After appearing in 300 issues of Vertigo’s Hellblazer and becoming the leader of Justice League Dark, John Constantine makes his solo debut in the New 52. Many of the trademarks of the old character are here. There are his sarcastic voiceovers to which are added remarks and aphorisms on the nature, use, and abuse of magic. Constantine is still a chain smoker and orders a whiskey on his plane trip to Norway. Even though he never sets foot in his native England, he is street smart and knows when his drink is poisoned and cons his traveling companion Chris into paying for their lodging. But there is one difference: John is part of a bigger universe than he was back in Hellblazer, but he won’t be teaming up with Superman or the Green Lantern Corps yet.
This issue does an excellent job of introducing the reader to John Constantine and his unique character quirks. Lemire and Fawkes write him as a balancing force in the DC Universe to make sure either superheroes or sorcerers don’t get too powerful and take over the world. In this way, he seems more heroic than previous incarnations of John Constantine even taking a young acne ridden mage named Chris under his wing to teach him magic. However, he is just as reckless as before, and this behavior affects people around him.
The main antagonist in the first story arc is The Cult of the Cold Flame, an organization centered around obscure DC comics sorcerers, like Sargon the Sorcerer’s daughter, Zatara, Mister E, and Tannarak. It was first mentioned in Neil Gaiman’s Books of Magic miniseries. This is a creative twist to what would normally have been a simple object retrieval plot and makes for lots of beautiful art with a magic duel taking place in a ice chapel. Some readers may miss the social commentary and urban grittiness of Hellblazer, but Constantine the treasure hunter and trickster makes for an exciting read even if there aren’t the deeper themes of the earlier stories. The voiceovers are handled nicely, tie into the themes of the issue, and give John Constantine a world weary yet humorous internal monologue. They provide a glimpse into Constantine’s psyche so the reader isn’t completely swept away by his globetrotting adventures.
As far as art, Renato Guedes eschews the dark lines and shadows of a Vertigo to keep Constantine more in line with DC’s house superhero style. However, he nails Constantine’s facial tics, like an mischievous wink after a close encounter with a Cold Flame member. Some of Guedes’ city backgrounds are a bit jumbled, but he works at the magical fight scenes with great relish giving Constantine and Sargon creative ways to use their powers. Marcelo Maiolo’s colors add little details to the varying flame motifs throughout the book from the multicolored one used by the cultist to the purer flame near the end. His and Guedes’ version of Constantine is much younger than Hellblazer‘s, but the art team shows the stress on him in subtle ways, like through the stubble on his cheek.
Constantine is an excellent introduction for new readers to one of Vertigo’s greatest characters and is filled with mystery, adventure, and some philosophical musings about the nature of magic. However, John Constantine’s down to earth personality keeps the book grounded in humanity. In a probable attempt to appeal to DC readers, it has more action and less horror than Hellblazer, but it’s not a cape and tights book by any means. It stands on its own as a story, but it also fits into the greater narrative of the DC New 52 and The Dark family of titles.