Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing Constantine 3, originally released May 8th, 2013.
Taylor: We all have that friend or know that guy. You know the one, the one who for whatever reason is lucky as all hell. Fate, in its ever fickle nature, has determined that fortune always favors this person whether they are deserving of it or not. While we don’t hate this person necessarily, we do begrudge them. Why should they get all the luck while we seemingly get none? Things become more frustrating when the fortunate person in question seems to do relatively little to achieve their luck. Whether they’re stupid, lazy, mean or any other disparaging adjective you can think of, it just seems like they don’t deserve the fortune that has fallen in their laps. Is John Constantine one of these people? Is he unreasonably lucky or is he actually deserving of his laurels? Is he actually the cause of his success or is something else? In the third issue of Constantine we ponder this question as well as experiencing London in ways few would expect.
John has landed in London and is looking for the lens of Croydon’s compass, an artifact that can locate any magical relic on the face of the planet. Making matters more difficult for our titular hero is that Sargon the Sorcerer (not Sorceress!) previously placed a curse on John which essentially makes the city of London hell bent on killing him. Regardless, John meets an old acquaintance, Jules, and is on his way to find the compass when the city begins its onslaught. Just as the two are about to be killed in traffic they are transported to a nightmare realm. Constantine and Jules negotiate with the Riddling Butcher and they make their escape only for Constantine to once again find himself trapped by Sargon and Mister E. They are about to kill John and take the lens for the compass when the Riddling Butcher bursts in and destroys the lens and helps John escape back to New York.
Upon landing in London Constantine is in a reflective mood, something which apparently happens whenever he arrives in a new location. In this particular instance he’s once again thinking about magic (is he ever not?) and those who use it. He admits that everyone who uses it has the belief that they are smarter than everyone — just like everyone on internet comment sections.
Constantine obviously includes himself in this circle of magical know-it-alls but it would seem he should have some sort of advantage in knowing his faults. Sun-Tzu or Master Splinter or someone wise probably once said that knowing your faults is the first step to success. So, in some ways it seems like Constantine should be ahead of the game. However, here he is London, thinking he can outsmart two of the most powerful mages on the planet. Is that smart or not?
Adding to the question of his smarts is his decision to come back to London at all, a city that is literally trying to kill him. No, it’s not that he has a price on his head or that some demon who calls London home is thirsting for Constantine’s soul (though both seem likely). Literally, the city is trying to kill him because of Sargon’s curse. Despite the protections offered by Jules car, Constantine is almost killed by falling windows and stoplights that cause near fatal car crashes.
Because of this curse and being pursued by Sargon and Mister E. Constantine by all rights should probably meet his end in this issue. His decision to come to London is boneheaded, to say the least, even if ostensibly it is to save the world from evil. Remember: Constantine still has one part of Croydon’s compass so it’s not as if Sargon and Mister E. could use the compass even if they obtained the lens. There is no immediate danger to the world if he doesn’t go. But Constantine is brash. He thinks he can outsmart the competition and therefore disregards the many dangers that await him and the world. Yet by the end of the issue he somehow comes out on top.
Ultimately this is what interests me the most about this issue. It raises the question: is Constantine actually all that smart of is he just damn lucky? Like that fortunate asshole we all know, Constantine just seems to be favored by fate, which in his world could mean quite a bit. Consider, Constantine is about to be killed by the city of London when he is magically transported to nightmare land, or whatever it is. This place just happens to be run by the Riddling Butcher who wants revenge on Sargon. Because of this mutual enemy, Constantine is able to not only escape the nightmare world but also the clutches of the Cult of the Cold Flame. Further, he destroys the lens of Croydon’s compass in the process, saving the world from evil. Did Constantine actually outsmart his enemies here or is he simply the beneficiary of favorable circumstances? Given that Constantine lives in a world dominated by the forces of Good and Evil we have to wonder if the luck bestowed on Constantine is all that random. Is there an agent out there helping him accomplish all of his goals? Could he just be some larger force’s tool? Or is he too smart for all that and truly the chaotic neutral he believes himself to be?
Drew, how do you interpret the events of this issue? Do you see Constantine as lucky, smart, or a combination of the two? Or is there something else you see going on that I haven’t considered? What did you think of this mini story arc in general? Also, the art continued to impress me in this issue. Any thoughts?
Drew: I don’t know if I would characterize Constantine as lucky. Sure, he always has a way out, even when it seems like he doesn’t, but I’m pretty sure those “seems like he doesn’t” moments are just part of his con. He’s always prepared, but makes a point of seeming unprepared to put his enemies at ease. I’m not sure if it makes him a good or bad magician, but he always has something up his sleeve.
That said, you raise a good point about the Riddling Butcher ex machina ending here. What would his play have been if he hadn’t been trapped in that snare? We’ll never know, but I don’t think that means he didn’t have one — he just saw a better plan in making a deal with the Butcher (or, at least, a plan that had been adjusted to his new needs of escaping the snare). Constantine always has a plan, and getting to a point where we can’t understand how he can talk/trick his way out of something is the fun of this series, and it’s where Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes shine. Keeping us on the edge of our seat in spite of Constantine’s slipperiness is a feat, but this arc has demonstrated that Lemire and Fawkes can get us so caught up in Constantine’s obstacles that we forget that he’s never caught unawares.
Of course, the equation also requires a plausible solution, which I think was this issue’s weakest point. It wasn’t the Butcher, though (like I said, I like that Constantine’s plans are constantly readjusting): it was the “circle” line:
I get that this is a small detail, but I think it’s kind of cheap to goose the tension with a trap that isn’t actually a trap for our character. Moreover, it sets a bad precedent for this title to present a magical problem only to have it waved away because it wasn’t actually a problem, after all. I have no sense of the rules or scope of the magic in play here, so I really only have what’s implied in the pages, so again, it feels kind of cheap to be misled. (I will acknowledge that I’m still new to this character. If Constantine’s ability to escape circles is a well-established rule from Hellblazer, my apologies.)
Otherwise, this issue was thrilling, I loved the idea of London trying to kill Constantine — like something out of Final Destination, but way less contrived — and the light touch Lemire and Fawkes took in implying the history between Constantine and Jules. I’m also finding new things to love about Renato Guedes’ art. His designes for the Butcher and the snare are appropriately creepy, but I’m most enamored of his camera placement. So many of the panels are from a high angle, looking down on the action, giving the action a twisted, otherworldly feel.
It also serves as a clever visual shorthand for Constantine’s control throughout the issue. There are only two scenes where Guedes lowers the camera for any extended amount of time: when Jules is driving, and when Jules and Constantine first land in the snare — both feature Constantine at the mercy (at least temporarily) of powers outside of his control.
This issue was a blast, and this arc has absolutely sold me on this series. I may have my concerns about seeing through Constantine’s cons as the series wears on, but I think Lemire and Fawkes have the skills to keeping me guessing. I’m pretty sure that’s not luck, either.
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