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Justice League Unlimited: Hocus Pocus | Review

Justice League Unlimited: Hocus Pocus coverJustice League Unlimited: Hocus Pocus
Writers: Adam Beechen, Jason Hall, Matt Wayne and Ben McCool
Artists: Carlo Barberi, Rick Burchett, Min S. Ku, Dario Brizuela and others
DC Comics; $9.99

Justice League Unlimited: Hocus Pocus is the third themed collection of DC’s mid-aughts comics based on the cartoon of the same name, following August’s Galactic Justice and December’s Time After Time. This time the organizing principle for the half-dozen old issues collected is magic, which means heroes like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman recede into the background of the book’s massive cast, and the likes of Dr. Fate, Deadman, and Zatanna get plenty of panel time.

It also means that this particular volume is crowded with more off-beat DC heroes, as those that didn’t merit much screen time in the cartoon proper get the spotlight, and characters that never appeared on the show at all, like Zauriel and Blue Devil, become the unlikely stars of several stories.

This particular volume maintains the pleasures of the previous ones. Each chapter tends to stand on its own as a perfectly self-contained 22-page adventure story equally suited to readers brand-new to the characters and to existing fans. Each is solidly made with above-average art (Carlo Barberi, one of the best artists to work on the series, draws half of this particular volume). And each is stuffed to bursting with DC heroes, many of whom are are merely background characters that never get a line of dialogue but nevertheless help define the size and scope of the setting: The DC Universe is, in these comics, a place so full of superheroes a reader can barely keep track of them all.

Though not a magical character, Stargirl stars in two of these stories, in both cases playing off of an older, grumpier male hero: First Aquaman, in a story in which she helps save his kingdom after insulting him, and then The Crimson Avenger, with whom she swaps bodies Freaky Friday-style after they spend the first half of the comic bickering with one another.

Though written by different writers (Adam Beechen scripts the Aquaman team-up, Jason Hall the Crimson Avenger one), Stargirl comes across as a pretty unpleasant character in both. Of course, she has to start in a bad place in order to learn a lesson by the climax, but she’s portrayed as such a brat that it can be a challenge to root for her, especially when she’s heckling the senior citizen Crimson Avenger for being so old. And it doesn’t help that she has to learn not to be such a brat in two different stories in a single collection.

She’s not the only hero who appears unappealing in these stories. Another Beechen-written story finds the so-called “Trenchcoat Brigade,” a magical league within the League, assembled for a mission to Limbo in order to battle perennial League villains The Demons Three, and guardian angel-turned-supehero Zauriel’s dislike and distrust of his infernal teammate Etrigan is insufferable…even if here, too, his stubborn wrongness is insisted upon by the script in order for a lesson to be learned.

The other stories are all more effective. In perhaps the best story in the collection, Beechen and artist Rick Burchett team up to tell the story of Blue Devil, who is feeling particularly blue after his monstrous appearance scares a child. He gets back in better spirits after he helps save a city from an army of nightmares, which Burchett designs as a cavalcade of weird-looking, kid-friendly monsters, thanks to the abilities that go along with his scary looks.

Rounding out the collection are a story in which the heroes must reunite the vengeful ghost The Spectre with his human host before he can use his nearly omnipotent powers for ill, and a story in which Zatanna reunites with her absent father, a kinda sorta retelling of a classic Justice League storyline from the late 1960s.

As with the previous volumes, the collection is stronger than its components, and it’s a fairly ideal gateway into the DC Universe and its many, many characters

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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