Thursday, May 19, 2016

Four Views of Mount Constantine

In the beginning... John Constantine by Moore, Veitch and Totleben c. 1984.

Oh, occult investigator/magician/former punk-rock musician John Constantine. Invented by Alan Moore, Rick Veitch, Stephen Bissette and John Totleben in the pages of Swamp Thing in the mid-1980's, he's become an eminence grise at DC Comics. His first series ran an impressive 300 issues at what became DC's adult-horror imprint Vertigo, though Constantine started before Vertigo existed. That 300-issue run had an impressive array of writers come and go over the years, along with an army of artists. 

That DC cancelled Constantine's Vertigo title to bring him back into the mainstream DC Universe continues to gall me: the two non-Vertigo Constantine series have been at best pale reflections of Constantine at his best. He looks like Sting. He probably sounds a lot like John Lennon, as they both hail from Liverpool. He fights Heaven, Hell, and assorted supernatural and human forces in between!

John Constantine Hellblazer: Son of Man (1998-99/Collected 2004): written by Garth Ennis; illustrated by John Higgins: Early 1990's Constantine scribe Garth Ennis returns for an arc with gritty artist/colourist John Higgins. Higgins' characters are stocky and brutal, befitting the story. As with many Constantine stories, it begins at the Ravenscar psychiatric facility in which Constantine spent a couple of years recuperating after the disastrous magical events in Newcastle in the early 1980's. A South London crime boss springs the young, unstable Constantine because he needs a magician to bring his five-year-old son back to life. 16 years later, an older Constantine gets pulled back into the crime boss' story again. There are repercussions to raising the dead.

Ennis, the most grotesque and splattery of all Constantine writers, brings the grue here. Higgins is an able collaborator, though he's not the world's best drawer of babies. The regrets of a misspent youth jostle for prominence with the regrets of a misspent present. The climax is comically anti-climactic, as Ennis always enjoyed taking the piss out of all of his protagonists and antagonists. But boy, the one demon we see here is surprisingly talky, given what sort of demon it turns out to be. Recommended.

John Constantine Hellblazer: Good Intentions (2000-2001/ Collected 2002): written by Brian Azzarello; illustrated by Marcelo Frusin: One of a very few Americans to write Constantine's book, Brian Azzarello takes the Hellblazing magician on a tour of rural America. Marcelo Frusin's art is maybe a shade too cartoony at points for the events it depicts. It also gets cheese-cakey at an unfortunate point involving Constantine's rescue of a woman who was being kidnapped so as to be raped and killed: maybe not the time for the hot underwear shots. Overall, the story is both weird and occasionally revolting. Constantine screws up, of course, but under the circumstances, almost anyone would. Infamous at the time for strongly implying a sex act between a drugged and drunken Constantine and a dog. I kid you not. Lightly recommended.

John Constantine Hellblazer: Stations of the Cross (2004/Collected 2006): written by Mike Carey; illustrated by Leonard Manco, Marcelo Frusin, Chris Brunner, and Steve Dillon: Mike Carey's lengthy run as Constantine writer concludes here with an amnesiac Constantine beset by foes human and demoniac. Even without his memory, Constantine is dangerous to foes and allies alike. The climactic story, from the double-sized 200th issue, gives us Constantine at his most vulnerable. It's a fine finish to Carey's tenure. The art works throughout, and is especially dark and evocative during Constantine's voyage into the labyrinth below the church of a malign cult. Recommended.

John Constantine Hellblazer:  The Roots of Coincidence (2008/Collected 2009): written by Andy Diggle; illustrated by Leonard Manco, Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Stefano Landini: This volume ends Andy Diggle's run as Constantine writer with a recontextualization of just who Constantine's greatest enemy was and is. Diggle draws effectively on Constantine's long comic-book history for this revelation. It works, though the mechanics of John's battle with his arch-nemesis never become crystal clear. It's a solid end to a solid run of comics, though the horror elements are mostly muted this time out and one of the lesser opponents, Mako, just doesn't have a name that strikes fear into me. Lightly recommended.

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