Written by Ray Fawkes and Jeff Lemire
Art by Renato Guedes
Release Date: March 20, 2013
There are two ways to try to evaluate DC’s new Constantine title. The first is to try to compare it to the once glorious but recently cancelled Hellblazer title. Longtime readers might fear that a mainstream DC version of John Constantine would need to have some of his rougher edges smoothed out to make the transition from his previous mature audiences Vertigo title, and it’s true that Constantine #1 is a little more action-driven and a little less weird than its predecessor. A little more Grifter, maybe, and a little less Hellboy.
The second way to look at Constantine is to consider that Hellblazer was cancelled not just because DC wanted to more fully integrate John into its Teen/Teen+ main continuity, but because Hellblazer sales were truly terrible. The choice DC (and thus, readers) faced wasn’t whether to aim a John Constantine title at older or younger audiences, it was whether relaunch the book to reflect that broader role that Constantine is already playing in the New 52 — making appearances in Animal Man, Sword of Sorcery, and as an active player in Justice League Dark — or to cancel the title outright and relegate John to his new job as a popular guest star in other books.
If you lean toward the former, Constantine can’t help but be a bit of a disappointment, but judged on its own, Lemire and Fawkes do a better job than I think even die-hard Hellblazer aficionados might expect of introducing new readers to a rumpled ne’er-do-well who seems to give the impression in spite of himself of a long-neglected heart of gold. Even in the New 52, though, it’s really just a carefully applied hint of gold leaf, and John remains a main at least as dangerous to his friends as to his enemies.
In fact, if I have any complaints about Constantine #1, it might just be that the story is a bit too self-contained, and it reads almost like a one-shot instead of the start of an ongoing series. It’s clearly accessible to new readers, and I can see how it introduces threads that later issues will pick up, but it all really comes down to whether readers find themselves inclined to spend more time with John Constantine on his own merits rather than to find out what happens next.
But if John seems to walk away a bit too cleanly at the end of Constantine, maybe its the times that have changed more than he has. Now that even boy bands have attentively unshaven chins, and hair mussed just so, maybe it’s not entirely John’s fault that his trench coat almost feels a bit Doctor Who. Maybe when even Superman is a bit younger, a touch more petulant than he used to be, it’s harder to feel betrayed by a good, honest con man. It could be that John seems a bit more normal just because we’re more aware of how compromised everyone else was all along.
Maybe it’s not that John’s less dark, maybe it’s that we all look at the world through Constantine-colored glasses.