It was evident from the premiere issue of Constantine that Jeff LeMire, Ray Fawkes, and Renato Guedes were looking for a lighter tone with their restart of the Hellblazer series. The panels are more colorful, the stories less sinister, and even Constantine himself seems to have toned down his snarky tendencies for a more mellow approach to his magic-busting.
But in Constantine #1, we did see Constantine sacrifice his friend in order to obtain part of Croydon’s Compass. The old Constantine probably would never dwell on this action – I mean, to him, it’s for the good of the world, and if it’s going to stop a magical apocalypse, then one life doesn’t make a difference to him. But the New 52’s Constantine is different, and in issue #2 he dwells on what he’s done throughout.
In a way, this guilt makes Constantine a character that’s more emotionally stable, one that the reader can relate to. But his aloofness in Hellblazer was at least interesting, and Constantine was never a character to feel sorry for, at least in so much as he allowed his emotions to shine through. Issue #2 is sort of a grovel-fest. Constantine heads off to find another piece of Croydon’s Compass, encounters a couple of mages, and looks like a fool in front of them.
First up is Mister E, part of the Cult of the Cold Flame. In Myanmar, Mister E confronts Constantine and ties him up, then starts to pull his soul from his body until Constantine admits where he keeps his part of Croydon’s Compass. Mister E is a recurring character in the universe, and his appearance here is probably one of the most sinister things about Constantine yet – his eyes are burned into his skull, and he’s obviously not someone who messes around.
If things aren’t bad enough, when Constantine escapes from Mister E’s clutches he encounters the Spectre. This ghastly spirit comes to collect the souls of those who murder in cold blood – as Constantine did to his friend – and only by pleading for his life does Connie go free. This scene is what struck me as odd; never did it occur to me that Constantine might be so defeated that he’d grovel at the feet of the Spectre. But hey, this is the new Constantine, and we’ve all just got to try to accept it.
It’s not so bad, I keep telling myself, that Constantine has kind of been censored. Maybe it will give Fawkes and LeMire some leeway with their characters. Yet Constantine hasn’t introduced any recurring characters besides some enemies; even Constantine himself feels like a shadow, his personality dipping in and out of view. Some work needs to be done to craft this series into a compelling comic; the question is whether it’s already too late now that fans clamoring for more Hellblazer have been turned away by the less mature tone.