This month’s CONSTANTINE by Ray Fawkes, Edgar Salazar and Jay Leisten seems almost specifically written and illustrated to correct my hangups over last month’s issue. Last month saw the mystical underbelly of Hong Kong just barely explored, giving us little time to really settle in before the big action scene got underway. This time we get a little bit of breathing room as John Constantine meets with an ally hiding from “demiwolves” inside a tree whose interior hides a cabin far too big for the tree that holds it. Even the fight sequence that dominates the second act of the book is relatively devoid of panel-filling special effects and photoshop filters obscuring the background.
Last month, we went to Hong Kong and got a brief glimpse at what the mystical DCU version of the city looked like. By the end of issue 16 we know the whole layout of old man Albrecht’s secret cabin in the woods, and it’s a nice, cozy, welcoming little hideaway for a guy trying to keep halfbreed werewolves from eating him. On the way there, we’re treated to a dark forest decorated with severed human body parts dangling from trees. Last month I wrote of CONSTANTINE being at its best when it’s sort of a travelogue of magical places, of the hidden, mystical side of the DCU. Well, this is CONSTANTINE at its best.
Beyond the issue’s great sense of place and space, John Constantine himself is very well written as well. In some of these magic-themed comics the heroes win by having the bigger Photoshop airbrush. Constantine outwits his opponents. Even when magic is integral to his plan, there’s always some real cunning on display as he masterminds a battle strategy.
This issue feels a bit more well paced than last month’s, which really gives the locations time to breathe and lets us take some time to hang out with John and Albrecht. You can stop and stare at the panels and feel like you’re there in the cabin with them. Comics are really great at this, but so frequently that biff-bam-zoom pacing prevents a book from containing a single panel where the characters and scenery aren’t obscured by speed lines and guys flying through windows and knocking everything over.
CONSTANTINE keeps a brisk pace, but not so brisk that we can’t catch our breath and take in the world that the team has created.
As with JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK, CONSTANTINE has a lighter tone to it. JLD’s lighter tone is thanks to a carefree approach to writing where, if things get too heavy, magic solves everything. CONSTANTINE puts us in John’s shoes, where his own brand of arrogant, smartass courage rubs off on us. If magic can’t solve everything, he can.
I’d like to believe that CONSTANTINE is a sign that the era of grim, unpleasant superhero stories is fading, that you can deal even with werewolves and the gory remains they leave behind with humor and wit, and make their world look like a fun place to be even when it’s incredibly violent. If the Christopher Nolan era of superhero stories isn’t behind us just yet, CONSTANTINE at least proves that fun, enjoyable superhero stories can co-exist with the grim, heavy tales.
Really strong art and character writing combine with better pacing than last month’s CONSTANTINE to create a comic with a great sense of place, interesting character interaction, and fight scenes that offer more than just a bunch of Photoshop effects battling each other.
I especially appreciate the comic’s settings, which you can just look at and enjoy like a diorama before you turn the page. Check out that stuffed bear in Albrecht’s cabin! That’s the kind of signature background piece that really makes the setting come to life.
I don’t really want to pick out a negative about this month’s CONSTANTINE, this is exactly what I want from the series, but if I had to pick one, I’m not really interested in the story as much more than a clothesline to carry us from set to set and to give Constantine more badguys to outsmart.
But, that’s part of why I like this series so much. I’m not being weighed down with a ton of exposition, I can just pick a new issue up and enjoy it.
A strong sense of place, good art and strong character writing make CONSTANTINE a thoroughly enjoyable read, a travelogue of the mysterious underbelly of the DCU.