This month’s CONSTANTINE, by writer Ray Fawkes and artist Aco, finds the titular magician in Hong Kong facing down Graceful Moon, a sorceress commanding a golden phoenix and an army of vicious monkeys. And there you have it: this is a series worth reading. If not just for the surreal scenarios that John Constantine always finds himself in, the execution of these stories is generally pretty well done, and this issue is a lot of fun to read and a lot of fun to just look at.
Everything here has a kind of Big Trouble in Little China vibe to it. In recent years, filmmakers, writers, comic book publishers and video game developers have taken a more… accurate approach to depicting Eastern culture. Gone are Karate masters and magic junk shops selling monkey paws. You still get a pan flute on the soundtrack every time an American character goes to Japan in a movie, but you can have an Asian guy in a comedy without naming him “Wang” nowadays.
Because the mythical East features in Western fiction less and less frequently these days, the neon-colored, magical Hong Kong of this month’s CONSTANTINE has been a real treat for me.
The book plays with the mythical East in the way that Italy played with the mythical West when they built an industry around Spaghetti Westerns. Like the mythical West and the House of Mystery, the mythical Hong Kong is hardly attached to any real life location at all. It’s more of a mindscape, an environment created from nothing but ideas. This makes it the perfect place to explore in a Constantine story.
I like the characterization of Graceful Moon quite a bit. She has a certain self-awareness, a certain pride and a lust for life that add a a little more meat to her villainy. Moon loves being a scary sorceress, and when Constantine ticks her off, she will fulfill her wrath even to the point of self-destruction. This sets her apart from a lot of the requisite lower-tier, gatekeeper, “boss fight” baddies you find in superhero comics. She could have been just a crazy witch lady throwing evil monkeys at John, but she has enough personality to be more than just an obstacle for him to overcome.
Constantine himself is in capable hands under Fawkes’ writing. Fawkes’ John C. is a cool, confident trickster figure, and Aco’s art communicates that well through John’s body language. There’s some stuff in this arc about Constantine exploring his own past and so on, but I think my favorite aspect of both CONSTANTINE and JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK right now is how they serve as travelogues of the murky, dark underside of the DCU.
More than being about the individual characters, I read this issue as being about Hong Kong, about magic palaces hiding inside of office buildings, secret doors that can only be opened by the gifted and lucky coins being used as magical implements.
You need a character arc to carry you through that, I suppose, but I think I like CONSTANTINE best when it’s like a dreamworld version of Carl Barks’ Scrooge McDuck comics, taking us to weird, hidden places, exploring uncharted corners of a fantastic world.
Gorgeous, saturated neon colors highlight a journey into an exotic, mystical version of Hong Kong. The book reads like a magical travelogue with strong character writing as a bonus.
This issue jumps right into the action a little too quickly, and I really am more invested in the visuals and the imaginative locations of Constantine’s journey at this point than I am with any other aspect of the story. I want more time to settle in. I want more landscapes and city skylines and streets and crowd shots. This is a strange and beautiful corner of the DCU that I’d like to see fleshed out a bit more in the art itself.
Strong writing, good art and strange locales make CONSTANTINE one of the better entries in DC’s current lineup of dreamy, magic-oriented comic books. If you were going to fault Constantine for anything, it’s only guilty of not knowing its strengths.