The beginning of a new series can be an exciting thing for a comic reader. It’s basically like an invitation to find something new, or try something you have been hearing about. For that reason, I was excited at the prospect of reading the new series about John Constantine. I was not a Hellblazer reader, and like many would-be fans, felt that jumping on in the middle of a long running series would be a challenge. When the New 52 started, I got into Justice League Dark, in which Constantine is a recurring character. It seemed a natural progression to read some of the new Constantine series as well.
As a story goes, what I read should have been right up my ally. A bunch of dark wizards fighting it out over magical objects in a never ending attempt to subjugate the world. A crass anti-hero who tries to stop them by any means necessary. The first adventure follows Constantine’s search for Croydon’s Compass, a magical device that will lead its bearer to every other undiscovered magical relic. It has been split into three parts, the needle, the dial and the lens. Constantine will have to find all three parts before a cadre of other, more nefarious, wizards can either track them down or take them from him.
The arc features Constantine doing battle with Sargon the Sorceress, and Mister E as well as his own past when The Spectre shows up, and the city of London which thanks to a curse is going to kill him. This part of the book is pretty entertaining, if not always consistent.
The problem is that nobody gets any kind of introduction. I’m certainly not a proponent of every first arc being an origin story, but the first story in this collection does almost nothing to introduce any characters at all. It launches right into the story as if there were 300 issues behind it (Which technically there are, but calling something a first issue kind of alludes to a new introduction), and that causes some confusion.
For example, there is this Chris character — no last name, just Chris — who Constantine obviously knows, but of whom I have no knowledge. Then I’m suppose to feel shaken by the scene where Constantine sacrifices him to save the needle. I’m not shaken at all because I’m still dealing with the nagging feeling that I missed something. Who is this guy?
Same thing later on in the London story. There is this character, Jules, that he has some history with. He gives her an unwelcome kiss, and asks about the kids, but who is she? I know he is suppose to be a guy with a depraved past, and one way to show that is by having these unknown characters pop up, but it is very early in the run for this to be effective. The way these characters were introduced came across to me like an unwanted intrusion in an otherwise interesting story.
To a lesser extent I feel the same way about the villains. I’ve have heard some of their names along the way, but that doesn’t set me up enjoy their new renderings. When Sargon the Sorceress appears it is obvious from the presentation that it is meant to be a shocker, but it’s totally lost on the new reader.
So, by issue four of the collection, I’m feeling somewhat confused, but hanging in there. That is when I find myself reading what is essentially a throwaway issue. It’s supposedly Constantine’s day off and he’s supposed to go see some old friends. Of course that entails getting beat up, having an argument with Zatana (that is there for no reason but to set up the Trinity War thing) and turning around a would be beat down by one of Sargon’s thugs. Yes it was as pointless as it sounds. I know the Trinity War crossover was getting ready to start, but that issue was ill times so early in the run.
Speaking of the Trinity War, issue five is a Tie-in in which Constantine steals Shazam’s powers and fights a demon man sent by Mister E on behalf of the Cult of the Cold Flame. Another story that does nothing to hold me as a reader. Outside of the Trinity War continuity the story has no point. As an added bonus, it introduces another one of those old friends we know nothing about, Lloyd the bartender.
By the time I got to the end of the collection I was soured on the whole deal and basically reading to finishing. This is of course where the whole thing turned around. The last story in the collection starts with Constantine hovering between life and death after the encounter with the demon man. The Cold Flame is hunting him down, and Chris, returned as a ghost, shows up to make sure Constantine stays dead as revenge for his own demise. For the first time all the bad guys start working together, and the story gets really good. A great set up for the new arc of the series.
Overall, Constantine is very uneven. It has an awkward beginning and two dull stories. It had a few shining moments as well. It definitely will not make the pull list, but I might look for Volume 2 if they carry it at the library.
Constantine Vol. 1: The Spark and the Flame, written by Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes with art by Renato Guedes, Fabiano Neves and Szymon Kudranski, was released by DC Comics, February 12, 2014. It is rated T for Teens. It collects Constantine Issues 1-6. There are 144 pages in this softcover edition. USR $14.99