Tuesday, January 24, 2017

I saw the Justice League Dark...

With so many alternate takes in the comic-book world, it's no wonder an in-between twist on the traditional Justice League and Suicide Squad would surface. To fulfill this, Peter Milligan has given us the clever and brooding "Justice League Dark", which now exists as a direct-to-disc/home viewing release, directed by DC/WB faithful, Jay Oliva; and scripted by Ernie Altbacker of "Green Lantern: the Animated Series" fame, from an idea he co-penned with the legendary J.M. DeMatteis. 

Batman/Bruce Wayne is the leader/recruiter here, and his dark aura suits the macabre ensemble well, with special attention on John Constantine and later down the line, in an overdue, animated-feature advent, Swamp Thing. Constantine and Swamp Thing, aka Alex Holland, alone should boost one's interest, but to cement the excitement, there's also the gorgeous and startling Zatanna; the ghostly but comical acrobat, Dead Man, aka Boston Brand; and the demonic Merlin adversary, Etrigan, sustained through the knightly Jason Blood.

For traditional JL fans, the usual members make appearances, as well, like Superman, Wonder Woman and John Stewart's Green Lantern, but they're only there to initiate and cap events, since the circumstances of this particular story do arguably require (if only for atmospheric aesthetics) a darker breed of hero for the darker task at hand. It's ultimately Constantine who vocalizes the need for such an allegiance, though the Caped Crusader clearly knows the score from the get-go. 

As in the live-action "Suicide Squad", "JL Dark" presents otherworldly, mind-tripping forces, inspired (or so we're led to believe) by the wizard, Felix Faust, in an apparent attempt to dominate the world through the power-granting Dreamstone, which Constantine's pal, Ritchie, possesses. The set-up is forceful, engrossing and surprising once revealed, but coming off "Squad'"s blockbuster heels, it also seems a tinge redundant. On other hand, would it be any better if the antagonists were standard supervillains like the Joker and Lex Luthor, spurring rehashed, terrestrial capers? 

Though Batman may be the story's most respected character, Constantine becomes its occultist catalyst. In fact, one of the film's best scenes occurs in its earliest phases, when Constantine and Blood engage some shifty demons in a game of cards. From this scene, we learn that Constantine is a spiritual agent, and he gives the story a quick current of "Sleepy Hollow" and "The X-Files", but then fans already know this about him. 

Constantine is moody and sometimes blunt, an extension one might say of Batman, but if need be, as crafty as his opponents. Altbacher's script helps in this regard, detailing Constantine's cunning, with all the little hows and whys (as he does with all the recruits), but also essays the magic man's determined progression toward getting the job done. 

Though Constantine shines above the other mystics, we really can't deny the impact of those surrounding him. As with any JL grouping, we learn that success stems from teamwork, but at the same time, each participant is allowed to grow and excel in his/her own spectacular way: that is, the power of individuality spawns success. Alas, a rare theme in mainstream reality...

Though "JL Dark" is comprised of many thrilling sequences, Swamp Thing's entrance is its best, which takes a while to surface and some may find too short, but man, is it ever rousing! In this incarnation, our soggy hero is more intimidating than usual (prompted by a past disagreement with Constantine), but due to Holland's sophistication, he's also pensive and for obvious reasons, more than a tad sad. (Let's hope this manifestation inspires some enterprising filmmaker to do a new, live-action version on Bernie Wrightston's celebrated mutant, or in the very least, a solo, animated film or new series.)

Once Swamp Thing ushers matters along, we're really off and running, but this also darts the story to its climax, which though explosive, is disappointingly brief. Then again, maybe this is a good thing. "JL Dark" is so interesting in its supernatural gist, we're compelled to want more. 

So, do the shadowy good guys defeat the shadowy bad? Heck, you already know the answer to that. To do it any other way would be unjustified.

Though "JL Dark" may be more menacing than other such team-ups, it's still classic DC in spirit and heart. And yes, a sequel is essential, if not inevitable. After all, we've yet to see Batman and/or Constantine enlist the Spectre for some far-out crusade. Until that happens, how can we consider the animated experiment complete?

No comments:

Post a Comment