Long before there was a Vertigo Comics, writer Alan Moore was called upon to revitalize DC Comics’ character Swamp Thing in the mid-’80s, and one of the recurring characters that quickly became popular was one John Constantine, a chain smoking smart aleck of a magician who eventually got his own Hellblazer series. Over the course of 300 issues, the likes of Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Paul Jenkins, Warren Ellis and most recently, Peter Milligan, wrote the adventures of the supernatural con man, as it became Vertigo’s longest running series.
When the character was brought back into the DC Universe following the “Brightest Day” story arc and became a regular in the new Justice League Dark, written by Milligan no less, the writing was on the wall that eventually the character would be brought fully into the DC Universe. Now that’s exactly what has happened with the launch of his first eponymous series.
Written by Jeff Lemire & Ray Fawkes, who have also been writing Constantine in Justice League Dark, this series never purports itself to be a spin-off to that series as it opens with John Constantine transplanted into New York with no mention of any his supernatural colleagues. After an introspective bit of narration reiterating John’s distaste for superheroes, he meets up with a young acquaintance named Chris and the two of them are off to Norway in search of something called “Croydon’s Compass.”
This Constantine isn’t a normal con man with an intimate knowledge of the underworld, but a full-on paranormal investigator taking on super villains, as it’s established that he’s being hunted by a group called the Cult of the Cold Flame, an organization created by four DC magicians turned evil by the power of their magic. In this case, their discovery of the “Needle,” one piece of the compass, puts them up against the gender-bending Sargon the Sorceress, daughter of the original Sargon.
The writing in the first issue isn’t bad, not veering too far away from how the character was written in Hellblazer, although it throws him into situations more common in superhero comics with a little bit of a set up culminating in a fight sequence. If this particularl plot sounds somewhat familiar, then you probably read Valiant Comics’ Archer and Armstrong, which also involved a duo looking for pieces of an occult object and fighting others who were trying to get their hands on it.
It’s hard to ignore the fact that this is a tamer Constantine sans the profanity and philandering that made him such a popular character, so he automatically seems a little too tame and lacking the personality that separates him from other detective characters, like Batman, for instance.
Artist Renato Guedes, formerly of Catwoman, does a decent job with the art, which may be a bit too abstract for some tastes, while Marcelo Maiolo’s limited color palette and some of the choices made there doesn’t help Guedes art look that attractive.
More than anything, Constantine feels like it wants to have its cake and eat it, too, trying hard to pull over readers from Vertigo’s Hellblazer comic while also trying to bring in a new audience of DC Universe fans. It’s never quite as fun or clever as what was done at Vertigo with the character and the first issue at least doesn’t do enough to pull you in with something that makes you want to continue following the character. There is potential though, and maybe they’ll just need a few more issues to get to that point.