By: Ray Fawkes & Jeff Lemire (story), Renato Guedes (art), Marcelo Maiolo (colors)

The Story: Constantine has always had an eye for choice magical relics—unlike some people.

The Review: Never having written any serial fiction, I can’t say I have any firsthand insight into the medium, but from the outside looking in, I’ve noticed one thing: once you get locked into certain habits, it’s very hard to course correct afterwards.  I imagine it’s a little embarrassing to do so, too.  Making radical changes early on clearly signals poor initial choices, and who would ever want to admit that?

Fawkes-Lemire better be careful, because they can easily fall into the same trap with these opening-page monologues of theirs.  Besides serving as less than subtle mini-recaps of previous events, they’re also strangely preachy.  This is John Constantine, after all; broodiness doesn’t suit him much: “Every single one of us is stupid enough to think we’re smarter than everyone else.  And how d’you think that works out for us?  On average.”

In fact, and I’ve mentioned this before, I’d prefer not to get into Constantine’s head at all.  For one, it takes away the most appealing part of his character, his inscrutableness.  For another, it tries way too hard to make him a more sympathetic figure, but somehow results in making him less so, probably because even mild self-pity is a tiresome quality in a person: “John, old son, you’re a piece of work.  Almost all of my friends are dead.  A trail of bodies wherever I go.  The powers of the bloody universe are saying I don’t deserve to live.”

Granted, you are bound to feel sorry for yourself when your own homeland rejects you.  For anyone wondering why he doesn’t operate out of London, it turns out there’s a heavy-duty curse on him there—because of course there is.  Besides physical ailments, the curse attempts to inflict his death by freak accident, and despite his friend Julia’s attempts to ward it off, it seems that his exile from the city is going to be a very long one.

It’s a pity he won’t be returning to London anytime soon, as it’s clear that he has some important history here.  For that reason, I kind of question Fawkes-Lemire’s choice of introducing Julia as a major figure of John’s life (“[I]f you’d took me up on me proposal years ago…” he remarks at one point) when you’re not likely to ever see her again.  Given the limited time and purpose he has in town, she ultimately serves almost no use to the issue, lending him neither information, aid, nor even much in the way of transportation.*

That leaves John to take care of the Compass and his enemies himself, which he does with a simple deal.  Turning the Riddling Butcher, an unwilling captive of the late Sargon the Sorcerer, against Sargon’s descendant and Mr. E is not really a brilliant move, but it gets the job done.  What it doesn’t do is make the resolution of this arc any less anticlimactic, nor does it make the antagonists any less of “total idiots,” by John’s accurate assessment.  I’m not exactly surprised that Fawkes-Lemire can’t pull off a cleverer ending than they do; it’s extremely difficult to come up with well-crafted cons.  But it does make me seriously consider whether our writers can meet the expectations that come attached to a Constantine title.

Guedes’ art offers less to complain about, although it’s couched quite firmly in the style of mainstream comics, with its wide shots and a choice of perspective that’s almost overdramatic.  Still, he clearly draws very well, indeed, if that two-page splash of Constantine and Jules trapped in a “psychic labyrinth made of nightmare overflow” is anything to go by.  I’m more ambivalent about Maiolo’s choice of colors.  In context, they make sense for the story, but that doesn’t make their pale waxiness any more pleasant to look at.

Conclusion: This series started on weak footing and sadly seems committed to that pace.  I think it’s safest to cut my losses and Drop it before I get trapped in an inevitably disappointing relationship.

Grade: C

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * That said, I’m impressed that she manages to survive the issue, though it was close going for a couple panels there.

– At least both Sargon and Mister E also survive the arc.  If these supposedly “grade-A wizards” managed to get themselves killed in just three issues, then DC’s magical universe would really have sunk to a new low.