Comics on Film: What Is 'Justice League Dark?' We Break It Down

Comics on Film: What Is 'Justice League Dark?' We Break It Down

Aug 26, 2016

Justice League Dark

While we’ve heard rumblings off and on for most of the past four years concerning a possible foray into the DC Comics Universe by none other than director Guillermo del Toro, it looks as if the film he’d spent his time developing at Warner Bros. has been handed off to a new director. While it’s too bad we won’t be seeing the Hellboy director taking on the superhero genre again anytime soon, it’s hard not to get at least a little excited at the possibilities of Dark Universe, aka Justice League Dark, and how the characters can fit together on screen.

It's true that we have seen several of the traditional “JLD” characters adapted before in multiple mediums, they’ve never been brought together in a way like this before, and have certainly never existed as a team outside the comics. That’ll change this fall when WB Animation releases a Justice League Dark animated film, but beyond animation, the next, best hope of seeing them all together will be when Dark Universe is ultimately released from director Doug Liman (Edge of Tomorrow).

Fans less embedded in comics may wonder, though: what exactly is the “Justice League Dark?” Have they been around for a long time? What kind of film could we be in store for? All of those seem like valid questions worth exploring this week.


Origins of the Justice League’s Dark Reflection

While most of the characters that make up the team known as Justice League Dark have been around for quite a long time (arguably first coalescing as a team during Alan Moore’s historic run on Swamp Thing in issue #50 from 1986), the team as we now know it is only a relatively recent development in the world of comics. In this iteration, the team first appeared in the premiere issue of their self-titled ongoing series, Justice League Dark #1, in September of 2011. Hot on the heels of the universe-wide Flashpoint event that summer, "JLD" was one of the brand new series that was introduced during the first wave of DC Comics’ line-wide relaunch, “The New 52.”

Though most of the New 52’s wholesale continuity changes were reserved for the more major characters of the DC Universe, the narrative reorganization allowed for a retelling of some of these characters’ origin stories, and that first issue largely depicted the first major meetings between all of these characters.

In the original story arc by writer Peter Milligan and artist Mikel Janin, the story makes plain that the traditional Justice League is, quite simply, unequipped to deal with the kinds of threats that this team can respond to. In the opening pages of the first issue, the Justice League is defeated by the power of the Enchantress (who most recently appeared in the Suicide Squad film portrayed by Cara Delvingne).

That defeat necessitates others, including occult detective John Constantine, powerful DCU magic-wielder Zatanna, habitual body-possessor and murdered acrobat Deadman, reality-warping Shade the Changing Man, and mystic Madame Xanadu, to come together in order to more effectively answer the threat represented to the DC Universe.


Becoming More Prominent

After the first eight issues of the series were published, one of DC’s best writers at the time – Jeff Lemire (Animal Man) – came aboard with a lot of new additions to the series. Lemire also participated in writing the JLD portions of a wider Justice League crossover story called “Trinity War,” co-written with Geoff Johns, which largely served as an action/mystery tale that incorporated the recent changes to the DC Universe brought about by the New 52. During Lemire’s run, it didn’t take long for discussions to start happening about turning this corner of the DC Universe into a film of its own.

Some fans may recognize Constantine, or at least a version of him, as having appeared in the Francis Lawrence-directed and Keanu Reeves-starring film Constantine from 2005, which featured an Americanized version of the character. Zatanna had appeared in both animation as well as in live-action during the ten season run of the WB/CW’s Smallville. Other characters like Swamp thing, the Phantom Stranger, and Madame Xanadu have all appeared in other media before their assembly as a team.

Members of Justice League Dark were slated to appear in live-action alongside John Constantine in that character’s recent live-action TV series on NBC starring Welsh actor Matt Ryan, but that show was canceled by the network before they had the chance to appear as a unit. Nevertheless, all of the characters from the Justice League Dark represent a recognizable tonal shift when compared to other superheroic colleagues, and have the potential to go even, well, darker than a character like Batman.


The Potential Magic of the Mystic

While we’re all waiting on pins and needles to see how the first major, modern magic-based superhero movie turns out when Scott Derrickson’s Doctor Strange is released this November from Marvel Studios, the primary difference between that character and the members of Justice League Dark is their legacy in much darker overtones. It’s true that as it stands right now, the DC Extended Universe consisting of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad don’t exactly seem to indicate a deficit in tonal darkness. Still, as comics fans well know, magical darkness can have a whole different flavor and depth to it.

Instead of confronting evil as a concept or a series of decisions, magical characters often have to confront literal personifications of evil that can make for very compelling storytelling. It can also make for memorable and imaginative imagery that can either set the mind alight, or images that can be so horrifying that they can make your brain wish that it was looking at something else.

In a strange way, the presence of Dark Universe may also help to present a tonal course correction to the DC Extended Universe as a whole, since it looks like things will be lightened up noticeably in both 2017's Wonder Woman as well as Justice League. If things do tend to get a little lighter in the other, more prominent parts of the DCEU, then the existence of dark magic wielders may add substantively to the fabric of the universe as a whole. We'll have to wait, of course, until we see whether or not the two DCEU offerings for 2017 succeed in their respective missions, though.

In any event, we'll be keeping an eye on the development of Dark Universe with great interest. For more insight into how the characters can look in a film of their own, check out the trailer for the Justice League Dark animated movie that'll be arriving this fall.

Chris Clow is a gamer, a comic book expert and former retailer, as well as a freelance contributor to The Huffington Post and, as well as host of the Comics on Consoles podcast. You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film right here at Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

Categories: Comics, Features, Geek
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