From the ashes of Hellblazer comes a reboot of John Constantine’s comic career; Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes take over the writing duties here as part of another new series in DC Comic’s New 52, beginning things as though none of the other stuff within Hellblazer has happened. That ignorance probably works better for this series, though, because those who have followed Constantine throughout might not find that this series feels the same as some of the other comics Constantine has appeared in.
In this first issue, Constantine is targeted by the mysterious Cult of the Cold Flame, led by the magical powerhouses Zatara, Sargon, Mister E, and Tannarak. Lemire and Fawkes don’t go into exactly why Constantine’s found himself in this predicament; in fact, he’s not really sure himself. But the titular character in Constantine #1 seems much more good-natured than his predecessor in Hellblazer. His main quest is to make sure that any powerful magical artifacts don’t fall into evil hands, and so he uses a divinator named Mark to help him find Croydon’s Compass.
Lemire and Fawkes don’t really go into details about the compass; it’s in pieces, and Constantine has to find it because it’s powerful, but it’s not clear why it’s got to be done now – if there’s some reason why it’s finally been unearthed, this issue doesn’t go into it. It makes the pursuit somewhat underwhelming, because the reader doesn’t really know why Constantine has to go on this dangerous mission. Mark, too, comes out of nowhere here. His character isn’t explained except for in the early panels of this issue, as a man who struggles with his divination powers and comes to Constantine for help.
There’s some nice action between Constantine and Sargon the Sorceress, and then even before that with a flight attendant who works for the Cult of the Cold Flame, but Constantine feels overly sanitized and cartoonish. It’s difficult not to bring up comparisons to Hellblazer – that comic was darker and much more bleak, whereas Constantine seems to revel in its humor and colorful nature.
That’s not a bad thing, and it means that Constantine fits better into the DC Universe, which it’s trying to do. But it also feels like John Constantine-lite. There’s not really much of that older character left in the writing; there’s no swearing, little of Constantine’s dry wit; worst of all, though, is the noir aspect of Hellblazer has been lost in the conversion.
And Renato Guedes’ artwork is better suited to those superhero comics. Constantine has a cel-shaded, bright color scheme to it that doesn’t fit very well with the subject matter, at least not for the darker tone that Constantine’s other comics have explored. Everything seems very bright, and that’s just not what Constantine has been about.
There are moments where the old Constantine seems to come through – leaving Mark to die is one of them – but this new series in the DC New 52 feels like it’s trying to stray too far from the subject matter. Constantine’s never been as nonchalant as he is here, and though this first issue might be the first of many that will cement the new storyline, it’s not something I can see hardcore fans backing.