Writer: Denise Mina
Artist: Leonardo Manco, Lee Loughridge (colors)
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
Things continue to get weirder in "Empathy is the Enemy: Part Four," but, my oh my, how impressively the story moves at the halfway point! In this issue, Constantine and Chris Cole head to Coleís hometown of Glasgow, Scotland (also Denise Minaís hometown), only to find that the Praexis are hot on their tails and danger approaches the apartment where the family died in the fire. Also, Coleís apartment has some shocking artwork and more mysteriousness concerning murder and the path which Constantine and Cole are quickly treading. Plus, there are flashbacks of more historical background, in this case a young university student who is enlightened by Fergusí 6th Century document left on the island of Oransay. This student, Hugo Orpley, decides to test death just as Oran did in the first and second issues of this series. And the results are enlightening to him, but only leaves us wanting more. Three issues more, to be exact!
Denise Mina and Leonardo Manco continue to impress me with the quality and maturity of their work so far. Mina is a talent I wasnít familiar with before reading this run, but I will definitely start hunting down her novels now. She takes the essentially vulgar figure of John Constantine and makes him a sophisticated hero without sacrificing any of the elements that have made Constantine a fan favorite over the years. His is the moodiness and crankiness of the private investigator mixed with the knowledge of the arcane that moves in and out of his life constantly. Mina clearly defines Constantineís motivations on this case, as well as keeps the elements of mystery and suspense fresh and involving, giving rabid Vertigo or Hellblazer readers exactly what they crave out of a comic book: smart entertainment that doesnít pull any punches. If there is one element to her writing that she could improve, itís her compulsion to throw everything into each issue, sometimes filling the readerís head with almost too much to chew on and digest. Still, if this is her only flaw on this series, then I say bravo!
As for Mancoís art, I can describe it as wonderfully dark and twisted, with elements of the macabre floating throughout, interacting with the story elements in a fantastic conjunction. All of the characters are drawn with an emphasis on the realistic (except for the Praexis) and given a wide range of emotional depth in their faces and body language. Manco has a style here that is both dreamlike and gritty, bringing together the two elements naturally without forcing matters. In addition, kudos should be handed out to Lee Loughridge, the colorist for this run, who has done a great job keeping everything shaded in darkness and earthy tones. In this issue, he handles the flashbacks with grayish-blue colors to transport the reader to 19th Century Glasgow without jarring the overall feel of the issue. Nothing in this issue is bright, sunny, or positive, and all of the artists involved in this project understand this and maintain the feeling of dread throughout. Something wicked is coming, and it is something existing in the blank space between Heaven and Hell. Not Purgatory, but somewhere that is far more sinister. Personally, I canít wait to see the discoveries that Constantine will make and am really jonesing for the last three issues of this series. If you havenít read any of the issues in this run, get them now before they're gone or wait a few months for the trade. This is a unique story that further cements Vertigoís position as the top producer of intelligent comic books.
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