Review: Justice League Dark Vol. 4: A Costly Trick of Magic trade paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Justice League Dark Vol. 4: A Costly Trick is a fine conclusion for outgoing writer James Tynion and beginning for former co-writer and new incoming writer Ram V. Shame on me for not realizing going in that this was also the last volume of the series proper — I went to go get a glimpse of what happens next only to find there was no “next” — though it’ll continue as a backup by V for Brian Michael Bendis' upcoming Justice League.

Though V and Tynion have worked together for a while and have overall good synchronicity, Trick reflects a bit of the back-and-forth of the book having two authors. The story begins and ends, and then begins again perhaps not exactly where it ended, and then ends again in such a way as you might think the series is going to go on, but it isn’t (exactly). None of that takes away too much from the book itself, which is well done (better than the slight dip in quality last time around) and features particularly fine art from a couple of sources. V and Tynion’s final story together also picks up threads from the particularly fine New 52 Animal Man and Swamp Thing series by Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder respectively, a particularly welcome callback.

[Review contains spoilers]

V and Tynion’s story “The Parliaments of Life” starts off relatively small, with Animal Man joining the Dark team against fungi run amok. That threat grows, however, to reveal a war between various natural forces, and eventually involves a few of the aforementioned Swamp Thing characters, a couple of Doctors Fate, and John Constantine betraying everyone for the greater good in his John Constantine way. There’s some nicely bloody horror toward the beginning, and in all there’s a good mix of the scary and the superheroic, intrigue and double-crosses and also heartfelt ruminations on the nature of magic and the power of humanity. The team is wholly successful in the end, with the once-dispersed Swamp Thing restored, and the narration even goes so far as to say the team “rejoice[s].”

To that end, it’s mildly strange that the second storyline (by various names, but eventually “The Cost”) should pick up with the team mostly disbanded and Wonder Woman considering whether she led them “astray.” It’s a disconnect from the previous issue’s happy ending, which I would usually attribute to the change in writer, wanting to rebuild the team or start from a different place, etc. That’s complicated here by the fact that V is not so much the new writer as just taking on the book solo, but still I guess the answer is somewhere along these lines.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Dark has been my first exposure to writer Ram V and I’ve yet to be disappointed, and I’m excited that he’ll be taking over the Catwoman book, which would surely benefit from his brand of noir horror. Here, I particularly noted his spot-on voice for Detective Chimp, as well as the complicated, interconnected hangups of the other characters, including Wonder Woman herself and Zatanna. He and Tynion’s Zatanna is a bit “hipper” than perhaps may please some fans, with a backward spell built from the lyrics of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Wep, wep” causing a hail of magical fire, but I found this lightness endearing.

Trick is also remarkably solid for a book with three artists. Kyle Hotz is particularly well suited for this series, evoking (as I’ve remarked before) Kelley Jones. I am not sure some of Hotz’s facial exaggerations would work on every series, but they do here. In the first two chapters Hotz is followed immediately by Tynion’s Detective Comics collaborator Alvaro Martinez Bueno, whose pages, while more straightforward than Hotz’s, offer a couple of M. C. Escher-esque sequences right when it counts. Finally, this was my first exposure to artist Amancay Nahuelpan, whose lines are very clear and solid, offering the best “DC house style with pizazz” that I’ve seen in a while. I’m sure V can do fine on the Dark backups with artist Xermanico, but I was sorry to see we wouldn’t be getting more of Nahuelpan with these characters.

3.0

Rating

So with Justice League Dark Vol. 4: A Costly Trick of Magic, this newest era of Justice League Dark ends. This was a good one, and anchoring the team with characters like Wonder Woman and Detective Chimp, and making this a full-fledged Justice League branch, seems to have worked out very well. I’m wary of Dark being relegated to backup status, as short “mini-chapters” rarely for me have the same oomph as a full issue, and it all seems so temporary — Dark, we imagine, didn’t have the audience to support an ongoing series, so it’s going into backups, and as soon as DC decides there’s something else they want to try instead, I worry that’ll be the end of Justice League Dark. Those are problems for another day, I guess; until then, I wish Ram V well and I’m curious to see how the next iteration goes.

[Includes original and variant covers]

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