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Saturday, February 08, 2014

Justice League Dark #26 - Feb. 2014

Comics Weekend "The Haunted Sea" by J.M. DeMatteis, Mikel Janin, Vicente Cifuentes, and more.

Hey again everyone, Shrine Correspondent Andy Luckett here with a one-off review of a recent DC issue; Justice League Dark #26, written by veteran scribe J.M. DeMatteis with art by Mikel Janin, Vicente Cifuentes and Guillermo Ortego. Why review this book, you might say out loud to your computer for some reason? Because it features the (sort of) return of the Crime Syndicate's mirror-universe/evil twin/doppelganger Aquaman, the Sea King. So if he didn't die after teleporting into our universe, what has the Sea King been up to?

The issue opens with the Justice League Dark members (John Constantine, Swamp Thing, Pandora, the Phantom Stranger, and Nightmare Nurse) floating in a supernatural limbo; prisoners of the embodiment of the world's darkness, who calls himself Blight and looks like a cosplayer's last-minute attempt to pull off a Xenomorph/Krampus mashup. Oh, and Constantine's head has been severed.
Blight has killed all of the team during their prior battle with him in Central Park, and he is now monologuing about how his power is growing due to the Crime Syndicate's takeover of Earth, and that soon he will be strong enough to cover the planet in his brand of despair. He picks up Constantine's head in his hand, crushes it, and drops it. But as it falls, it is caught by Deadman suddenly appearing from nowhere. Boston Brand tells Constantine('s head) that he has to rescue both Deadman and the rest of the team, including Zatanna (they are MIA at this time).

After this unexpected event, the team is suddenly pulled out of the darkness and back into our physical reality; specifically the abode of Dr. Thirteen. Nightmare Nurse reveals that she pulled them back after learning Blight's master plan. They were never truly dead; only enchanted to appear that way. Still, even with this new information, the team is at odds as to what to do next. Constantine believes that they should find the rest of the team, but the others suspect he may have been hallucinating talking to Deadman. To check, Nightmare Nurse takes an "astral biopsy" from Constantine and discovers that yes; he indeed did interact with a manifestation of Deadman.
Pandora now knows where Deadman's consciousness is located, so the team prepares to find him; while also noticing that both Dr. Thirteen and the Phantom Stranger have disappeared (to separate Blight from his human host, we learn). Pandora leads the team deep under the Pacific Ocean, riding on the back of a whale-shaped moss creature (aka Swamp Thing). Before they can even fully wonder why Deadman's ghost would be deep in the ocean, Pandora follows the signal by opening a portal to a deeper psychic ocean below the sea floor.

Pandora recognizes their surroundings as the ruins of Nan Madol, an ancient kingdom that died out long before the founding of Atlantis. Swamp Thing reaches out to the Green and sees a vision of the Sea King's body (after being buried at sea by the Crime Syndicate) being drawn to Nan Madol, where it was used as a vessel for the residual psychic energy there. 
Suddenly the Sea King appears and attacks the team, slashing Swamp Thing with his harpoon hand and screaming about the reemergence of Nan Madol. Constantine gets his trident away and stabs the Sea King with it, but he simply swats them away. Then he starts chanting, which summons the spirits of Nan Madol to life, and the Sea King has a monstrous army with which to conquer the surface world.

Constantine tries to send the rest of the team after him while he stays to find Deadman, but Pandora drops a bombshell: the Sea King is Deadman! Somehow his consciousness has been trapped in Sea King's body and is confused by the commands of the Nan Madol spirits. Sea King/Deadman reaches the surface, attacks a ship and sics a Perfect Storm-style wave on the team when they come to the rescue.

Pandora creates a psychic knife that Constantine imbues with a spell and flings it right into the Sea King's forehead. That does the trick; disrupting the Sea King's concentration and banishing the Nan Madol spirits back to their realm. The team tries to determine who is leading the Sea King's body, and Deadman answers. It seems that during the initial battle with the Crime Syndicate, he possessed Sea King's body, but "the after-echoes of Sea King's consciousness were so vile…so twisted…that I didn't know who I was."

Constantine clears out those after-echoes, but also locks Deadman into the body, making him unable to jump to another. Cut to the Phantom Stranger's whereabouts, as he appears to be working with Blight to capture the rest of the team. Blight says he is pleased by the Stranger's defection, to which he replies, "I did…what I had to do."
So this is a very strange issue, and I suspect a very strange comic book as well. I myself am not super keen on the overuse of magic in stories, since to me it feels many times like a Deux ex Machina; i.e., "Oh, we have this problem? Here's a quick spell…problem solved." I noticed some of that here, not to mention the plot was more than a little confusing. So the Sea King's body was pulled down to Nan Madol, where the spirits convinced a confused Deadman that he should lead them in re-conquering the world? O-kay. It seems overly complicated.

Secondly, I have to say I'm disappointed about the handling of the Sea King character since his creation. He drops dead during his introduction, then he is possessed by an insane Deadman? Wouldn't it have been more interesting to have him marauding alongside his other Syndicators, so we could see what he can do? How about a battle against Aquaman and Mera? What would Orm or Black Manta think of his presence on Earth? But instead, he is basically a dead body that gets belched up into the fray and then used by others. We'll see in the future if anyone decides to try something else with him. After all, his design is clever, combining elements of the Peter David era, Ocean Master's latest costume, and even a tiny bit of Dan Jurgen's old run. It seems strange after all of that thoughtful designing that this is how the character is used.

As for this issue, I'd give it a pass. The Sea King isn't really the Sea King and his actions have no bearing on the events of Forever Evil or Aquaman's sphere of influence. It feels like a missed opportunity.


Steve said...

Thanks for the review, Rob and Andy! I agree wholeheartedly that this use of Sea King is a wasted opportunity. I also bought this issue of Justice League Dark (a title I don't usually pick up) based on the tease of more for Sea King to do than die fresh out of the gate only to be disappointed by the bait-and-switch.

r duncan said...

I enjoyed reading that review even though I'm sure I wouldn't like reading the comic. Thanks Andy.

The Daily Superman Podcast said...

Great review! You saved me $4 (whatever happened to holding the line at $2.99?), sounds like a wasted opportunity, too bad!

Joseph Brian Scott said...

I think the team-concept and characters are intriguing, but as is often the case with magic stuff, it can get too convoluted too fast. And though I normally detest this shoulder-guard craze that's been sweeping superhero fashion for the past few years, here I'll give it a pass because of the neat way it incorporates the character's undersea motif.

KJ Sampson said...

If only I HAD given it a pass