Three issues in and Justice League Dark continues to prove itself as one of the bigger surprises of The New 52. The offbeat, dark arts alternative to the DC's flagship team title, Peter Milligan's new series lurks comfortably in the shadows of its superstar counterparts like the slightly unsettling cousin you avoid at family gatherings but still weirdly want to hang out with. Rather than polishing his Vertigo mainstays' decidedly grimy personas for their return to the main DC Universe, Milligan instead brings the DC Universe to his characters. With the likes of Deadman, Shade the Changing Man, Zatanna and the Hellblazer himself, John Constantine, Justice League Dark inhabits a world not too far removed from their Vertigo equivalents.
Milligan is the perfect choice for this series. Having written both Shade the Changing Man and Hellblazer, the surrealist tendencies of his early work have been nicely tempered over the years by high profile runs on Batman and X-Men. As shown in the first two issues of this series though, he's definitely still happy to tinker with the more demented aspects of each character (I'm still disturbed by the turn Deadman took towards the end of last issue). The fact that he followed up the debut issue's series-defining battle between JLA and Enchantress with two issues of loosely connected character threads is further proof that Milligan's ability to surprise remains undiminished.
That's not to say that this particular issue is a standout though. Justice League Dark is clearly still in the exposition phase of its development, and Milligan is in no hurry getting his League together. Shade spends the issue trying valiantly to track down the rest of the team, Deadman is sidetracked looking after June Moone, while Constantine and Zatanna bicker and flirt with each other. The introduction of Milligan's Flashpoint creation Mindwarp is an interesting one, but for the most part the story is happy just to creep its way towards the final page setup for the next issue.
The art by Mikel Janin is solid if only a little unspectacular — clean enough, but not as fluid as it could be. His pencils never distract from the story though, and his almost matter of fact renditions easily compliment Milligan's writing. As consistently impressive as Ryan Sook's work is though, his otherwise striking cover again shows no connection to the events of the comic it's wrapped around. I'm nitpicking, because his art is generally amazing. And the cover is actually a really great image, just totally irrelevant to the story itself.
So as a standalone issue it doesn't exactly leap off the page. It lacks the excitement and general entertainment of the first two issues, but I'm sold on Milligan's patient scripting simply because every issue feels like the integral build up to a main event. It's part of a complete story rather than just a sequence of comics, and each character matters to the central plot. I like Deadman's growing bond with June, I like June's shrieking fear of Enchantress, and I love the constant sniping between Constantine and Zatanna.
With such a brilliant line-up of characters it's hard to go wrong, but Milligan is definitely pushing everything in the right direction. It's the coolest series of the New 52 so far — the cool, yet still a little disturbing and weirdly unsettling cousin at the family gathering.
Special mention goes to colorist Ulises Arreola for having possibly the coolest name in history.