Today, Shelby and (guest writer) Dave Werner are discussing Justice League Dark 0, originally released September 26th, 2012. Justice League Dark 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.
Shelby: John Constantine is an enigma. He can wander in and out of any magic-based title with no problem. He has a power-set which basically consists of “do whatever you need to do at the time you need to do it.” He’s a perpetual loner, mostly because everyone close to him tends to die, but also because he likes to be a loner. He has the loosest morals of any “hero” I’m reading, which is what I find most intriguing about him. I’ve always just assumed he’s your standard “bastard with a heart of gold;” he does what he wants, when he wants to, but deep down he’s a good guy, and will do the right thing in a pinch. The zero issue for Justice League Dark, however, focuses on a part of Constantine’s past that makes me think he’s ultimately not such a good guy after all.
The issue opens with a young Constantine arriving in America to learn some real magic from the best in the occult biz. Looking a proper punk in his leather jacket, he makes his way to an underground club for occultists, where he sees the enchanting Zatanna perform and meets Nick Necro. Interesting thing about Necro; in his black tie and trench coat, he looks oddly like a brunette version of the Constantine we know and love. And he’s hooking up with Zatanna. Anyway, Constantine saves Necro and Zatanna from an assassin of the Cult of the Cold Flame, a group of black magic occultists, which earns him the right to tag along and learn some real magic. The three become real chummy as Necro teaches them everything they need to know about being magical badasses. He even gives them matching tattoos of his personal rune. D’awww. As Necro becomes more and more obsessed with finding the Books of Magic, Zatanna and Constantine become more and more obsessed with each other. They hook up, which provides Necro with the perfect opportunity to reveal he’s working for the Cult of the Cold Flame, and plans to send Constantine’s soul to Hell. A fight ensues, and Necro is the one who ends up in Hell; Constantine pauses just long enough to take his jacket on the way out.
I think Jeff Lemire has been really smart with this issue. He’s given us some insight into Constantine’s character while at the same time tying the action of this origin to the series proper. Last month, we were all speculating on who the mysterious “evil twin” of Constantine might be, and why they would both have the same tattoo. Now, we see that it’s not only John’s magical mentor, but also that John sent his soul to Hell after driving him mad by taking everything of meaning from him.
This is really where we get to…maybe not learn something new about Constantine, but reinforce character traits we’ve already seen, and reveal just how deep these traits go. It’s no secret that Constantine is only looking out for number 1; he takes what he wants. He’s been talked into saving people before: he formed the Justice League Dark in the first place to help placate the Enchantress, he had a very active role in the Books of Magic mini-series helping teach magic to Timothy, and he worked with Morpheus in Sandman to help restore to him his bag of sand. Lemire’s Constantine, though, is motivated less by “it’s the right thing to save the world,” and more by “I’ll save the world because it’s where I keep my stuff.” He came to America to take as much magic for himself as he could. He took Zatanna from Necro, and immediately wondered if he had made a mistake and lost his chance to take the Books of Magic. He killed the man who taught him everything he knew, and took his damn jacket! Instead of having a candy-coating of selfishness over a nougaty center of goodness, this Constantine is just selfish, through and through. That’s a dangerous trait for someone as magically powerful as John, and explains why Madame Xanadu is so concerned about keeping the Books of Magic out of his hands.
Lee Garbett is new to the art on this title. While I miss Mikel Janin’s fanciful panel layouts and painterly style, Garbett’s straight-forward approach is clean and easy to follow: an important quality for a title meant to introduce new readers to a character. I especially liked his panel of Constantine’s first introduction to Zatanna.
The stunned, “deer in the headlights” look so accurately expresses the thoughts running through his head at that moment. Paired with the simple dialogue from Necro of “my girl…” we’ve got a perfect setup for the conflict that will eventually break up the band.
I’m really excited to introduce my friend Dave; we used to work together, and when we discovered our similar tastes in books, spent more time at work talking about what we were reading than anything else. He’s read Sandman and Lemire’s Underwater Welder, so I know he has a passing familiarity with John Constantine and Jeff Lemire; Dave, what did you think of this issue? Were you able to keep up, or was there too much DC universe stuff for a new reader?
Dave: Five panels in and I realized how much I didn’t know about this universe, but understood immediately that I liked this guy Constantine. I remembered the name from Sandman, but his appearance was early on and I refused to do any research before I read this issue so that I could experience it cold.
Being a rookie to this (and just about any DC series), I knew that I was picking up a book about Superheroes. Constantine: Super – yes, but Hero?? The kid’s got skills and a cocky single-mindedness about building them. Well, single-minded until he saw Zatanna. I knew that piece of plot would commence before we reached the staples. Nicky’s obsession with the Books of Magic was not the reason that Constantine and Zee hooked up; it just provided the opportunity. I don’t think anybody’s girlfriends, wives or daughters are safe from that bit of his magic. From this issue I understand that he’s doing good, but his heroism seems to be a by-product of his journeyman’s exploits into learning more magic and protecting his mentor long enough to learn all he needed. Doesn’t make him bad, but he’s nowhere near altruistic about his motives. I want to see how that plays out in the issues to follow.
Some confusion on my part regarding Necro’s involvement with the Cold Flame and the Brooklyn ambush. Is Nick motivated to eliminate Constantine because he stole his girl or because he’s a threat to derail to the goals of The Cold Flame? Think I’ve got more reading and learning to do. At this point, the most I know about The Cold Flame is that they’ve got cool weapons and boring lines. These guys have qualities reminiscent of the “Black Sleep of the Kali Ma”!
I always thought that what made classic Superheroes were innate abilities or great gadgets, not learned skills. In my mind, magic was relegated to a different realm. I like the potential Badass Hero that contains Constantine’s abilities, charisma and cockiness. Don’t let his goofy grin on the cover fool you.
David Werner credits Shelby with expanding his reading into new worlds. Although a longtime fan of Neil Gaiman’s novels, Werner resisted picking up Sandman for years because it was just beyond him. After a number of cube-wall discussions Ms. Peterson suggested that he start Sandman and he was hooked. His writing over the last dozen years has been relegated to answering the eternal customer question, “Where’s the truck with my stuff?”
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?