As the first tie-in issue for “Trinity War” to take place during the actual event, Constantine #5 offers up a side chapter to this conflict between the world’s greatest and most dangerous superheroes that doesn’t feel forced, which is a huge success in the realm of even tie-in issues.
John Constantine is a very interesting character because he knows everything. Whenever anything happens having to do with magic, he’s there to either explain it or contain it. For a jaded mage like Constantine, those are the only two options. I love how Ray Fawkes has given Constantine a new voice in the ‘New 52’, playing the grumpy uncle figure that everyone knows about, but doesn’t really want to talk about. His reputation precedes him (not unlike Constantine being constantly compared to Hellblazer) because he’s stuck on the idea that he has to be the mystical caretaker of his entire dimension. This idea in and of itself shows how big of an ego Constantine has, that he would believe it’s up to him to save everyone else.
Most of what John does is—he says, at least—in service of a greater good. Not the greater good, but good enough so as to make sure there are still cigarettes around, at least. This is how he justifies stealing the power of Shazam from young Billy Batson. In about five moves, Constantine uses the House of Mystery to teleport to a bar and steals the magic from under Billy’s nose. In a moment of instant karma, he’s forced to use it when an agent of the Cult of the Cold Flame attacks. Fawkes makes sure to keep the Cult front and center because—even though this is a “Trinity War” tie-in—the ongoing narrative of the series is important. All too often, event tie-in issues drop the ball on their current storyline. It’s frustrating and can destroy any momentum for the future.
Fawkes avoids all of this by showing that “Trinity War” is happening right in the middle of everything else. There was little build-up for readers because there was very little build-up in the story. Everything happened so fast that Constantine had to put his vendetta against the Cult aside to deal with the Shazam problem.
This issue was billed as “Constantine steals Shazam’s power,” which is accurate, at the most basic level. This solicitation, coupled with the cover image showing John standing triumphantly over the body of Shazam puts an idea into ones head: an idea that finds Constantine viciously yanking the power out of Shazam’s body and claiming it for himself. Suspense and anticipation are totally acceptable, but misdirection and fake-outs just seem cheap. This issue is fine as it is, but the expectation going in as opposed to what’s inside can be jarring and somewhat upsetting. At the end of the day, it’s hardly up to Ray Fawkes how DC publicizes Constantine to the public, so I can’t really fault Constantine #5 for being arguably different from what was presented about it pre-release.
Renato Guedes usually does a great job on Constantine, but this month, it feels lackluster. Billy’s face, in particular, ranges wildly from looking formless, to looking like an old man, to eerily resembling Superman, back to looking like a kid. It’s hard to believe that this is the same kid when he looks vastly different from panel to panel. It’s odd because Constantine has the general same expression every time. Guedes must be a fan of brooding because Constantine is constantly facing down, but looking up in a menacing fashion. I get that characters have quirks, but Constantine never raises his chin, it feels like.
An unexpectedly good tie-in to “Trinity War”, Constantine #5 is a fun read no matter how you read it; as a tie-in, or just because you follow the adventures of the crass British mage who smokes like a chimney.