By: Ray Fawkes & Jeff Lemire (story), Renato Guedes (art), Marcelo Maiolo (colors)
The Story: Never make friends with a man who wears a trenchcoat indoors.
The Review: When you hear discussion about John Constantine as reintroduced into the mainstream DCU, the word you most often hear to describe him is “neutered.” I confess that I’m probably the least appropriate to make a judgment on this point. I’ve barely read Hellblazer and my knowledge of Constantine lore is minimal at best. But I do know that in the Vertigo universe, he’s a much more cunning, canny, witty, and biting character than he is now.
Given the general dissatisfaction with Constantine’s portrayal in Justice League Dark, I’m not sure exactly what the people in charge at DC were thinking in choosing to release a solo ongoing featuring the antihero, especially written by the same duo responsible for the “neutered” image he has in his team book. That said, Fawkes-Lemire do bring a fairly different side of John to this title, one that provides a bridge between his Vertigo and JLD sides.
We’ve seen him be manipulative elsewhere, but only to the point where his teammates would refer to him as a “jerk,” which is hardly a compelling quality. Here, Fawkes-Lemire push that manipulative side much further, placing well over the borderline of appalling. The focus of the issue is on John convincing a poor, unwilling object of divination named Chris to tail him as he seeks out a magical artifact, with Chris in pain throughout from his supernatural condition. Ultimately, John uses Chris as a meat-shield on top of his precognitive talents, bartering the sap’s life to guarantee his own escape.
I can only hope that John doesn’t make a habit of this because just as in Avengers Arena, I won’t have the stomach to tolerate that kind of thing on a long-term basis, no matter how well it’s done. And I’m not sure it’s done all that well here, either. I mean, he literally makes no effort to help Chris at all at any point in this issue, which makes you wonder what exactly redeems his otherwise horrible behavior.
Fawkes-Lemire take their best shot with their tagline for this series: “Nearly destroyed by its temptations in his youth, John Constantine knows the price of magic’s corrupting influence. Now, he fights the battle to maintain balance and prevent anyone from becoming too powerful.” The question, of course, is why John’s so eminently suited for this task more than anyone else. Why should we trust that he won’t use powerful objects like the Compass to his own ends?
Still, John doesn’t actually ever set out to kill people, although he proves he’ll do so to protect himself. That’s at least one thing separating him from his enemies, who indeed seem to care for nothing more than attaining more power—which doesn’t make them all that impressive as antagonists, honestly. The Cult of the Cold Flame never piqued me to begin with in their first appearance in JLD #0, and seeing Jaimini Sargent, the new Sargon the Sorceress, as the cult’s leader does little to improve my opinion. As interested as I am that the cult was founded by the original Sargon, Zatara, Mister E, and Tannarak (as the first three men are traditionally forces of good in DC’s magical universe), there’s really not much else to get attached to.
Whatever this title turns out to be, at least you’ll get some rather nice art out of it. Guedes has a very fashionable approach that manages to be attractive enough to stand with DC’s other mainstream series, but also (with Maiolo’s dark palette of colors) has a little bit of an edge to support its supernatural cred. While he doesn’t resort purely to flashy crackles of multicolored electricity (a la Mikel Janin on JLD) for magical effects, he doesn’t evoke much mystery or spectacle either. However, looking at his title splash of Constantine’s basement office, full of knick-knacks, books, totem masks, a tank with some tentacled creature within, you do know that Guedes has the chops to make a great-looking occult book, if the script calls for it.
Conclusion: If you went into this series with a pessimistic outlook, I think this issue will best your low expectations, but it’s not clear if it does so in a good way or in a differently bad way.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: - I really feel that it should’ve been a tad harder for John to find the first component of the Compass. He basically shows up to a hotel chapel, breaks open the altar, and pulls out the Needle. Really? It’s that easy?