The cover for “Constantine” #5 by Ray Fawkes and Renato Guedes proclaims the issue to be a “Trinity War” tie-in, so this may be the first time that some readers pick up the title. It’s a risky marketing move for new titles in their first six months of publication to be roped into a crossover. The title might pull in some new readers from established, stronger-selling titles, but it might also derail the forward momentum and depth of a title still trying to establish its voice.
Unfortunately, “Constantine” #5 exhibits all the worst flaws of “tie-ins” or “interludes” for crossover event books. It adds nothing to the big event and is almost useless to the ongoing title. As far as “Trinity War” goes, this contribution is skippable. The plot is a cheat that leaves the status quo intact. The only significant difference by the end of twenty pages and $2.99 is that Constantine is pretty beat up, but even a reader with even the most casual acquaintance with Constantine’s exploits knows that the man has seen worse days. Worse, Fawkes’ storytelling keeps all the furniture in the same configuration without adding to characterization. Five issues in, all the fears raised regarding the demise of “Hellblazer” have proven depressingly justified.
The New 52’s “Constantine” has entirely done away with the approach to magic in “Hellblazer,” which used magic as a way to talk about transgression and power, duty and passion. Now the occult is just a thin gloss over an action movie setup around an antihero. “Constantine” #5 is one big knock ’em down battle scene in a bar. Guedes’ art is easy enough to follow, but his ambition exceeds his ability. That’s not a terrible thing, but in an issue of hand-to-hand combat, repeated flaws in foreshortening become noticeable.
Constantine has been reduced to a dim caricature of his former self. He’s been dumbed down and worse — he’s no fun anymore. Like previous issues of “Constantine,” John Constantine makes dubious moral decisions and is untrustworthy, but in a crude, ugly way. His status and powers as a magician are beside the point. That used to be the trappings of the character, not the core. In “Hellblazer,” the character was once a Trickster God variation, but in “Constantine,” he’s behaved more like a powerful thug than a subtle con man and lover of mischief. There is none of his former rascally charm, approachability, occasional self-sacrifice, and yes, real vulnerability and humanity that makes the Trickster so charismatic and the archetype so enduring.
In “Constantine” #5, Billy Batson is more sympathetic than Constantine, since he is on the receiving end of that tired excuse, “This is for your own good, kid.” Also, Batson actually hasn’t done anything wrong with his powers yet. Constantine’s pre-emptive strike is based on opportunity and high-handedness. Near the end of “Constantine” #5, Shazam states, in an endearingly straightforward, kid-like way, “You’re a real jerk, Constantine. I hope I never see you again.” Unfortunately, readers may agree too much with Shazam. “Constantine” presents itself as a magic and character-driven title, but it has yet to deliver characters of any complexity or any new take on what magic means or how it functions in the DCU.