Ming Doyle’s and James Tynion IV's Constantine:
The Hellblazer: Volume 2: The Art of the Deal has great ideas and a portrayal of street mage John
Constantine as openly bi, but title is enduring a harsh identity crisis that takes readers along for the confusion. And the confusion isn't about John liking men or women, it's about how John looks like a different guy in each issue.
The revolving door of artists on the book is a big part of the problem. The roster, including Riley
Rossmo, Eryk Donovan, Brian Level, Joseph Silver and Travel Foreman, portrays the protagonist in vastly different styles. This is a jarring medley that isn’t
working. Constantine appears, in turns, as a grizzled middle-aged man, a Nancy
Boy in skinny pants and short leather coat, a spunky twenty-something, and a kid who is perhaps in his late teens. Rossmo’s lush covers feature the emaciated Nancy Boy
version. Foreman has the dubious distinction, in his splash-page shots, of
drawing blank-faced figures that resemble mannequins instead of people. The
drawing appears unfinished. Where’s George Perez when you need him? Donovan’s
Constantine looks adolescent, with stark musculature and boyish features. and very cartoonish. Cartoonish is admittedly an odd critique to make about a comic
book/graphic novel, but the style is cartoonish and whimsical and disproportionate in a
children’s book style or Saturday morning cartoon style, and not at all suited for a tale about hardened rogue Constantine.
One wonders why DC Comics is making such an effort to make
Constantine appear so young. He is the only DC character who has the noteworthy
distinction of aging in real time and getting into his sixties by the end of Hellblazer volume one.
These art complaints and character depiction complaints aside, Doyle’s and Tynion IV's writing is close to
the mark for a Hellblazer story. Constantine: Hellblazer brims with great ideas, if at time they get a little convoluted. The great ones include New York being an epicentre for magic that average
civilians search out. The antagonist, Hell lord, Neron, is getting the souls of those people desperate enough to trade their souls for a taste of the real thing. He impinges on turf in the Big Apple, evicting all other magic users.
Doyle and Tynion IV also get bonus points for portraying Constantine as
openly bi, desperately trying to make a seemingly doomed love affair with a fellow named Oliver work out. It is unfortunate then, that Doyle treats hunky Oliver as a
man-sel in distress and little more. Their arguments about whether or not to stay together come across as contrived at times. Oliver is Constantine's Lois Lane, but with muscles, and children. Doyle and Tynion IV also get points for bringing Deadman, Zatanna and Swamp Thing
into the mix and showing how Constantine wheels and deals, always at others’
|John Constantine being cute.There's the Oliver in question.|
The writers do, though, reduce Constantine to kid saying “RULES ARE *$%ING STUPID” while he is doing serious spell-work. This seems a laughably petulant and teenage attitude for the streetwise street mage. And it doesn’t help that Constantine looks all of 15 when he utters/thinks the statement.
In short, DC Comics is making headway, rescuing the Constantine character from the watered-down, milquetoast New 52 version. Yes, he’s an incorrigible, chain-smoking, booze-swilling cad again (although I thought he did not stray from his beloved pints), and he's dating men and women. However, the artistic portrayal in Constantine: Hellblazer: Volume 2: The Art of the Deal is wildly inconsistent, sometimes hard to look at, distracting, and makes his actual age impossible to guess.