Writer: Mike Carey
Artist: Leonardo Manco
Publisher: DC Vertigo/Titan Books
So now you know who Constantine is, and a little of what he's been up to. He's supported the odd mini-series before, including Neil Gaiman's original BOOKS OF MAGIC, but this is the first original graphic novel - a hardcover, no less - devoted to the character. Does it really merit the treatment? Much to my surprise, the answer is "yes".
Neil Gaiman offers the headline quote, "Mike Carey has written the quintessential Constantine story," which I was almost positive represented a favour to a friend, until I hit the first dozen pages. What does Gaiman mean by "quintessential"? I can't tell you that, but I can suggest what I would have meant: British, political, involving what's left of John's mates, and played like a game of poker. Although there's merely a smidgeon of politics, excepting the politics of hell and death, there's plenty of the rest here even though the majority of the metaphorical car crash takes places in Los Angeles, for it brings Britain with it:
"Fucking hell, Chas! They drive on the right! The right!"
"Don't panic, John. It's a learning curve."
"Yeah, well, I don't wanna be here when it flattens out!"
Chas is one of John's longest-standing (as well as long-suffering) friends, and he's been chauffeuring the trickster around for years ("See, it's a cabbie's license. Means I can drive and give marriage guidance counselling."). Usually wherever John wants to be is where Chas doesn't, but when his niece falls into a coma out of the blue, and when it appears she is part of an epidemic with no trace of a viral strain, Chas calls in all his many favours and calls up John Constantine. One more dead acquaintance later and a plane flight later, it's immediately clear to Constantine that something is wrong:
"Something's dead wrong. A taste in the air, like hot iron. A fingernails-on-blackboard noise, too high even for dogs. Or maybe it's just that it's six in the evening on the Santa Monica freeway. And we haven't had to slow down once."
Carey is on the toppest form I've known of him. I'm no fan of his current run on the main title, and when you go in with such heavy prejudices based on perceived past performance that you don't even want to pick the book up, it's a only remarkable composition that changes your mind. Well, worked for me. The script felt like Ennis, the art like a moodier, more solid John Ridgeway (so that's the first two eras in one blood-soaked packaged), and Constantine has to summon up all his powers of baiting and bluff - as well as a prideful Aztec God - to do a better job of saving Chas' niece than he did with the girl back in Newcastle:
"You forget yourself. I am no upstarting demon, scrabbling in the dirt of the human soul. I am Mictlantecuhtli. I am a God."
"Great stuff. I'm John -- and I'm a bastard."
I might have to reappraise the monthly now.
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