Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spotlight: Constantine #1

(w) Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes     (a) Renato Guedes

Constantine #1 by Jeff Lemire, Ray Fawkes, and Renato Guedes is a solid read. All the right parts are there and technically speaking, everything lines up beautifully. Jeff Lemire  and Ray Fawkes hit all the right narrative beats, and Renato Guedes' artwork fits the series like a glove; rough around the edges to look just realistic enough. Realistically, Constantine #1 will be praised and hailed as another success for superstar Jeff Lemire. And that sentiment wouldn't be wrong. Lemire has a phenomenal grasp on fantasy storytelling -- as evidenced by his work on Animal Man and Justice League Dark -- so it would seem like a natural fit for him to helm the solo series for John Constantine.

What doesn't make sense is that Constantine #1 feels underwhelming. Perhaps it's that Lemire's been writing the character in the pages of JLD for over a year and I've become comfortable with Constantine in a team book, or maybe it's that the snarky Brit doesn't seem to have the same edge he did in Hellblazer. I don't want to discount Lemire's impressive work on this issue because it is good; good enough to make me want to continue reading the series. One of the most impressive aspects of the issue is it's self contained nature that simultaneously sets the stage for Constantine's ongoing adventures. Lemire knocks the ball out of the park in terms of being new reader-friendly, and he conveys the Constantine charm well enough to warrant more than just a passing once-through.

Part of why I'm interested in this series is that Lemire will be writing Justice League Dark, Green Arrow, Animal Man, and Constantine all at the same time, which means there's likely to be a crossovers and guest appearances between these titles in the future. While judging a title on it's potential for future payoff might seem somewhat redundant, it's safe to say that a cohesive comic book universe is part of what makes the medium so much fun. You can find Batman popping up in Metropolis or Coast City because he lives in the same world as Superman and Green Lantern. Similarly, when a creator is charged with multiple titles, it's not uncommon to see said books intermingle even more than the standard fare. And if Lemire's work in the 'New 52' thus far is any indication, we may be in store for some epic crossovers. 


Constantine #1 begins "The Spark and the Flame" which sees Constantine up against the Cult of the Cold Flame, an organization that has been floating around for a while now. The general plot progression throughout the issue isn't anything to write home about, but Lemire and Fawkes keep things interesting enough with the dialogue and Constantine's inner monologue between actions sequences to keep the story flowing. One of the biggest revelations is that Zatanna's father, Zatara, was a leader of the Cult of the Cold Flame alongside three other sorcerers who were once agents of good. It's only mentioned briefly in a moment of exposition, but it's an important piece of the DCnU history about a character who has had so little development/backstory in the 'New 52' it's almost painful. 

Of course, the bigger idea gleaned from learning about the Cult's leaders is that they all used to be good men who were corrupted by magic. Ethical quandaries have always been a staple of Hellblazer, and it's fortunate that this element of the character and his overall narrative tone has been kept intact in this new series.

The final pages of Constantine #1 prove that, in a very real way, Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes have a firm grasp on John Constantine. There's a lot to love, not only regarding the story and the characters, but also about the story structure and openness to future potentials. I love the ideas presented in this issue, I just struggle with the presentation itself and how the writing feels like it's vibrating at a frequency only slightly off from our own.


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