Show, don’t tell. It is a maxim of storytelling regardless of medium. It is also fundamental in understanding the two-fold flaw that makes Wonder Woman & Justice League Dark: Witching Hour #1 a non-starter for DC Comics’ fall magical crossover event. The comic is told in a fashion where artwork plays second fiddle to narration, with waves of gray boxes explaining every element to readers rather than allowing them to experience the events of a story. This mode of overwriting is a trend within superhero comics with several writers dedicated to showing their own craft before the story. In the pages of Witching Hour #1, it is worsened by the dry, expository nature of the writing. Even as the lettering demands more attention than depictions of talking chimps and fiery disasters, it fails to deliver anything entertaining or dramatic. The result is one of the least-compelling invitations to a superhero event in more than a decade.
It is not difficult to perceive how this flaw might have both emerged and been exacerbated by the nature of its story. Witching Hour #1 is steeped in the lore of DC Comics, both past and present. An extended prologue sets up a mystery in Wonder Woman’s past and reveals key facets of the story’s antagonist. Once this exposition is complete, the story spends much of its time examining the new status quo of both the Justice League and their magical counterparts the Justice League Dark, narratives explored in detail across two ongoing series outside of this framework. All of this information is necessary for the conflict constructed across this issue, but that is no excuse for the tedious presentation. While it is certainly challenging to distill so much information into one issue and attempt to loop in unfamiliar readers, that does not make the plodding pace of these pages any less a failure.
That pacing stands in stark relief to the contents of the comic. This is an adventure that features multiple magicians alongside Swamp Thing and the equally brilliant and animalistic Detective Chimp and Man-Bat. When this team is assembled, it is a veritable feast for superhero readers, highlighting both the weirdest and most wonderful elements of DC Comics. They practically beg to be enjoyed when witnessed, yet here they are made slaves to exposition, seemingly guided by the placement of captions and whichever plot point needs to be exposed next. Personalities emerge in only the slightest quantities with Detective Chimp’s drinking habit being used in substitution for an actual sense of humor.
Jesus Merino is well-matched to the material of Witching Hour #1. His heavily detailed style fits the current direction of all the series that this story will crossover with and establishes a tone consistent with both the visuals and storytelling of the Justice League line today. There are notes of struggle as human faces sometimes appear ever so slightly disproportionate. It is with the magical and bizarre that Merino soars though, and that is where Witching Hour finds its most notable moments. Spreads centered on Swamp Thing and Detective Chimp make it clear that he can make the big moments appropriately big, especially with Romulo Fajardo Jr.’s colors matching his style with just the right level of additional detail. This artistic team makes the storybook functioning of Witching Hour all the more disappointing as everything but those sweeping spreads are made subservient to narration.
Like descending fingers just missing the handhold they need, Witching Hour #1 is the story of a missed opportunity. The characters and explosive sweep of this comic are enough to remind readers of the absurd fun to be found in superhero comics, especially given Merino’s take on several pages. Yet the experience of reading this comic falls far short of the experience flipping through its pages might suggest. It is a story told with every element of history, action, and character explained in language that is best described as competent. No comic like this should be a chore, but that is how Witching Hour #1 reads.
Published by DC Comics
On October 1, 2018
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Jesus Merino
Colors by Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Letters by Dave Sharpe