Today, Taylor and Patrick are discussing Constantine 2, originally released April 10th, 2013.
Taylor: John Constantine is an addict. If you look at anything that chronicles the life of an addict, you’ll find a chapter or two that speaks of the magnificent high times — even though stark reality later sets in. These high times suggest that addiction is more worthwhile than any reasonable person would believe. With the exception of movies like Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream or shows like A&E’s Intervention, there have been relatively few realistic portrayals of addiction and the effect it has on both its users and those who love them. So it’s odd that a story about magic and the occult would have much insight to offer when it comes to the subject of addiction. Constantine 2 does exactly that while deepening our understanding of what drives the titular hero.
Constantine has secured the needle for Croydon’s Compass and is on his way to pick up the dial for the same instrument – the second of three pieces required for its use. Landing in Myanmar, Constantine reflects on how much he loves using magic before he is kidnapped by some thugs working for Mister E. This sorcerer, who lost his eyes in his (blind?) pursuit of ever more powerful magic, is a bona fide Southern gentleman who poses a real threat to Constantine and demands that he turn over the needle to him. Constantine does so in order to escape having his soul torn from his body and quickly makes his escape to a Buddhist temple which houses the dial. But, before he can grab the dial, Constantine meets the Spectre, who demands Constantine make penance for his various misdeeds. Constantine argues his way out of the encounter, grabs the dial, and then heads to London to find the last piece of Croydon’s Compass.
Last month, Shelby and Patrick discussed how the Constantine character met their expectations. I could easily do more of the same this month but that would be somewhat redundant. Rather, I want to talk less about my expectations of the character and more about what Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes are doing with the character that I enjoy. I love Constantine’s pervasive narration: not only does it make his world deeper bit by bit, but it’s also doing the same for the character. At the beginning of the issue Constantine muses to himself that magic is the best thing in the world to experience, especially when it’s all you have left.
It’s interesting to see Constantine in such a confessional light. He’s admitting that magic is basically his world, even though it is the very thing that has taken away nearly everyone and everything he has cared about. This reminds me of how someone would speak about a substance addiction. He talks about how “it feels fantastic” and of the incredible rush he gets when using it or obtaining new pieces of the occult. This is a fascinating turn to the Constantine character I was not expecting. This Constantine isn’t necessarily the one who manipulates magic. Rather, he is manipulated by it. Just look at how he feels when he finally gets the dial of Croydon’s Compass in his hand.
Constantine knows that eventually he will pay for all of his sins, but right now all that matters to him is the high he gets from another piece of magical paraphernalia. Like an addict, he knows that what he is doing is bad for him and those around him, but he simply can’t help himself. Similarly, Constantine knows he shouldn’t go to London — what with virtually every magic-user there trying to kill him. However, the lure of fresh magic and adventure is too much for Constantine and he relapses into magic hunting mode and makes a decision that could hurt himself or others.
The only time Constantine seems to recognize the cost of his actions is when the Spectre appears to judge him. This is basically his intervention: a mysterious and powerful spirit forces Constantine to confront those who he has sacrificed in his “war” on evil magic users. Rightfully so, the Spectre asks if everything Constantine has achieved is worth the price, which is something the reader has to ask as well.
To his credit, Constantine has a damn good rebuttal for the Spectre — one that (momentarily) saves his life, but leaves us all wondering if we should be so eager to root for this man who is willing to win the battle at any cost. For the time being, at least, it is refreshing to see Constantine act like a real human and show some empathy for those he’s sacrificed. This scene also has even broader implications, making us question if the ends justify the means or if the means are just as important as the ends. It’s one of those questions men in togas have been asking since time immemorial and it’s pleasing to see such an interesting topic explored in this title. I can only hope it continues!
Patrick, what do you think of this more meditative and reflective Constantine? Is it the type of thing you want to see out of this character? Also, what do you make of the Spectre? Is he working for some sort of uber-deity who judges all? He kind of reminds me of the Stranger which sickens me a little, but at least so far he’s a little more nuanced. Also, I didn’t mention the art at all, which I really love. I know you talked about it last month, but do you have anything else to add this time around?
Patrick: The art in this series certainly is distinct, and it achieves some pretty neat effects throughout. Renato Guedes’ style is a lot more elastic than what I’m used to seeing in other books — last month I pointed out a few panels that showcased his affinity for wide lenses and odd camera angles. That seems to be ratcheted up a few notches in this issue, as if to emulate John’s state of mind as he moves from one disorienting situation to the next. Seriously, he essentially spends the whole issue in a state of waking up from being knocked out. Check out how Guedes uses concave and convex lenses on opposite pages to create this dizzying effect:
And Johnny C.’s got every right to feel overwhelmed. Taylor’s point about Constantine being a magic junkie is well observed, but he’s also pretty stunningly outclassed in this issue. Mister E is bad news, and it’s humiliating for the character to simply hand over the artifact for which he just sacrificed a friend. But what other choice does he have? E’s using soul-suckin’ power, which we last saw Constantine using against poor Nick Necro — we have to assume that shit’s unpleasant. So Constantine effectively gives the bully what he wants, pisses his pants and runs away. There’s nothing honorable about what Constantine does, but that doesn’t mean that it’s without value.
That ends up being the sticking point for the Spectre. Taylor, you’re correct: he sort of does answer to an uber-god — so uber, in fact, that I should capitalize that G. The Spectre is the living embodiment of God’s Wrath. And if he feels a little bit like the Phantom Stranger, that might be because the character is featured in a few issues of Phantom Stranger –– including his New 52 introduction in the zero issue. [This is the point in the conversation where I’d jump the defense of Phantom Stranger — since its decidedly shaking beginnings, the series has found its legs, but this is neither the time nor the place to discuss other issues (let alone other series), so I’ll just leave it at that.] The Spectre’s role in this issue is that of the audience surrogate — he passes judgment on Constantine, telling him that sacrificing Christopher was too badass, even for him. John’s response boils down to “well, do you want to see me win or do you want to see me lose?” Is that justification enough to satiate readers that might have been alienated by John’s rash actions in issue 1? And does it matter if we buy that reasoning or not? It’s an interesting question, and Fawkes and Lemire seem content not to answer it. Readers will have to decide for themselves to what degree Constantine’s actions are moral, immoral or amoral.
Hey, you know who I end up praising just about every time we read an issue he worked on? Colorist Marcelo Maiolo. His work on this series and with Andre Sorrentino on Green Arrow has just been astounding. Maiolo’s lighting effects are wonderful, adding a real sense of space and drama to even the more inactive sequences in this issue.
Actually, there’s a lot to love about the art as John approaches the temple and this shrine within. The way Jim Corrigan (aka The Spectre) appears in the panels before he transforms make it tricky to pin down his location, as the light and perspective kind of warp around him.And of course, once he transforms into full-on cloak-mode, there’s too much red sky and face-fog to really know what’s what. Still, I end up mostly enjoying the quiet, majestic moments, like this beautiful piece of sequential art.
What I’m saying is that whether or not I can personally champion the moral decisions that Constantine makes, I find myself addicted to the artistic decisions Constantine makes.
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?