In Review: Constantine: The Hellblazer #1

No threats = no fun. This was awful.

The covers: Two is the magic number for the covers you want to put into your spell bag. Constantine stands just outside a dark alley. Rain is beginning to fall, but his cigarette stays lit. Should he proceed, just around the corner, a gigantic demon lurks whose mouth is as large as the wall. Decent image by Riley Rossmo, though it’s difficult to make out the main character, because he’s so small, and the coloring on the demon makes it indefinable. That’s appropriate on a comic’s interior to build suspense, but on a cover it looks like sloppy, blanket coloring. The Variant by Ming Doyle has John laying atop a…something that has a pinkish flesh and several green mouths or nipples. He’s looking coyly at readers as his cigarette sends a stream of pink smoke high up into a green creature that’s part of the…thing he’s on. Not a pose I’d associate with Constantine or a background. It’s strikes me as unintentionally hilarious. Not funny cool, but funny sad. I sure hope this isn’t a prevue of this book’s tone. Overall grades: Main C and Variant D.  

The story: “Going Down” by Ming Doyle & James Tynion IV opens handsomely with Constantine walking in naked, covered in blood, into a suit store. Using his mystical abilities, he puts the whammy on the employee and gets himself a free suit, while being badgered by the ghost of Gary Lester on how the cashier will be fired for helping him out. Leaving the store, clothed, John nicks a pack of cigarettes from a passerby and then sees his “ghostly entourage” increase as he walks down the street. “They only show up when something’s about to go terribly wrong.” He tells them to sod off, and they do. John enters a bar and gets flirtatious with the male bartender before someone else walks in and changes his direction. There’s no threat in this book whatsoever. Granted, I haven’t read a Constantine comic pre-New 52 since Hellblazer started years ago, but John was always woefully pained at burning bridges or dealing with any type of demon. Here, he’s completely ready to shag a demon — and he does! Weren’t demons supposed to be the bad guys? The twist in the story is completely expected, but it’s not as painful as John, who’s become the Joker of the supernatural, trading one-liners with the damned. If he’s comfortable in this situation, then there’s nothing that will scare him or readers. There’s no tension anywhere, which is death to a book dealing with the supernatural. Overall grade: D-

The art: John Constantine looks like Tintin in this book. His cowlick is stupefying. Artist Riley Rossmo has created a style, I’ll give him that, but it’s so cartoony as to deflate the scares and render the story impotent. He’s also going over the top with dots to create tones. On the first page, dots are used for shading on the lights in the ceiling, the suits in the windows, the cashier, and Constantine’s body. It’s a style, but I can’t see the forest (of the page) for the trees (the dots). Things get even worse on Page 2. The top panel contains a faceless cashier and background on the left side lost in a cloud of dots. Constantine is unrecognizable in the third panel, again because he’s drowning in dots. The fourth panel looks as though he’s got an oil slick in his hair. The ghosts look fine, but mimic the style of Ted McKeever, whom I like, but at least he’s consistent. The third panel on Page 9 is a sketch. The fifth panel on 12 goes mysteriously dark as the title character lights a cigarette, yet in the panels before and after the action he’s clearly seen. Since when does the lighting of a deathstick make the lights go out? Pages 13 and 14 are a fantastic two page sequence which looks terrific as it covers a tremendous amount of space, yet it’s only an artistic exercise that contributes nothing to the story. This looks terrible. Overall grade: D-

The colors: Ivan Plascensia is doing an okay job with this book, considering what he’s given to work with. The blood on John in the opening two pages is great, but he’s having to do a lot of work to provide some depth to the characters. Look at the shading on characters’ faces on the second page. Look at the cashier in the fifth panel. She looks as though she’s been punched and bears the marks of strangulation. The ghosts are colored well in various shades of blue, but, John’s the focus, and look at what’s done with the bottom panel on Page 8; what’s up with his forehead? The browns and blacks of reality get a shake up with the appearance of the female demon who brings a welcome splash of color with her, especially with the setting on Page 12. Colors are great creators of setting on 13 and 14, which are the best pages of the book, though the bottom of 19 comes really close. Plascensia saves what he can of this book. Overall grade: C+ 

The letters: Dialogue, narration, opening title and credits, demon speech, and next issue’s tease are summoned by Tom Napolitano. The demon font and the opening credits are really well done. Overall grade: A

The final line: This was a disappointingly rote story involving the supernatural with Constantine portrayed to over-the-top absurdity. The visuals were equally bad. No threats = no fun. This was awful. Overall grade: D

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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