written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
When the things that go bump in the night come out to play in the DCU, a very different brand of hero is required. Continuing the trend of DC Animated films since the release of Justice League War, this next chapter in the DC Comics Animated Universe brings the members of the Justice League Dark to the forefront.
When all over the world, regular people begin to see those around them as demons, it’s going to take more than capes and cowls to solve this problem. While the core Justice League does attempt to address what’s happening, Batman in his brooding and skeptic wisdom bows out… washing his hands of dealing with magic. When on his way back to Wayne Manor, he’s briefly possessed by Deadman and upon regaining his consciousness he sees the name “Constantine” written on his walls.
Cue our favorite chain smoking master of the mystical, John Constantine (voiced by Matt Ryan… the same actor as the short-lived TV series) makes his debut playing a high stakes game of poker with the Devils Three. When the game gets a bit violent, Jason Blood is tricked into releasing his hell-spawn of an alter ego Etrigen to help mop up these demons. Meanwhile, Batman visits Zatanna and finally officially meets Deadman… again trying to possess him. Getting closer to forming this darker brand of Justice League, Team Bat/Magician/Ghost come in contact with Constantine and Black Orchid, the latter of which is the personification of the House of Mystery.
To face the oncoming storm, Batman needs to enlist the aid of this band of occult heroes… forming a group uniquely equipped to handle what the core JL can’t.
As an entry in the greater DCU, Justice League Dark does a fantastic job introducing key characters in its relatively short runtime. Much like how expertly they handled introducing the core Justice League members in the first film, the balance is what further allows them to introduce not just occult mainstays like John Constantine and Zatanna, but also fan-favorites like Swamp Thing and and more obscure heroes like Black Orchid.
The inclusion of Batman originally seemed like a forced play on their part… it’s like they didn’t trust the selling power of these heroes alone the studio felt they needed to inject some Batman into the equation. But there concerns were swiftly alleviated when we get a strong dose of comic relief from Bats and this band of occult warriors. Batman is a man of science and reason, even the most fantastic things he’s seen… the Lazarus pit, Darkseid, metahumans… all have roots in science. To face magic, a force of immeasurable variables and one that is by its very nature… predictably unpredictable.
Bruce and his constant doubt of magic, even in seeing magic with his own eyes, expresses a constant and slightly annoyed doubt of this mystical force. It’s funny yet subtle, something that fits with Batman as a character… he’s never meant to be written as obviously funny, but when it happens it happens.
A strong and balanced mix of comic book action, interesting characters, and a story rife with unpredictable turns makes Justice League Dark a fitting addition to the DC Animated Universe. It was great and did justice to the source material while expressing their own take on the characters.