Please, come join us here The Illuminerdi as we analyze one of DC’s most exciting magical teams, the Justice League Dark.
With characters such as Darkseid, Dr. Fate, Hawkman, and Constantine all inching closer to live-action glory, several of the characters who make up the adventures of the JLD. The team is a relatively new concept, having debuted back in the good old days of the New 52 or 2011, if you want to be a time-loving peasant about it.
In the nine years since then, four key incarnations have appeared. The purpose of this article is not to rank the teams, though a clear favorite will likely emerge. My goal is to merely explain the basic lineups of each team, along with a bit of backstory, and my thoughts on what makes their stories special.
Justice League Dark I
The first team was originally composed of members such as Zatanna, Constantine, Zatanna, Deadman, and Shade, The Changing Man. Other members of the team would come and go throughout the book’s forty issue run. Swamp Thing, Andrew Bennett, AKA I, Vampire, and Frankenstein joined or otherwise assisted the team in their adventures, while staples and original members like Zatanna and Shade would leave the team behind.
This team was one of the most popular additions to the DC Universe to spawn out of the New 52, and nearly appeared in live action multiple times. This version of the team heavily utilizes Constantine, the de facto leader of the team, and features some breathtaking and macabre artwork from Mikel Janin. The stories and characters featured in these magical books are the ones most likely to appear in HBO Max’s upcoming Justice League Dark franchise from J.J. Abrams.
JLD: Incarnation II, The DCAMU
The second version of the team consists of Constantine, Zatanna, Deadman, Etrigan, Swamp Thing, Orchid, and surprisingly, Batman. This R-rated animated film plays out like a supernatural mystery, and is one of the DCAMU’s finest offerings. Matt Ryan went from his live-action role to this animated one seamlessly, and his performance is pitch perfect. Despite his solo series getting the axe after just one season, Ryan has come to Constantine what RDJ is to Iron Man.
Jason O’Mara’s Batman joining the fray felt like an odd decision to me at first, but I was convinced of the genius of that creative decision very quickly. Jason O’Mara may not get the love from Marvel he deserves (I salute The Patriot), but any fan of DC’s animated catalogue can attest to the sheer brilliance of O’Mara’s performance of the Caped Crusader. He brings a new dimension to this tale that sets it apart from the other three Justice League Dark stories, and after all, you can never have too much Batman.
Justice League Dark III: Enter Diana Prince
Following the animated film is the second comic book version of the team, the Rebirth lineup. James Tynion IV (Something Is Killing The Children, Batman, The Department Of Truth) brought together Wonder Woman, Bobo The Chimp, Man-Bat, Zatanna, Swamp Thing, and Dr. Fate for a world shattering epic that threatened all magic throughout the DC Universe.
This fantasy epic is not merely a fantastic Justice League Dark story, it is in fact one of the greatest Wonder Woman stories I have ever read. Tynion IV explores the mystical and magical aspects of Wonder Woman’s character with a deftness of hand rarely seen in modern DC Comics. Furthermore, Man-Bat and Bobo The Chimp cement themselves as unique, complex underdogs in the vast universe of DC.
While there is basically no chance that this is happening, I would lose my mind if Gal Gadot leads a JLD franchise on HBO Max based on this series. That project could easily reach the peaks of DC adaptations, resting alongside masterpieces such as The Dark Knight and Joker.
Justice League Dark IV: Apokolips War
The fourth incarnation of this very special team has the grand honor of laying the DC Animated Movie Universe to rest. Think of Endgame, and then make animated, R-rated, and in the end, the heroes don’t truly win.
The cast is absolutely stacked, featuring Jason O’Mara, Matt Ryan, Rosario Dawson, Rainn Wilson, Tony Todd, and Shemar Moore, just to name a few. On top of that, this serves as a fantastic finale for all corners of the DC Universe represented in prior films. The original Justice League, The Suicide Squad, The Teen Titans, and of course, the Justice League Dark all get there due in this blood-soaked sendoff.
Perhaps the single strongest element of this film is that of Jason O’Mara’s Batman. I finally watched this film at the behest of an old friend, who told me that he considered it to be the best Batman movie of all time. Upon viewing Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, I am pleased to say that he was in fact correct. The sequel improves on the use of Batman in JLD presented in the original film in a brilliant and captivating manner.
From an absolutely stellar Damian Wayne, to an almost entirely unique Clark Kent story (purists may not appreciate the deviation in character seen in this film), to a fistfight between Darkseid and Trigon, this movie has it all, and then some. Check it out on DC Universe before the service is ultimately consumed by HBO Max while there’s still time!
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