Constantine 1

constantine 1

Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Constantine 1, originally released March 20th, 2013.

Shelby: There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Everything has a price, and everyone has to pay it eventually. It might be nice to try to live your life like that isn’t true: to give of yourself freely and expect nothing in return. While I believe the world would be a better place if everyone were less selfish, if we all helped each other out with a no-strings-attached free lunch every now and again, I know that there will always be people who will take advantage of that system. People like John Constantine. 

Constantine wanders around New York, thinking about how magic lets people like him think they’re cheating the system, getting something for nothing. As he ruminates on just how much magic will cost you in the end, he runs into a kid named Chris, who is seeing things and it hurts. Turns out, Chris’s painful divination reveals the hiding place of the needle of Croydon’s Compass, a device that will lead anyone to any sort of magic they are looking for. The two head to Norway, but after Constantine finds the needle, Chris is put under a “crushing” spell by Sargon the Sorceress, daughter of Sargon the Sorcerer and current head of the Cold Flame Cult. She says Chris will be “snipped into pieces” unless Constantine turns over the needle. Naturally, Constantine bails, needle in hand. Sargon goes on a rampage looking for him, and Chris, well…

sargon the sorceress

This is the perfect introduction to John Constantine. Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes have a great handle on this character. They’ve given us a scenario that exemplifies why I like him so much. On the one hand, he’s embarking on a quest to keep an extremely powerful magical device out of the hands of evil magicians. On the other hand, he’s not really one to be trusted with an extremely powerful magical device and, oh yeah, he let a boy get torn apart. By most definitions, that should make him a villain, but somehow it doesn’t. I think it’s because Constantine understands that there are limits to what you can cheat. For him, it’s not a question of whether or not you’re going to break bad with your magic, it’s a matter of how bad you are going to be. There’s some sort of secret balance that needs to be kept of how much people can trick the universe into giving them, and John thinks that maybe he’s the one to keep that balance. I don’t know what it is that makes him think he should do that; it could be something as simple as “there are way worse people out there,” which this issue does a pretty good job establishing. It could be something more; maybe this sort of Magictown police work is the price Constantine has to pay for things he has taken in the past.

Renato Guedes is handling pencils for this title; I’m not familiar with his work, but I like what I see so far. There’s a sketchy, loose feel to his art that I’m a fan of.

john constantine

Guedes’ style reminds me a little bit of Egon Schiele, an Expressionist from the early 1900s. His wiki is NSFW-ish: he painted a lot of nudes. I get that same gritty, slightly out of control vibe from Guedes that I do from Schiele. It’s like catching a glimpse of something awful just below the surface; in Guedes’ case, it’s only a flash, and it’s gone so quickly you aren’t sure you saw it. In other words, a style perfectly suited to Constantine’s world.

I was anxious about this book. It’s no secret ’round these parts how much I love John Constantine. While I trust Lemire and Fawkes completely, especially considering how good they’ve made Justice League Dark, there was a small part of me that was a little nervous how this issue would turn out. Well, that part of me was totally stupid; I’m very pleased already with the direction this book is taking. Constantine is the asshole with a heart of gold who might actually just be an asshole, we’re already a third of the way through a magical quest, and we’ve got totally badass deaths, magic-style. What about you, Patrick? Am I just blinded by my love of this character, or have Lemire, Fawkes, and Guedes already shown us they are on to something great with this title?

Patrick: Jeff Lemire has this wonderful way of quietly defining characters without standing up, pounding on the table and yelling “THIS IS WHO THIS GUY IS.” Over the last two years, the man’s been tasked with restarting Animal Man, Justice League Dark and Green Arrow – each of these series possesses a strong sense of identity right off the bat, but they also move effortlessly – as though Lemire has nothing to prove. This is doubly true of Constantine, as we already know we like to see John Constantine under his pen. It’s the same reason I assumed we’d pick up Uncanny X-Men (that is, because we already have evidence of Brian Michael Bendis writing compelling X-men stories). And while this issue does make a point of showing off one of John’s more bastardly qualities, that’s not the only thing the issue achieves.

And that’s a good thing – right, Shelby? Statements of who John Constantine is are always going to be less interesting than the world he insists on surrounding himself with. Y’know, the world where random people have mild clairvoyance or the MacGuffin he’s after is in that ice hotel in Norway. For as imaginative as some of the details are, the broad strokes of this story are simple to the point of being iconic. I mean, come on – the compass is broken up into three parts? The first piece of which is the needle. THE NEEDLE! I’m almost surprised they didn’t have to look for it in a haystack. That’s all part of the familiar charm of a John Constantine fetch-quest: the objective is classic, but the hero is some wonderful combination of Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Malcom Reynolds. Only, magical.

Shelby, that’s a good call about Guedes’ art style. I was struck by how frequently he uses odd ‘lenses’ to warp the world around John. The impressionistic elasticity is always visually justified as a trick of photography or perspective. In addition to that beautiful city picture you posted above, check out this panel from the plane ride to Norway.

John Constantine knows poison whiskey when he sees it

I’m not quite sure that I like Guedes’ loose characters, but that might be a function of the coloring, which is incredibly tight. This issue was colored by Marcelo Maiolo, whose praises we were just singing on the most recent issue of Green Arrow. Maiolo is awesome at using two shades of each color to add some very dynamic light and shadow to the scenes he colors, but the effect is oddly flattening when paired with Guedes’ lumpier characters. It’s just such a specific style of coloring, and it works really well with Andrea Sorrentino’s characters, which are equally stylized, but much colder. Guedes, as Shelby mentions, suggests the imperfections and weirdness of these characters, and I wish the coloring could reflect some of that warm chaos.

So: fun issue, I’m excited to see where Lemire and Fawkes will take this thing. Just from this one issue, it looks like the JC of Constantine will be interested in self-contained magical stuff and the JC of Justice League Dark will be more interested superheroes and whatever kind of events DC has planned. Man, can you believe that we have two series that star John Constantine, but only one each for Flash and Wonder Woman? I love Johnny as much as the next bloke (so much so that I just used the word “bloke”), but I don’t understand DC’s priorities. Like, at all.

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?

23 comments on “Constantine 1

  1. I know the reaction was pretty negative when DC announced that it was cancelling Hellblazer and starting a new series on the DC imprint, but I’m curious how those Hellblazer fans enjoyed this issue (if any of them could bring themselves to read it). In many ways, I feel like this is a strange mirror image of the controversy surrounding the conclusion of Amazing Spider-Man. Where fans there feared their long-running, happy-go-lucky title was being replaced by a gimmicky, dark Superior Spider-Man, Hellbalzer fans seemed to fear their dark, singular title was being replaced by a bright, primary color superhero comic. I feel like this issue stayed true to the grim, morally ambiguous tone fans expect of Constantine, but I wasn’t nearly as personally insulted by the admittedly arbitrary decision to port the series to the DC imprint. Any Hellblazer fans out there want to weigh in? Did this issue do justice to the character? Will you be coming back for more?

    • I wasn’t insulted, since I wasn’t reading Hellblazer, but I could understand where those fans were coming from. I actually felt a little torn on the issue; it’s obvious DC was just looking to grab on to this character’s growing popularity, which is crappy for the long-time readers over at Vertigo. On the other hand, it gave me a jumping on point for one of my favorite characters and was placed in the capable hands of Lemire and Fawkes.

      • Part of the outrage may also have to do with more explicitly tying the character to the reboot. As long as they were printing new issues of Hellblazer, he wasn’t really rebooted, but now that they’ve canned that title, and moved him entirely over to the rebooted universe, it’s not clear how much of that history has changed. It’s kind of a delayed relaunch frustration.

        • I tell ya man, this New 52 thing is still sorta strange to me. It’s clearly the main arm of DC comic book publishing right now, but everything is so specifically branded as “New 52.” Because of the recent title-shuffling, plenty of these month won’t have 52 titles in them, man of these titles are “new” in numbering only (Batman Incorporated, Batwoman and Green Lantern come to mind) and even those with hard resets switched thrown (like Flash, Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing) are damn near venerable at this point almost 20 issues into their runs.

          Sorry, I was just thinking about how much the end of Hellblazer serves as a Hard End to JC in an un-shared universe.

        • Not only they aren’t “New” anymore, but they are not even “52” anymore. The solicitations for June 2012 consisted of only 50 titles. And I’m waiting forward to know which series will occupy those 2 free spots.

        • I like that sort of thing too. But it is kinda weird that we view this as “two free spots.” Like, DC could publish MORE than 52 New 52 books in a month (they do this routinely – zero month had 55). Also, if they only put out 50 books, but they’re 50 good books (which, let’s be honest, they’d never be able to publish 50 good books in one month) I’d be happy too.

        • You’re right: “52” is more a metaphor of how numerous their publications are, rather than the real number of their publications.
          It’s like when you say “I have dozens of things to do”: they are not actually dozens, but by using that hyperbole you make your interlocutor understand how busy you are. Thank you for your reply! : )

  2. I am a pretty big Constantine fan, and have followed Hellblazer off and on over the years–and this almost worked for me. I really wanted it to work, so I wonder if I give it too much credit, as there were a few things that didn’t quite work.

    Someone commenting on another site called this series “Heckblazer,” which I kinda like–its sort of the PG-13 version of Hellblazer, with superheroes and supervillians rather than dark sorcerers and demons. And Constantine’s potty mouth was toned down a bit. But that doesn’t bother me. What did bother me was how Constantine simply abandoned Chris at the end.

    I dunno, maybe the authors were trying to reassure us that “yes, Constantine is still a bastard.” And that is fine, but in my memory he was never so cold-hearted as to abandon a friend to be magically-minced like that. It may have happened to a few of his friends anyway, but Constantine was haunted by the deaths of those close to him (occasionally literally). In fact, an early Sandman issue had Dream taking away Constantine’s nightmares of the deaths that he had caused after Constantine helped Dream retrieve his bag of sand from one of Constantine’s ex’s who was using it as a drug. She and her father were dying in misery, and Constantine asks Dream to relieve their pain so they could die in peace. Constantine also took on one of the lords of hell to save the soul of a friend, worked to free children and his sister from hell, etc. So it seems to me that the Constantine of Hellblazer would have tried some con, sleight of hand, or somehow out-witted (or at least tried to outwit) Sargon. Chris may have ended up sliced and diced anyway, but it seems Constantine would have tried something to save him, even if half of his motivation was just to get the upper hand on Sargon. And Constantine was pretty casual about Chris’s death after the fact. One reviewer at another site read this as Constantine deliberately setting Chris up (he DID tell him his pain would end soon)–I hope that is not the case. I can’t see Constantine premeditatively setting people up to die to further his cause.

    Anyway, this is getting to be a long response–but my take is that this was close to the Constantine from Hellblazer, and close enough that I plan to follow this for a bit and see how it goes, but it sort of missed the cocky-confidence and willingness to go up against a tougher opponent with some trick or other of the Constantine of Hellblazer. The closest to this in the DCnU so far in my opinion has been Joshua Hale Fialkov in I, Vampire.

    • I suppose it comes back to where exactly in his history he exists now that he’s in the New 52. I wasn’t super bothered by his abandoning Chris, because I did get the sense that he did not feel good about what he did. I guess, too, it will depend on his endgame with this compass and how bad it would be for the Cold Flame to get their hands on it; if the threat is more serious than we realize, Chris’ death sadly may have been worth it.

      Good to hear from a Hellblazer fan that this title is off to a decent start.

      • I guess the thing that bugged me most about it was the contrast to “spotting trouble a mile away” in the plane, and missing it entirely in the hotel. The thing I like about Constantine is he is usually prepared. From the plane he knew he was up against the Cold Flame Cult, and if they new he was on the plane, they knew he was in Norway, and probably why. He would have had a few tricks up his sleeve–That’s Constantine’ MO. Unless Chris was his sacrificial offering all along, and in fact that was how he had prepared. But I am not sure I want to follow a murderous or a sloppy Constantine. If that keeps up, I will just go back and catch up on Hellblazer.

        • It is kind of weird that the Cold Flame Cult had it together enough to get an agent on the correct plane to Norway, but still arrived after Constantine. Like, if they new where John was going with enough time to plan an assassination, why couldn’t they just get there first?

      • I agree with you that Constantine would be wiling to sacrifice someone “for the greater good” and all–I mean, look what he did to the Enchantress in JLD. But I wasn’t convinced the stakes were quite that high here. He could have just as easily said “Well played Sargon, this round to you, but let’s see if you can get the drop on me next time. There are still two more pieces of the compass to find after all. Besides, who needs a compass as long as I have my oracular friend Chris here with me!”

        • Maybe there’s more to JC’s betrayal than we’ve seen in these pages. Chris may seem like a rando with semi-seer powers, but it’s possible there’s something else happening here that John’s clued in to but hasn’t shared with the audience yet. This characterization does veer pretty dark; but there just has to be a reason he’d so willingly sacrifice this dude.

        • I hope so–I would hate to have the authors trying to demonstrate to JC fans that he is still a bastard in the DCnU by having him do something that is out of character enough that it turns off JC fans, if that makes any sense….

        • Yeah, I get what you’re saying. It’s like… did you see the Ren and Stimpy Cartoon that aired on Spike TV a few years ago? (It’s up on Netflix; don’t watch it.) Naturally, the episodes are filled with the kind of violence, gore and sexual ambiguity that seem like they’d be at home in the original, but they go too far and John K.’s artistry is totally lost. Turns out we don’t just love JC because he’s a bastard, he love him AND he’s a bastard.

  3. What airline has its flight attendants wearing short skirts (and long sleeves) and strutting like they are on a catwalk (runway?) these days? One of the Scandinavian ones? Maybe Russian…?

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