Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

CONSTANTINE: THE SPARK AND THE FLAME by Jeff Lemire, Ray Fawkes, and Renato Guedes

Constantine Volume 01 cover

I’m trying to settle into my summer (post-college semester) with reading and writing. So yesterday when I discovered that Constantine was indeed going to be making a small-screen appearance as a series in the fall, I thought about the first graphic novel of the “new” Constantine I’d picked up but hadn’t gotten around to yet.

The new John Constantine is the old John Constantine. Mostly. This is the version that’s been traveling around with the Justice League Dark series. I’ve read and reviewed the first two graphic novels of that series and loved them. Just discovered the third graphic novel was out, so I picked it up too because the last one ended on a cliffhanger.

Constantine Volume 01 page 01

This Constantine is ten years or so younger, has a romantic history with Zatanna (DCU’s backwards speaking magician), and has a lot of the same history as the original. The comic books are no longer called Hellblazer, dunno why.

The collection offers the first six issues of the series, led off by a three-issue arc that explores, more or less, Constantine’s present world. This arc is written by Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes, I guess as a sort of handoff from Justice League Dark that Lemire has been doing. The handoff is pretty much seamless in my opinion, because I had to go back to look where Fawkes took off on his own.

Constantine Volume 01 page 02

In this first arc, Constantine is presented at his best. He’s smart, selfish, and curious, and mostly out to save his own neck as things go bad. I enjoyed the ties back to Sargon the Sorcerer, one of the Golden Age’s heroes that I didn’t know about until the 25¢ 80-page giant comics back in the 1970s, although Sargon isn’t actually in this graphic novel.

This new Constantine appears to be a world traveler as well, globe-hopping with aplomb and knowing people everywhere. I like the idea a lot because it opens up all sorts of out-of-the-way places and world magics to climb into the coming stories. It only stands to reason because Constantine has access to the House of Mystery (see the Justice League Dark to get up to date on that).

Constantine Volume 01 page 03

I like the Cold Flame as a threat, especially with the new Sargon the Sorceress. I can tell they’re going to be around for a while. And I liked the confrontation with the Spectre, though I couldn’t tell exactly how this version of the Spectre fits into the new DCU. The Spectre is one of those characters I enjoyed a lot and look forward to.

The second story is a standalone, pretty much a-day-in-the-life-of scenario that works really well as it comes full circle. Constantine gets a chance to balance the scales here and there, and work his magic as he gets himself out of hot water with Papa Midnite, a voodoo-slinging character that looks to be another recurring personality.

Constantine Volume 01 page 04

As we see, Constantine’s on-again/off-again relationship with Zatanna is pretty much off, but it is nice to see her and get an idea of what she’s up to.

The next story is a two-parter that stars Constantine with Shazam/Billy Batson that on the surface looks like it wouldn’t work, but Fawkes does a good job of setting up all the whys and wherefores. Plus, we get a look at a Captain Marvel Constantine who is interesting to watch in action. I like the new Billy Batson too, and he’s kind of a chip off of the old Constantine because he’s not the St. Billy everyone remembers. He’s a kid who’s been in the foster system and gotten really jaded before he got his superpowers/magic. I do like the new hood he wears.

Constantine Volume 01 page 05

I’m also enjoying the fact that Constantine’s world tends to evolve and bring back old characters at the same time. In most comics series once a character is dead, that’s pretty much it. (Unless they’re brought back to life and turned into something really cool – like Winter Soldier.) In the last issue collected in this book, one of the victims of Constantine’s earlier machinations turns up from the afterlife looking for revenge.

For a time Constantine hovers on the brink of life and death, only to be helped by a former combatant. And that just sets us up for the cliffhanger ending.

One of the best things about this new series is Renato Guedes’ art. The panels and the pages simply pop. I also like the lighter treatment of colors everything is rendered in. It would be too easy to lose detail (or simply not draw it) if the strip was heavily inked. The colors here most of the time are a pastel hue that makes everything easy to see. Yet, even in these lighter hues, Constantine’s world is creepy and malicious.

Constantine Volume 01 page 06

I’m really hoping the new television series riffs off of this new series because there are a lot of fun characters in these pages.

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