John Constantine is a character that needs to feel dangerous. He’s been that way since his appearances in “Saga of the Swamp Thing” back in the mid-’80s, and to some degree that’s followed him and been an integral part of the character. With “Constantine” #4, though, I feel like Ray Fawkes, Jeff Lemire and Fabiano Neves have fallen into the trap of telling rather than showing, and in doing so, end up with a curiously low-key character.
On some level, it’s easy to see where Fawkes and Lemire tried to go in “Constantine” #4. It at least opens with Constantine being told to hang out with his friends, and promptly realizing that with all of the deaths that he’s caused, he’s got almost no one left. It’s a familiar refrain for those who read “Hellblazer,” and I don’t mind that they’re heading that way. The problem is that the issue quickly loses sight of that idea — things happen to Constantine, but there never is any real sort of danger to either him or his friends.
Part of this may have to do with Fawkes and Lemire interpreting Constantine as the sort of person who doesn’t do anything before arming himself with half-a-dozen protective spells. It’s a different interpretation of the character than what we’ve seen in “Swamp Thing,” “Hellblazer,” or even to an extent, “Justice League Dark.” This Constantine feels like a spellslinging, artifact-holding sort of guy. The problem is that it loses sight of the concept of Constantine as someone who outwits his opponents. Instead he’s someone who just happened to have the right magical artifact tucked into his pocket. That’s not half as interesting of a character, and that’s where “Constantine” #4 falls down. Papa Midnite makes his DC Universe debut here, and he also comes across as remarkably ineffectual; after the Constantine shows his magic-using hand, everything just grinds to a halt with Papa Midnite. It’s not a way to make the character feel that dangerous or fear-worthy; I can’t see anyone begging for his return after this lackluster appearance.
Neves steps in on art this month, and it’s just so-so. Characters don’t stand out on the page here, and the movement from one panel to the next is unmemorable. Marcelo Maiolo’s colors probably don’t help matters; it’s a very light, washed-out color palette here, and it makes Neves’s art fade that much more into the background. The worst is probably when Constantine looks up with a key card to Zatanna’s home; Constantine’s eyes look almost dead, and I don’t think that’s the look that anyone involved was going for. There’s no life in these pages, no spark.
“Constantine” #4 is exactly what everyone feared a DC Universe replacement for “Hellblazer” would be like. (Well, except he doesn’t fight Killer Croc or the Reverse-Flash, so that’s some small relief.) This book is already limping, and that’s a bad sign. If things don’t pick up and quickly, I can’t see “Constantine” maintaining a readership.