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Subj: On Constantine #22...
Posted: Wed Feb 18, 2015 at 05:50:04 am EST (Viewed 1304 times)
Readers of anything to do with Earth-2 would be forgiven for voicing the question as to what the character of the perpetually raincoat clad John Constantine - hailing from Justice League Dark, and in another life formerly of DCs Vertigo imprint - has to do with the goings on of the chaotic and bludgeoning process of World's End... and in terms of any rational response to said question they aren't likely to get any answer. Not from DC comics and certainly not from me.
Nontheless Constantine #22 exists. Trapped on Earth-2, in the midst of a devastated world, in his beloved Liverpool, and having just killed his other-earth double he now has the problem of how to escape and return to his own native dimension... typical of John Constantine all of his problems are seemingly entirely of his own making.
John Constantine in the New 52 is an unambitious, tiring, and monotonous affair. In the hands of writers like Peter Milligan and safe in his own bubble of independence in the Vertigo inprint of DC Comics writers could use that independence and creative freedom to write the sort of non-superhero material and dark imagination no mainstream DC book since the early 90s has ever dared to do. This was what Vertigo was for. And this is why John Constantine was embedded there - a character who didn't quite fit with the mainstream universe of DCs tights & Capes output. But with the New 52 rebranding comes the decision to unify every marketable character within the publishers portfolio into the same shared world, stripped down to their most basic elements and reduced to being something close to walking storyboards for prospective media producers to gaze over and see the television/game potential within.
So Ray Foulkes' Constantine cannot in any way be considered in the same breath as his Vertigo existence. That incarnation of John Constantine was never intended as being commercial. This Constantine on the other hand is DC Comics' homogenised sampler, sent out into the mainstream to appeal to consumers and media producers alike. All well and good then, buisiness is buisiness, and buisiness has little interest in art. So here in the New 52 is a Character that serves a placeholder for the Constantine brand, But... what to actually do with him now that he's here in mainstream superhero-land...?
Constantine #22 offers no help on the quandry of what to do with a John Constantine cast out into this crowded world of the superhero. A low level rent-a-mystic wearing a tired suit and raincoat is an incongruous sight when stood in a room with Batman or The Phantom Stranger. The Phantom Stranger can do everything Constantine can do, and better. The Batman too in his own way if far more able and professional than John Constantine. And so caught up in the chaos of not just a visit to Earth-2, but the Worlds End, the pressures placed on the characters integrity prove not unsurprisingly to be too much. Proof that Constantine has no buisiness being here in superhero-land.
As we open this latest issue Constantine has needlessly sacrificed yet another innocent in the form of his settled family-man doppleganger the feeling from the reader is nothing whatsoever to do with shock or dissapointent but rather weary resignation. Sacrificing innocents is Constantine's method after all, he is a callous bastard, and that is his lot in life. But as the Earth around him begins to fall apart his only thought is for an immediate exit, back to safety and his own earth. Cue the requisite degrees of angst and hatred from the people who have just helped him and seen his thanks in the form of the death of the Earth-2 John. But Constantine being Constantine will never admit to being a murderer, why murder is so common. Rather he shifts the blame, by proceeding to show his Earth-2 allies just what it is that is that is ravaging their world and asking them to judge the greater villainy...
In a series with little sense of depth or purpose beyond showcasing the title character Constantine #22 sees the series at its most expoitative and lowbrow in the New 52 mandate, filled from beginning to end with the statutory layers of mass destruction Death misery and angst of the Dan Didio regime there is no logic or wisdom to be found in dropping Constantine into the buisiness of Earth-2 beyond the most tawdry desire to cash in on the hype of the weekly Worlds End series, but credit to Ray Foulkes as if issue #22 here has one redemming feature it is that it actually adds something to the Earth-2:Worlds End experience. Trying to return home across dimensions, and in a cynical attempt to mediate his own guilt, he shows his newfound friends what it is that is really happening. And in its own sanitised, watered down way, the scale and horror at how hopeless their future is is perversely Constantine's cruelest gesture.
Watch as the gates of Heaven are laid siege by the demons of Apokolips, choosing to retreat from existence and leave the mortal plane. Watch as Constantine and company are sighted in this interdimensional void and attacked, the culling of the cast underway. Watch on and be repulsed by John Constantine's pathetic attempts to justify his own moral weaknesses to these innocent people he, in the end, cares nothing for. See the ravaging of the earth's elemental forces and crusing of its spirit, then feel the doom of the omnipresent Darkseid as he taunts the morally corrupt and inadequate Constantine...
Yes, it's all cheerful stuff. Ray Foulkes at least does add something to Earth-2 in showing the other side of what we see unfolding in the weekly Worlds End series, there we see the physical aspect of Apokolips' assault, here we see the metaphysical implications. Channelling Grant Morrison's ideas on The New Gods Foulkes has a Darkseid who is as much an abstract being as physical force, John Constantine's own actions are played out with Darkseid in the background and one could make the assumption that everything Constantine does is done for Darkseid. So heartless and ruthless is he that he will without a thought cut the tethers of his companions and send them to their doom so long as he escapes the approaching Gods prescence. The question Foulkes is perhaps asking of the reader is whether this man really is the lesser of two evils as Constantine argues to his unwilling pawns, or is he instad doing only what is necessary to resolve this chaotic situation? If so the actual executution of the set-up to completely misses the necessary ambiguity to make that question poossible in the first place. Here, perfectly in keeping with his character, John Constantine makes no impression he sees these people as anything but sacrificial pawns, he makes no impression at all they mean a single solitary thing to him other than as nuisances or tools to be used. In this sense then his moral void is indeed worthy of Darkseid's salute. But in the broader picture this pointless waste of human lives and the supposed guilt it leaves on the man is symbolic of what DC comics sees as Constantine's main defining character trait. The idea that Constantine lives in a world he cannot control or shape thus is perpetually forced into situations where sacrifices (by betraying innocents of course) are typically the only options ever open to him. What pathos. What drama.
What nauseating shallowness and hypocrisy.
As the nebulous will of Darkseid follows Constantine through the dimensions to his own Earth one can see the strong parallels at this point to another major Earth-2 player, the dimension travelling Terry Sloan. Clad in a similar manner to Constantine Sloan's is almost a mirror image of what Constantine's character is - a manipulative morally warped figure who justifies his actions as being for the greater good. Perhaps it is as well Foulkes steered clear of any meeting or acknowledgment of Sloan's existence, such would only further highlight how unremarkable John Constantine actually is in this superhero environment where the likes of Manchester Black, Felix Faust and Doctor Occult all fill the same criteria and black-to-morally-gray area as he himself does... in the end though all this watered down version of John Constantine is is dull. A caricature and redundancy wandering the world of Batman and Superman, he has no defined purpose other than to be an absolute bastard to everyone unfortunate enough to meet him, and certainly little appeal to any right minded readership out there...
Rendered by Jeremy Haun Constantine #22 is a visually solid experience. Using perspective and tight/long shots where necessary Haun manages to bring a sense of depth and power to both Darkseid's unseen but overpowering approach and communicates the pain and distress of his cast at the carnage and betrayal now engulfing them. Constantine's weakness in the face of a crisis is atypical, but out of all potential options available to him it is telling of the mans character that sacrificing others is repeatedly his default option...
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