Constantine #1 Review
By: Rob Neil Gruszecki
Ascending the steps of a common dive bar, tucked away in a dank area of New York a trench coat clad man rises after a night like any other, soaked in alcohol and reeking of smoke. Unshaven and haggard, the man stumbles down the sketchy, abandoned streets like wandering through a ghost town as snow tumbles to the asphalt. Looking up at the sky a green streak rockets above, heralding another clown who has had ‘greatness’ thrust upon them, taking up their ‘duty’ to serve and protect while underneath the man ponders his station in the grand scheme of things. That being one of a goon, a liar and a mage. One who without hesitation, in order to achieve the same heights will do the greatest trick a magician can possibly preform.
Back in early November of 2012, DC editorial announced the cancellation of Vertigo’s longest running flagship title, Hellblazer, with its 300th issue. A series that spanned 25 years and heralded some of the biggest names in comics including Garth Ennis, Andy Diggle, Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Steve Dillon, Brian Azzarello and many more. The character of John Constantine, a creation of Alan Moore from his Swamp Thing run, was an absolute bastard. He managed to pave his way through several friends, delivering them to grizzly ends. He brought painful humility and eternal suffering to demons and gods alike. He conducted brutal and horrific incantations and left cinders behind him in his wake. He represented what was selfish and broken in us all, acknowledged it and just continued down a self-destructive, self-loathing path towards his eternal and inevitable damnation. Upon it’s cancellation I was personally devastated as the title had been my favorite monthly title for years and was one of the first books that ever made my pull-list when I first began collecting comics.
In addition to the sad news of the series’ demise, DC announced an all new ongoing that would be a solo serial for the disgruntled British drunk. This new book however would take place in the shared universe of the New 52, the same world where other properties made famous in the Mature reader world of Vertigo like Animal Man and Swamp Thing, were currently having adventures. John had already suffered a re brand in his team book of the Justice League Dark that completely watered down the character and made him more like an annoying, wacky uncle who curses in a painfully PG manner and maybe smokes a little too much. Ultimately this new take on the younger, less jaded, less scarred Constantine felt as though it would be like a Sex Pistols cover band on a Lite music station. Simply something I had no interest in.
I am very glad however to say that this is not the case for Constantine. Despite editorial hiccups prior to its release (Robert Venditti was slated to write the series until a few months before, getting taken off the project to be replaced by Ray Fawkes and Jeff Lemire), the reality that this substitution for Hellblazer was something no one asked for or for that matter seemed to want and of course exceptionally low expectations on my part, the first installment in the New 52’s Constantine is a worthy addition to the legacy of the character. Obviously this is a much younger version of John and instead of his regular haunts in London pubs he seems to be frequenting the streets of New York but the transition was done well and effectively enough to keep an embittered, whiny fan like me interested in what was in store. I felt as though the scripting was handled with precision and understanding of the character that held true to the audience that his previous tales had garnered and would seem intriguing to new readers. All the reasons why we love the ruthless and selfish con-man are contained in the issue including his penchant for manipulation, misdirection, sardonic wit, volatility and callousness proving again why the man is the ultimate anti-hero.
Artistically, Renato Guedes is an excellent choice for the book. His jittery interiors and darker style suits the series and his panels of Constantine as he lights his cigarette, casually walks down a desolate alley, examines a glass of whiskey, puts a cultist to her death with a mere sentence, vandalizes the altar of a chapel or battles a rage driven sorceress are all drawn exceptionally. His work is one I will look forward to for the rest of his stay on the book which will hopefully be long. My only complaint artistically is the cover, drawn by Ivan Reis. Although a very great drawing, is one that in no way represents the character or the content of the book at all. The image of John blasting a magic sigil from his hand like Storm shooting lighting through her fingertips is laughable and a completely ridiculous attempt at making the book seem like any other cape book on the shelves. The image of Constantine resting on a gravestone which was originally solicited as the cover seemed a better choice to me and honestly was what I understood the cover to be until I held the actual issue in my hands.
Ultimately, Constantine is Hellblazer turned down from 11 to a comfortable and safe 7, rounding off any jagged edges and polishing off the filthy detective. Fawkes and Lemire successfully sustain the themes of mortality, exploitation and defeat through the bitter head of a fallen human and start off this new book with an enjoyable story of twisted black magic, booze and cigarettes.
Rob Gruszecki is a writer, musician and Wednesday warrior
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