Review – Justice League Dark #3: Meet the Empty Man

Comic Books DC This Week
Justice League Dark #3 variant cover, credit to DC Comics.

Justice League Dark #3 – James Tynion IV, Writer; Alvaro Martinez Bueno, Penciller; Raul Fernandez, Inker; Brad Anderson, Colorist

Ray – 9.5/10

Corrina: Damn, Zatara!

Ray: The best Justice League title in years is James Tynion’s unique horror-based adventure, which perfectly blends a-list and c-list heroes to uncover the dark magical history of the DCU. The last issue showed Wonder Woman’s darkest secret, while this issue turns back the clock to Zatanna’s childhood, showing how her father cultivated her magical abilities.

It was a unique combination of harsh training with a father’s love and ended with a last creepy note that perfectly dovetails into the next page – the reveal of one of the most terrifying villains I’ve ever seen in a DC book.

That would be the Upside-Down Man, a disturbing being made of pure magic who just escaped from the Dark Multiverse with the arrival of the Tree of Wonder. The Tower of Fate is burning, the other heroes are trapped outside, and Wonder Woman and Zatanna are at the monster’s mercy. The creature is humanoid enough but alien enough to be genuinely unsettling, and the words that come out of his mouth remind me of classic horror movie villains like Pennywise. This is how you perfectly fuse the sensibilities of DC and Vertigo.

Zatanna in training. Credit to DC Comics.

By the time the other heroes are able to get into the battle, things go from bad to worse. The Upside-Down Man displays powers over the physical structure that are far beyond what Zatanna can do, and what he does to Detective Chimp and Constantine are visuals that might be a bit too much for a mainstream DC book.

Bat-Dick is getting all the buzz lately, (see Batman: Damned #1) but this book might push the limits of what can go in a DC book in horror content even more so. The arrival of Swamp Thing seems to turn the tide of the battle, but that’s far from what happens. The only thing that stops this issue from being a horrific rout is the reveal of exactly what’s been done to Wonder Woman all those years ago by the witches in Themyscira. Wonder Woman’s addition to this series always seemed like an odd fit – she’s magic-based, but she’s never quite been part of the magical DCU.

After this introductory arc, it feels like it makes perfect sense and James Tynion is making some of the biggest welcome changes to her mythology in years. This is the perfect successor to Tynion’s run on Detective Comics.

Corrina: I must find different things terrifying because the scenes between Zatanna and Zatara were more disturbing to me than anything with the Upside-Down Man.

Perhaps it’s the difference between something which has a real-world equivalent and something that does not. Therefore, despite what was done to Detective Chimp and Constantine, that part only made me raise my eyebrows a bit. After all, I suspect both will be returned to form at some point. (That’s the drawback of using trademarked characters. If this were an original graphic novel, I might be concerned about those two characters.)

But, there’s not an Upside-Down Man in the real world, at least, I hope not.

But even if he didn’t scare me, Upside-Down Man is fascinating, as he seems to be something of an innocent evil. In that, I mean he’s innocent of being human or feeling what he’s like to be human, and thus there’s a blackly humorous edge to what he’s doing because he’s genuinely interested in how things work. In this, he rather reminds me of Ragdoll in Secret Six.

Overall, likely because I’m not as much a horror fan as Ray, I enjoyed the book but not as much as Ray did.

Wonder Woman, despite her role this issue, still seems ill-placed and while I have no doubt she’s in the book to add a “Justice League” to the title, that doesn’t make her fit any better. Still, Tynion writes her well, so perhaps her role will grow on me.

To find reviews of all the DC issues, visit DC This Week.

Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.

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