CONSTANTINE #14 (Ray Fawkes, Edgar Salazar) is more wibbly wobbly hocus pocus.
Like most titles under DC’s “Dark” family, CONSTANTINE only recently clawed its way out of the crossover hell that was FOREVER EVIL: BLIGHT. Although by their nature, the TRINITY OF SIN books remain mired in providing the larger DC Universe’s mystical backbone, JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK and CONSTANTINE are finally free to tell their own stories again.
Unfortunately, in the case of CONSTANTINE, that story isn’t very good.
Since the first issue, Ray Fawkes has been building a steady stable of villains for our trench coat clad HELLBLAZER immigrant by way of his “Cult of the Cold Flame.” And while an intriguing original concept is put on the forefront of this issue, the cult’s tedious, who-cares plot to control all the multiverse’s magical, mystical whatever seeps through its pages. While certain other stories from DC are objectionable, the nature of the ongoing plot in CONSTANTINE is perhaps worse: difficult to follow, and ultimately boring.
If you’ve been following DC for a decade or four, you may have fond memories of the publisher’s “horror host” days in the 1970s. Every month, titles like HOUSE OF SECRETS, THE UNEXPECTED, and WEIRD MYSTERY TALES all promised gruesome, self contained stories with an intriguing hook and a thrilling twist.
CONSTANTINE #14 leads us with a premise which seems like it could have been written by one of the great horror comic masters. Constantine is trailing a funky little shack which appears only to arsonists- and whoever opens it finds an interior of the home they burned, to be consumed soon after by a burst of flame.
On paper, a great idea for a story. But it isn’t long before Fawkes forces it into relevance for his ongoing story arc, and what could have been a marvelous standalone issue turns sour.
Tannarak. Sargon the Sorceress. Papa Midnite, and Mister E. Fawkes has introduced us to a sizable gallery of villains into Constantine’s life this past year. It’s too bad none of them are interesting. Little idiosyncracies aside, all of Fawkes’ villains want the same thing: to be the most powerful wizard. They’re all given unique looks, but they’ve more or less proven narratively interchangeable. Mister E has proven a little more intriguing now that he’s become Constantine’s unwilling “traveling companion,” but the rest remain bland, and continually force their blandness upon us.
In every issue, Fawkes promises us that these villains are building up to something big. But when it already seems like these evil sorcerers can do anything, what more is there to gain?
More criminal, though, is the A-Plot’s failure to stick the landing. While we learn an interesting tidbit about the beginning of Constantine’s journey into darkness during its climax, CONSTANTINE #14 fumbles the story’s twist by presenting us with a borderline offensive Native American spirit and a hokey romantic one-in-a-million chance of an ending. Perhaps this, too, is faithful to the era of horror comics. While many contained mindbending stories readers will never forget, you need only pick up a longbox of HOUSE OF MYSTERY back issues to find that most failed to deliver on their initial promise.
Look. I want to like CONSTANTINE. I really, really do. John himself is fantastically written, and Ray Fawkes should be given a lot of credit for getting his voice right. Lord knows plenty of others have screwed it up before. And most issues of the series feature at least one inventive tidbit on a ritual, or spell, or particular facet of mysticism which hooks you in a world building THE BOOKS OF MAGIC (Neil Gaiman, John Bolton) sort of way- clearly another major influence on Fawkes’ CONSTANTINE.
But the richness of John himself comes at the cost of everyone around him- not just narratively, as is emphasized by the series when those Constantine cares for pay the price for his crimes, but in character. It’s difficult to care about any of the people Fawkes introduces, and the stakes of the major plot are so nebulous that they become difficult to relate with. Fawkes tries to make it personal by dropping everyone around John like flies, but it happens so frequently that it’s hard to get attached to them when you know what’s in store.
Ray Fawkes is still a relatively new writer to DC. He’s proven he can be interesting in the past, and provides a new perspective in many respects to standard titles. But between CONSTANTINE, TRINITY OF SIN: PANDORA, the weekly BATMAN ETERNAL, and the recent FOREVER EVIL: BLIGHT mega-crossover, editorial has really been running their newbie through the racket. In the past year, the man’s written over forty issues! It’s enough to tire anybody out, and it’s admirable that he’s still trying to infuse his work with innovative ideas.
They say the key to getting better at writing is to just keep writing, all the time. Fawkes already shows a lot of promise, and if that’s the case, then we can expect big things from him pretty soon.