Patrick: For all it’s crude early-90s wordplay and carefully constructed explorations of popular culture, the greatest strength of the movie Clerks is Dante’s refrain “I’m not even supposed to be here today.” The indignity of living his life is made all the worse when we realize there’s no escape for the poor guy, even on his day off. It’s like the universe is only happy when Dante’s stuck behind the register at the Quick Stop. Just as the DC Universe is only happy when John Constantine is up to his neck in charms, angry wizards and grifter-assassins. It turns out magic doesn’t take a holiday, even when Johnny needs it so badly.
Of course, he doesn’t come to the decision to take a day off on his own – Dotty suggests it, first politely and then rather firmly. After collecting a fortuitous piece of information from a parrot (schemers never check to see if a parrot is listening), John sets out to make good on the “see some friends” part of “take the day off.” Being that he’s John Constantine, he still ends up in trouble from just about every angle you imagine. There’s Papa Midnite, a Manhattan magic guru that doesn’t like that John’s been stealing from him, and therefore kidnaps him and tries to chop his arms off. Constantine gets out of this with his trademark combination of magic, charm and luck, and goes to visit Zatanna. Zee’s just hanging out in her sweats, divining the future from a backwards-magic-responsive crystal ball. She shares some predictions about the upcoming war between the superheroes, but ultimately kicks John out when he can’t stop talking shop. Back on the street, John runs into a sloppy would-be assassin, sent by Sargon. John gets out of this one with that same combo I mentioned above (with an added headbutt for good measure).
There really isn’t a single specific stories in this issue – it’s more like a series of loosely connected episodes that color Constantine’s world. And that world is in pretty serious need of definition: one of the lingering questions as John came over from his Vertigo Hellblazer series was how he’s going to participate with the aliens and superheroes and all that silly stuff in the DCU. Justice League Dark started to explore that question, but still kept John and his compatriots out of the way of the more straightforward superheroes (until Flash’s cameo two weeks ago). John makes a point of mentioning to Zatanna that he’s never meat any of them – he’s referring specifically to Superman, Batman and Lex Luthor, but it’s a fun reminder that he doesn’t really interact with any of the classic superheroes. The first arc in this series continued this hero-isolationism, setting our hero on a decidedly magical quest for decidedly magical items and coming up against decidedly magical opponents. This issue doesn’t break that pattern necessarily, but — especially the scene at Zee’s — reminds us that there’s a big-bad world out there that has nothing to do with magic.
Which isn’t to suggest that magic gets the short straw here. In fact, there are more probably more spells mentioned by name in this issue than during a chapter of Harry Potter. Before going out for the day, Constantine had protected himself with both a Turnabout Charm and a Shivering Ward. Writer Ray Fawkes is kind enough to show us the SUPER COOL effects for the Turnabout (who ever harms you will have those same harms visited upon them by sundown), but he’s hilariously cagey about the Shivering Ward.
Between this and John’s voice over descriptions of what Tommy — his crummy assassin — is doing poorly in his grift, we’re getting kind of a guided tour of of how John does things. It’s a surprisingly useful look into his day-to-day. Mind you, just as with the magic, there are secrets that neither Fawkes or Constantine seem quite ready to share with us yet – like when Tommy’s gun jams, he teasing asks: “Did I do something to the gun or did I just know it’d jam on its own?” Good question, John.
Make no mistake about it, this issue is definitely an interlude between Compass schenanigans and Trinity War tomfoolery – even regular series artist Renato Guedes takes a break. I do miss his elastic approach to characters and the abandon with which he would employ dramatic angles and lenses, but guest artist Fabiano Neves does an admirable job of emulating the quiet chaos Guedes’ art evoked. The transition is ably assisted by colorist Marcello Maiolo, who made sure that every moment of this issue was dripping with the golden-time light of a perpetual sunset.
Taylor, I thought this issue was tons of fun. There’s so much Constantine character stuff and world-building magic junk that it almost renders the previous three as pointless — at least in terms of being a re-introduction to John Constantine. Also, I don’t know what this says about me, but Zatanna bumming around her apartment in sweat pants and a tank top marks the first time that I’ve seen that character and thought “oh she’s cute.” (Guess I’m just not a fishnets and top hat kind of guy.)
Taylor: Patrick, we’ve talked about this numerous times in the past both here at Retcon and in more informal settings, but god damn, hangout episodes are fun. For those of you who might be confused by what I mean when I refer to “hangout episode” I’ll explain. Every-so-often in comics, TV shows, or basically anything else that is serialized, there comes an episode (or issue) where the plot of said medium is not furthered at all. Instead, you simply get to spend some time with the characters you like and see what they do when they aren’t saving the universe or fighting for their lives. This issue of Constantine is a perfect example of such an issue and because of that I am also fond of it.
Aside from the absence of any plot, the main way we know this is a hangout issue is that Zatanna is hanging out at home out of uniform. Whenever you see a superhero out of uniform, you know you’re probably either in a hangout issue or a parallel universe — and while the latter is always possible, that’s not what’s going on here. Patrick, you mention that for the first time you noticed Zee’s an attractive lady precisely because she is hanging out in sweats. I’m not sure what this says about what you find attractive in people, but it is kind of interesting. I mean sure, Maiolo does his best to show off her curves in this issue, but I think there’s something more to it than that. This is the first time we’ve actually seen Zatanna working independently in a long time. Additionally, she’s floating around in her house and then tells off John just for good measure. While I can’t speak personally about levitation, I presume it is hard to do, just as it is to tell off a con-artist like Constantine. I think because of those things she’s just naturally more interesting in this issue than she ever has been in Justice League Dark.
Also, she drops that little bombshell about Constantine maybe fighting Supes or Bats while conspiring with Luthor. And while I agree with you, Patrick, about how interesting it will be to see the magic world of Constantine clash with the super-friend power set of the Justice Leaguers, there’s another prospect I’m more excited about.
While any battle is interesting when you consider the resources each side has at its disposal, it’s more interesting to see two great strategists go toe to toe in a costly game of cat and mouse. Now, think about the DC universe for a second: who are the two smartest characters you can think of? Maybe not smartest in terms of knowledge, but it terms of cleverness and improvisation? For me, I think those two are Batman and Constantine. John v. Wayne, son. The idea of these two battling each other is drool inducing and trying to imagine the efforts they will go to to stay a step ahead of the other is a little mind bending. I mean, how would Batman deal with a Turnabout Charm? I have no idea, however, I know he would pull it off somehow.
This highlights another part of this issue that I enjoyed along with Patrick. Just watching Constantine do work is a joy, like watching Michael Jordan score 40 points in his heyday like it ain’t no thang [sic]. While Patrick mentions what Constantine does in the issue, it’s interesting to consider what he does off of it. We always catch Constantine in medias res (hey, that English degree is finally paying off) but never see him before the events of an issue. What I have to wonder is, what does he do when he first wakes up in the morning? Sometimes a shower seems like too much to ask, never mind casting several protective spells on yourself. The man has conviction I tell you. This goes to show us a part of Constantine that we usually don’t see and explains why he is able to avoid his death every issue. More impressive is that he’s able to always think ahead, even on his day off.
I used to think that maybe John was just damn lucky, but here it’s clear he’s not. What we see in this issue, as in others, is the fruit of his labors. That is to say, the man does his homework but we simply never see it. Like everyone else involved in Constantine’s life, the reader is not privy to what John does behind closed doors. This keeps Constantine a mysterious figure in a lot of ways, but hey, if he wasn’t would he really be the Constantine we’ve all come to know and kind of love?
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?