
Madame Xanadu was phased out of the team after “Trinity War” with no real explanation. She’s just not a part of the JLD anymore, and nobody’s really brought it up. She wasn’t even involved in “Forever Evil: Blight”.
Madame Xanadu’s younger self can be seen traipsing around medieval Europe along with the demon Etrigan, Vandal Savage, and a group of other immortals in the fantasy team book Demon Knights, which tragically was cancelled at issue #23. The first two volumes of the series, written by Doctor Who writer Paul Cornell, are excellent, and the final volume, written by Robert Vendetti, managed to keep the book’s quality going even with a slight change in direction.
Frankenstein is an agent of S.H.A.D.E. (Super Human Advanced Defense Executive), a secret UN agency dedicated to protecting humanity from the things that go bump in the night. Frankenstein is incredibly strong, and is armed both with the holy sword of the Archangel Michael and a powerful sidearm called a Steam Pistol, both of which he’s proficient in the use of. Also, as an undead monster, he’s immortal and virtually indestructible, able to handle being crushed, dismembered, and even blasted with a nuke point blank and live though the whole ordeal. He is the only member of the core five not part of series from the get-go, joining it in Justice League Dark Annual #1, the end of “The Books of Magic” storyline.
Frankenstein is Jeff Lemire’s favorite character in the Justice League Dark, and it’s not hard to see why. The guy serves as both the team’s muscle and its conscience. He’s a couple hundred years old, a warrior poet, whose bloodlust in combat is only matched by his eloquence, although he claims to not enjoy battle. Frankenstein is a natural born leader who never gives up, and while he does let Constantine call the shots, he doesn’t let anybody push him around.
Frankenstein left the team to heal emotionally after the events of “Forever Evil: Blight”, and will be returning to the JLD in issue #35.
Frankenstein is currently one of the main characters of the weekly event comic Futures End, and had a book, Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., that was cancelled after issue #16. Jeff Lemire wrote the first nine issues, with the rest of the series being written by Matt Kindt, and while there’s a bit of a drop in quality once this change happens, He’s also made guest appearances in a few other series, including Animal Manand Batman and Robin.
Shade the Changing Man:
One of the team’s founding members, Rac Shade has a magical alien item called the M Vest, which allows him to change the world around him, although it seems to have a mind of its own. Shade is a character Milligan’s done tons of work with in the past, but he just wasn’t enjoyable in this comic at all. He left the team during “Rise of the Vampires”, and hasn’t been seen anywhere since.
Jay Young is a man who just confuses me. It seems he can use astral projection to leave his body, but only for a short time, but what he can do when this happens isn’t really clear. He was a useless character who wasted everybody’s time and did absolutely nothing to advance the plot. He didn’t even really join the team. He’s a creation of Milligan’s, spinning out of Flashpoint, but he left the comic during its first arc, and was killed off during “Blight”. He is not missed.
Andrew Bennet is a vampire, over 500 years old. He’s learned to control the hunger that drives vampires to feed on humans, and is the world’s first line of defense against evil vampires who want to take over the world. He’s a very classic, Bram Stoker era vampire archetype: Incredibly strong, able to shapeshift into bat, wolf, or mist forms, and he doesn’t die in the sunlight, although he is strongest at night. Bennet joins up with the team in Rise of the Vampires, and then helps them out a couple times in the Books of Magic. His adventures can all be seen in his comic, I, Vampire, which has ended with issue #19. He will be returning to the team with issue #35.
Black Orchid is an agent of A.R.G.U.S., with heightened strength and the ability to shapeshift. She’s sent by Steve Trevor to make sure Constantine doesn’t betray A.R.G.U.S. during “The Books of Magic”, and sticks around until the end of “The Death of Magic”. She’s a tough gal who loves to fight, but still takes her job as a government agent very seriously. Outside of this book, she’s appeared in the “Rotworld” issues of Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man, “Rotworld: The Red Kingdom”.
Orchid’s status as a JLD member is confusing, and she seems to have an on again, off again relationship with the team. She didn’t appear in “Horror City”, but was involved in “Trinity War”, then officially left the team after “Blight”. She will appear again in Justice League Dark Annual #2 this October.
Dr. Mist is an African sorcerer with the ability to absorb and redirect magical attacks back at his aggressors. He’s also an agent of A.R.G.U.S., and the catalyst for “The Books of Magic”. He’s very serious and obsessed with death, having lost all of his loved ones to a disease he couldn’t cure. He leaves the series after the beginning of “The Death of Magic”.
A young British boy, Timothy Hunter is a magical wunderkind, gifted with the potential to be the greatest magical hero in the world, or the most deadly magical threat. Originally from Neil Gaiman’s The Books of Magic, Timothy shows up in the storyline of the same name, and is the driving force of both “The Books of Magic” and “The Death of Magic”. He has not appeared anywhere in the New 52 after “The Death of Magic”.
Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld:
Amy Winston is a teenage girl, who, on her 17th birthday, discovers that she’s actually Amaya, Princess of the House Amethyst of Nilaa, a magical realm that exists parallel to Earth. She briefly joins the team for the conclusion of “The Books of Magic”, helping out in JLD Annual #1, and sticking around until the end of Justice League Dark #14. She’s a fun character, still getting a handle on her royal title and all the powers that go with it. Her further adventures, which heavily feature Constantine, can be seen in Sword of Sorcery, which sadly lasted less than a year before being cancelled. She is also a prominent character in Futures End, traveling around with Frankenstein and Hawkman.
Central City Police Scientist Barry Allen was experimenting in his lab one night until a freak accident gave him access to the Speed Force, making him the fastest man alive. The Flash joined the comic for the “Horror City” arc, and was also involved with the JLD during “Trinity War”. Flash can, of course, be found in the pages of his own book, The Flash, as well as Justice League.
The Phantom Stranger:
Before he was a stranger, he was a man named Judas Iscariot, the man who sold Jesus Christ out to the Romans for thirty pieces of silver. After he tried killing himself, he was brought to a tribunal of wizards known as the Circle of Eternity, and labelled as a member of the Trinity of Sin, one of the three worst sinners in human history. The Circle cursed him with immortality and sentenced him to forever wander the Earth, seeing the world his sin had created, but never taking part in it, a stranger to everybody.
The Phantom Stranger’s relationship with the Justice League Dark is a little different, as he’s only had a brief cameo in their book until he got directly involved with them in “Trinity War”. Really, the JLD have appeared a few times as supporting characters in his book, Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger, one of the best books in the New 52. This series is about to end, and will be replaced by Trinity of Sin in October, which he will share with Pandora and the Question.
The Phantom Stranger teamed up with the JLD for “Forever Evil: Blight”.
The Justice League, the Justice League of America, and Shazam:
The Justice League: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash (again), Cyborg, Element Woman, Firestorm, and the Atom.
The Justice League of America: Steve Trevor, Martian Manhunter, Catwoman, Green Lantern (Simon Baz), Hawkman, Katana, Stargirl, Vibe, and Green Arrow.
Shazam: Troubled teenage boy Billy Batson is gifted with incredible magical abilities after he meets a dying old wizard who sees the potential for greatness in him. By saying the magic word “Shazam”, Billy turns into an adult hero, with strength, speed, and stamina matching that of Superman, and a slew of magical abilities he has yet to learn.
"Trinity War" has brought together the three Justice Leagues, and while the members of the Leagues haven’t all formed into one super team, there is some mixing and matching between the members. During Trinity War, the entire JLD, sans Constantine, is teamed up with Wonder Woman, and they’re joined by Zatanna, Stargirl, Hawkman, and Aquaman, as the group hunts for Pandora. Deadman quickly leaves that group and joins team Batman, where he’s important in Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger #11 tie-in. Shazam is actually the catalyst for the whole story in the first place, and he and Constantine have their own adventure in the Constantine #5 tie-in.
There are way too many books to list here, so just trust me when I say it’s easy to find all of these characters in other comics.
10,000 years ago, a young curious girl named Pandora found a golden skull with three glowing red eyes outside of the Temple of Hephaestus. Upon making contact with it, she unwittingly released the seven deadly sins upon the world. A tribunal of wizards known as the Circle of Eternity then summoned her before them, and labelled the girl as a member of the Trinity of Sin, one of the three worst sinners of all time. They sentenced her to wander the Earth as an immortal, seeing the world she tarnished with her actions, but never being allowed to interfere with it. She has ignored the latter part of her sentence, and has been trying to rid the world of sin for all that time. Pandora has been trained in many forms of combat, including hand-to-hand and with weapons, both melee and ranged. She has also been instructed in magical and psychic combat, and has made it her mission to eradicate the sins she has unleashed upon the world. She first interacted with the Justice League Dark during “Trinity War”, when Wonder Woman recruited the JLD to help track her down, and will be working alongside constantine during “Forever Evil: Blight”.
Pandora can be found in her own series, Trinity of Sin: Pandora, as well as having made numerous cameos all across the DC Universe. Her series is about to end, and will be replaced by Trinity of Sin in October, which she will share with the Phantom Stranger and the Question.
Zauriel is a bona-fide angel from Heaven, working for God himself. He’s been a major character in Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger ever since right before “Trinity War”, and joined the JLD to help fight Blight and the Crime Syndicate during the events of “Forever Evil: Blight”. After suffering a terrible wound during the final battle, Zauriel left the team. He remains a supporting cast member in the Phantom Stranger’s book.
So, there you go. A guide to the series, its characters, and the people behind it. I hope this guide has gotten you interested in Justice League Dark, because it’s a great comic, and I think a lot of people are missing out on something wonderful by not reading it. I’ll also be updating this guide over time to highlight new arcs and characters.