Thursday, March 21, 2013

Constantine #1 Reviewed

Close, but no cigar. 
There is a cigarette, though. I was afraid DC would have bowed to the current social climate to make John Constantine a teetotaling nonsmoker.  This isn't quite John Constantine, however.  At least not the same Constantine created by Alan Moore and developed by Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, and their successors in the pages of Swamp Thing and Hellblazer.   There are similarities, but in the end the discrepancies are too much for this old Hellblazer reader.
Jeff Lemire doesn't get the character's voice quite right.  In both accent and attitude, John Constantine came to represent, to me at least, the quintessential Britisher.  The Constantine in this issue sounds to me more like an American who has overdosed on British sitcoms.  The fact that this new Constantine lives in New York City adds to that perception.  The city of London was as much a part of the Vertigo incarnation of Constantine as he was part of the city.  
This character seems a little more coldblooded than the original as well.  To be sure, John Constantine has had to sacrifice his friends and companions to save his own ass, but never, it seemed to me, as casually as he abandons Chris to Sargon the Sorceress in this issue.
I don't like that cover either.  It looks like it comes from the wrong Keanu Reaves movie.  Its more Matrix than Constantine, at least the Constantine of the Vertigo comics (to be honest, I've not seen the film).   I prefer the variant cover showing Constantine leaning against his own headstone surrounded by grasping, undead hands.  This is more in line with the character as I knew him. However, the Laughing Ogre wanted fifteen dollars for their sole copy of that edition, so I settled for the action hero version.
The story concerns the efforts of Constantine and his soon to be late friend Chris to locate the components of a magical artifact capable of detecting other magical artifacts or magic users before a secretive cult known as the Cold Flame gets to it.  Its not a bad story, over all, but not quite compelling enough to win me over given my problems with this new pseudo-John Constantine.  I most likely won't be continuing with this series beyond this issue.
However, if you're looking for a well done if fairly standard magic tinged super-hero adventure comic, then I actually would recommend Constantine #1.  But if you really want to read about John Constantine, then I would direct you to the back issue bins and trade paperback racks.
By the way, if you read the preview of this story that appeared in the New 52 comics a couple of weeks back, you'll notice if you read the same pages in this issue that there have been some changes in the artwork and narration between then and now.  Old Phantom Stranger foe Tannarak has been substituted for Dr. Occult as one of the founders of the Cult of the Cold Flame.  My guess is that some other writer or editor at DC had plans for Dr. Occult and didn't want him off-handedly declared dead in a caption.


  1. "Its not a bad story, over all, but not quite compelling enough to win me over given my problems with this new pseudo-John Constantine."

    These words sum up your view of Constantine the serial comic. They also accurately sum up my view of Constantine the movie.

    Keanu Reeves did as good a job as he was capable with the title role and, as an actor, I'm sure he works harder than many people give him credit, but he was, at the end of the day, the wrong actor for the part.

    I'll admit, as an American raised on American comics, much of the appeal to John Constantine for me is that he was English. Hellblazer was written by series of writers from the U.K. (until Brian Azzarello broke the streak) in order to give the book a distinctly English feel. Even during Ennis' "Damnation's Flame" storyline where John was a homeless vagrant wandering through New York City, he was very much a foreigner. Being away from his native land was part of the point to that story, I think, making John vulnerable by placing him somewhere where he was groundless, on alien turf.

    I had reservations about the movie when it chose not to incorporate either the Hellblazer title or the English roots of the character. Your review here gives me similar reservations about reading this new series.

    P.S. It could very well be that I'm the only regular Gutter Talk reader who is also a Hellblazer fan, but oh well. I've really been enjoying these Hellblazer posts you've been making lately, even if I don't always comment.

    1. The closest thing I've ever seen to John Constantine on film was a character played by Julian Sands in the TV mini-series Rose Red, based on a Stephen King story. Sands played a blond-haired, grizzled, smart-mouthed English mage sent with a group of other magic-sensitives to investigate a legendary haunted house. Sounds like our boy John, doesn't it?

      Spoiler: Unfortunately, Sands' character doesn't survive the experience. If it were Constantine, he would have gotten out, but not without pushing a few of his companions directly into harm's way in order to accomplish it. The story would have ended with John a little bit crazier, haunted by even more ghosts of the people he had wronged in order to achieve a greater right.

      But since this is a Stephen King story, the little girl with immense psychic powers turns out to be the most important character. That's twist, since Stephen King doesn't usually incorporate psychic children into his stories -- except for Carrie... and Firestarter... and The Langoliers... and The Shining...

  2. Anyone else think that on the actual cover, Constantine looks like the character Spike from the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer?