Review: Justice League Dark #20

“The Parliaments Of Life” – Part One
Writers: Ram V and James Tynion IV
Artist: Kyle Hotz
Color Artist: FCO Plascencia
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Review by Steve J. Ray

After reading Last year’s Justice League Dark Annual (and knowing that this new arc would lead to a quest to save Swamp Thing) got me very, very excited. Justice League Dark #20 digs deep into DC Comics’ horror vaults, validating all of that excitement.

It’s been clear reading James Tynion IV’s work over the years, that he grew up with and loved the same comics that I did… and still do. Now he’s been joined by the brilliant Ram V that love has been multiplied exponentially. The aforementioned JLD Annual brought back Jason Woodrue, the Floronic Man, a character who has waxed and waned in success and popularity over his decades in the DC Universe. Legendary writer Alan Moore made the character a real threat, and a figure of true horror in his unparalleled Swamp Thing series, Mr. V and James Tynion evoked all of that and made him dangerous again in their annual.

I really felt a shift in tone from previous issues as soon as I started reading this issue. Ram V’s voice can clearly be heard, separate and apart from James Tynion’s… but in a good way. There’s no discord, or fight for dominance here, as the story flows smoothly… but the change is still palpable. This issue reads and feels like an issue of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. This is both the greatest compliment I could ever give a comic, and the heaviest pressure to place on any writer creating one.

The brilliant part though, is that while the script evokes one of the greatest comics series ever made, Tynion and V are not aping nor imitating Moore, they’re simply honoring him, and paying tribute to one of their heroes.

Oh, and the fact that Ram V lives in the UK has allowed him to deliver the most convincing John Constantine dialogue I’ve read in years, on page 15. He also gets the legendary Liverpudlian to self reference both his original appearances, and his TV persona, with the vintage line:

Ask anyone, chief. I’m a nasty piece of work.

Kyle’z HOT

Speaking of atmosphere and delivering emotion, Kyle Hotz and FCO Plascencia have blown my extremely high expectations out of the water with their work on this issue. I fell in love with Kyle’s art reading his two part Spectre story in Detective Comics (issues #1006 and #1007) and he pushes the envelope even further in Justice League Dark #20.

Once again, Kyle’s art reminds me of the work produced by some of DC’s horror greats, from Mike Kaluta and Bernie Wrightson, to Kelley Jones, and of course, Steve Bissette, John Totleben, Rick Veitch and Alfredo Alcala. The beauty part is, as I don’t know whether any of those legends influenced him or not, I can still see Kyle’s own unique and special talent shine through.

This instalment doesn’t read like, nor look like, any previous issue of JLD. FCO Plascencia’s more muted, and earthy colors evoke the glorious EC Comics of the 50s, and DC’s very own House Of Secrets and House Of Mysteries anthologies… as well as the wonderful work of Tatjana Wood on the aforementioned Alan Moore Swamp Thing. Bravo, FCO!

I frequently rave about Rob Leigh’s lettering, and this issue’s no exception. Just look at page three, reproduced above. Just seeing it, and feeling, more than hearing, that sound effect made me shiver and itch. I still feel a little icky just writing about it. This is another great example of writers, artist, colorist and letterer working in complete (horrific) harmony.

Conclusion

I know I’ve gushed a hell of a lot about this issue, so much so that I haven’t yet mentioned the triumphant return of another favorite character, Buddy Baker. The dude’s an animal, man! (sorry). The line the barista spouts when he gets his coffee is priceless, and as bad (meaning good) as my own.

While the initial threat in the issue does borrow heavily from 1988’s Swamp Thing Annual #4 (in which deadly spores forced their victims to climb to great heights before exploding, and releasing their infection over a wide area) the fact that this does actually occur in nature still makes it very scary indeed. Besides, who besides me (and maybe Ram and James) even remembers that annual?

Last time Swampy and Batman won the day, but Woodrue is the green’s emissary now, and the parliaments of life are at war. Can Swamp Thing return? Will Abigail Arcane (I LOVE Abby!) help Justice League Dark restore nature’s balance? Or will the Floronic Man’s dark (and clearly dead) visitor prove to be the literal fly in their ointment, and force them all to say “uncle”?

I cannot wait to find out.

Perhaps one day Justice League Dark #20 will prove to be as pivotal and influential a transitional issue to other budding writers, as 1982’s Saga Of The Swamp Thing #20 clearly was to myself, James Tynion IV and Ram V. Let’s wait and see.

Images Courtesy of DC Entertainment


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Steve J Ray

Dad/husband, writer/artist, amateur chef and Bat-Fan Extraordinaire. Animal lover and fan of all things comic-book and sci-fi related. His wife thinks that he owns too many comics, books, and movies. He thinks this is an oxymoron.