Up until now, Justice League Dark has been kind of an interesting mess – sort of cool, sort of hard to follow, sort of difficult to tell Zatanna and Madame Xanadu apart if you can't see which one's got fishnets on her arms. Now that the big crossover with I, Vampire has wrapped up, we've got a new writer on board to try and give this series some focus with Justice League Dark #9.
Animal Man and former Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. writer Jeff Lemire steps up to the plate to craft a new story about this mismatched team of occultists coming together once again despite their better judgment to go deal with the threat of Felix Faust, who's building an army in the Amazon region (South America, not Themyscira). They hated working together before and don't really like each other much (or at least none of them like John Constantine), so why get the band back together? Because Justice League handler Steve Trevor gives Constantine a self-serving reason to do so. And, in turn, he has to give Zatanna a self-serving reason to do so, since the rest of the group would join if she does, but wouldn't follow the smokey Brit git into a pub, much less a mystical death trap.
The lineup has changed slightly. Constantine, Zatanna and Deadman are holdovers, while Shade The Changing Man's off being crazy and Madame Xanadu – the one so keen on them getting together the first time – is sitting this one out and hoping her job is done. I, Vampire's lead "pro?"-tagonist Andrew Bennett is also dragged into service out of a debt to Constantine, and so completely does not belong in this book – at least not with Mikel Janin's clean, cool and very superheroic art. The t-shirt and sunglasses and streaky emo hair work well with Andrea Sorrentino's grim and moody style over in his own book, but here, Bennett looks as douchey as Wonder Man in his waistcoat days. Lemire seems to want him out of the book, too, because Bennett's new power level is ridiculous, and he has to invent ego reasons for him NOT to crush Faust instantly – and the fact that Constantine is cashing in Bennett's owed favor so quickly would seem to indicate that's a plot thread Lemire wants to tie off as soon as possible.
The last member of the Dark-squad is a new one – Black Orchid. Just as mysterious as she was back in her old Suicide Squad days, here in New 52-land she's a plant from Trevor to keep this group on task. It's also handy that she's not magic-based – always handy to have that ace in the hole. The team is off to find one Professor Nommo Balewa, aka Dr. Mist, who's been captured by Faust. The story of Justice League Dark #9 unfolds with the Faust fight interspersed with flashbacks to get us up to speed with the new mission and the new motivations, and it's pretty solid work that helps us care more about these characters than we might've previously.
The only thing that sticks out to me is the general Constantine dialog. Now, I've not read much of him at all, maybe a few issues of Hellblazer at best, but I've just heard so much about it that I always expect him to be just oozing acidic bastardry at all times. Here, he seems kinda happy to have "the new band" and even introduces them all as if they were musicians. He's still self-interested, living like hell, drinking and smoking a lot and proud of his questionable trustworthiness, of course. Again, I don't know if Janin's neat, brightly-styled artwork is not exactly serving a character who's usually half shadowed and lit only by a smoldering cigarette, but I have it in my head that the mere fact that he's in a DC team book and not a Vertigo title means I'm reading a completely neutered version of him. Please, folks, correct me if I'm wrong and all that's missing is the swearing.
Overall, it's a pretty good new start, and Lemire has more than earned our trust that he'll be doing very cool things with the Justice League Dark – a name he actually introduces in this issue, and a name to which Constantine reacts very badly. That's fun.