Review: Justice League Dark: The Great Wickedness trade paperback (DC Comics)

September 4, 2022

I was uncharacteristically down on Ram V’s Justice League Dark: The Great Wickedness when I finished it. In general Ram V’s Dark has been superb, as good as if not exceeding great runs before him by James Tynion and Jeff Lemire.

Flipping back through the book, I see it’s not quite that bad after all. The beginning moves at a brisk pace, and I like especially seeing the Justice League Dark and Justice League proper working together, moving in more of the same circles than usual. I think it’s a slowdown in the middle and the rather sudden conclusion that left me bored and befuddled respectively, unfortunate in what is Ram V’s final Justice League Dark volume.

[Review contains spoilers for Justice League Dark and Dark Nights: Death Metal]

The book kicks off well, blending the internal (the recent re-death of Zatanna’s father Zatara) and the external (Wonder Woman perishing in Dark Nights: Death Metal) to find the Dark in a dark place. A routine case sees Zatanna and John Constantine encountering a newly resurrected Jason Blood, which leads to a really fun roundtable with the main League, Justice League Dark, and Etrigan the Demon cracking wise. Again, I love seeing these two teams as one — Detective Chimp at the table with Green Arrow and Black Canary — and Ram V also uses dialogue and references to Brian Michael Bendis' Justice League, making it all really feel of a piece.

That carries throughout. Batman is heavily involved, and the big final battle sees the Dark protecting Atlantis alongside Aquaman and Tempest, and even Arion makes the scene. As we’ve seen with Wonder Woman leading the Dark, there’s great story potential when DC lets the spells and sorcery aspects of their iconic characters shine through — we didn’t often see it with Wonder Woman and don’t often see it either with Aquaman or Batman, but Aquaman and the Justice League Dark here seems like a natural fit.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Wickedness collects the Dark backups from League, and in my experience, collections of backup stories are often troubled. The generally smaller page count is all the more noticeable in a collected setting, where it’s only a few pages from opening credits to opening credits. Wickedness struggles with that sense of repetitiveness especially toward the end, when Zatanna and Constantine are fighting Merlin, only to have an arbitrary cliffhanger and then — they’re still fighting Merlin, and again after that. Also, while Ram V does a good job mostly deferring to the story’s various threads in each chapter, there’s a large swath of the middle where it seems like he loses the Dark entirely, focusing on new character Eternal Knight Elnara Roshtu longer than I think the audience is interested.

It’s been over a year since I read Justice League Dark Vol. 4: A Costly Trick of Magic, so some fault is mine, but I struggled to recall, for instance, why it is that Dr. Fate Khalid Nassour is losing his eyesight, or why (or how) there’s a new controlling force within the Fate helmet. The difficulty here is that page count is short, but Ram V could do with a few more flashback panels.

So too when it was that Etrigan and Jason Blood separated (if that even happened on screen) and why it is that Constantine and Mr. E don’t get along — these feel like references to stories I’d have to go look up, and in this case that’s annoying rather than enticing. I’m not quite sure Ragman’s powers have been shown to work the way Ram V depicts, either, turning Ragman into a bird and such. Also, the Justice League Dark 2021 annual included here seems to take place between the penultimate and last backup story chapters, but DC shunts it to the end. As such, I was all the more confused going into the finale as to whether I’d missed events that I didn’t recall reading and so on.

Though the annual too seemed to lose the Dark team for a while for a lesser Wonder Woman tangent, I did like the revelation of Yuga Khan as seemingly the book’s antagonist. That is, as mentioned before, what I think is the perfect centering for a Justice League Dark title — sure they might fight Merlin, but eventually they end up with a sci-fi Fourth World villain — and why I think Dark has lasted longer than, y’know, Primal Force. Ram V writes a trippy backward-told conversation between Khan and Merlin that bespeaks what this writer can do with more runway. See too when the characters actually traverse Ram V’s script for a bit, a cleverness in the beginning that the end doesn’t uphold.

Yuga Khan’s presence in Wickedness hints at ties to Infinite Frontier, a possibility I appreciated. However, the same with a similar instance in Batman/Superman: The Archive of Worlds, I’m skeptical that all these various threads are necessarily on Joshua Williamson’s radar as he composes his overall story. The same with anything from Infinite Crisis to Year of the Villain, every title scrambles to be part but that doesn’t always manifest in the end.

Art for Wickedness starts out by Xermanico, big and bold if not necessarily ground-breaking in DC’s house style. Sumit Kumar does most of the rest, and as with the Man-Bat miniseries, I like his thin, fluid figures. Christopher Mitten brings a sketchy style that’s right for Justice League Dark but can’t, unfortunately, redeem the annual.

2.0

Rating

I chalk up Justice League Dark: The Great Wickedness' difficulties to the less-than-ideal backup format, and what may have been a suddenly approaching end overall. Too bad, because I was glad to see this series continue when the main title ended, and because James Tynion and Ram V did great work leading up to this point. Like the Justice League, the Titans, and the Birds of Prey, Justice League Dark is a DC standard now; I’m sure it won’t be too long until this title gets another shot.

[Includes character design and cover/page layouts gallery]

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