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The other day I finally got around to reading Justice League Dark #0. Now you can tell me that this is “a different John Constantine than the one in Hellblazer” or that “DC is a different universe than Vertigo.” I don’t buy it. Those are rationalizations, excuses for screwing up a well-established, well-rounded character with a ton of history and a strong following. If DC’s relaunch and their publication of these issue #0’s was anything more than a depressing marketing move aimed at capturing the attention of a dwindling audience instead of trying to increase their appeal by deepening and widening the type of books they publish, they would not have messed up this character’s history so completely.
My apologies for not being not being terribly current with this, clearly I should have been freaking out about this a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve had a stack of comic books by my bed for weeks, waiting to be read. First I had to go to San Francisco to watch a comic book writer marry a costumer (the ceremony involved light sabers, of course.) Then I had to go to New York for the ridiculous comic convention, (which you’ll remember from last week, if you’re a regular reader.) Today I was planning to share some of the discoveries I made at the convention, but I’m afraid I must postpone my New York grab bag of artists, because I need to voice my outrage
For those out of the loop, last year DC relaunched the entire line of superhero comic books, staring them all at #1, some stories starting from the beginning and introducing the characters as if they were new, other comic books were legitimately new titles, (and a very few just changed the numbering and kind of ignored the whole thing. Those might have been the smart ones.) At the time I tried a slew of the new titles, the female-centric ones were mostly borderline offensive and the restarts of established stories made me drop books that I had been reading. I found it disappointing to have to read rehashes of well-documented characters’ histories. After all, with the current publishing model, I can easily buy back issues in paperback compilations, so why would I need them to be rewritten all over again by new writers and artists?
Putting all of the sexism and tedious repetition aside for a moment, I still love my superhero comic books and I wasn’t going to walk away from DC. Besides, there is one comic book I’ve stayed faithful to even in the times when I couldn’t afford comic books, and that is Hellblazer. I was warned that the only reason this was untouched by the marketing exploitation being committed against the DC line was because Hellblazer is part of their sister company; Vertigo. With the character’s introduction into the main DC universe in the role of a team member on Justice League Dark, people warned me the character would be ruined. I didn’t believe them, or at least I hoped they were wrong. After all, with veteran writer Peter Milligan, a British author who has done an amazing job of reinvigorating the main title of Hellblazer over the last year or so, it had to be good. He knows the character, he knows what is reasonable and what isn’t…
Then Jeff Lemire stepped in, a man who was writing one of the stronger comic books to come out of DC’s relaunch; Animal Man. More importantly, Lemire’s work on his own creations (like the heartbreaking Essex County) showed his ability to create a poetic and beautiful connection with a slew of contradictory characters. Justice League Dark didn’t suffer under his writing, and I think he even got the moment rolling a little bit more smoothly. A year after their relaunch DC decided that there weren’t enough opportunities to keep marketing their product as NEW and IMPROVED, so they shoe-horned in an issue #0. Now, if we don’t need our superheroes to start at #1, we certainly don’t need them to start at #0 a year later. It felt like a marketing device with absolutely no respect paid to all of the great writers and artists who made these creations so incredible over the last 30 plus years. Who knows what kind of editorial pressures the writers and artists are under in being asked to perform these tasks, suffice to say, Justic League Dark #0 went seriously off the rails when it attempted to tell us how a young, cartoonishly happy and bright-looking John Constantine had to leave Britain and go to New York to learn magic from some dude called Nick (?)
Now okay, I can believe that maybe Constantine would go to meet with Anton LaVey or some such weird character from America’s dark past. But a generic guy called Nick? And why did Constantine dress like a biker from the 1950’s, while “Nick” wore his characteristic trench coat, white shirt and skinny black tie? These are the classic clothes of old, working class men of the North, like Constantine. So why he’d need to learn how to dress and do magic from him!?
While I might have an American mother and love US comic books and cartoons, one of the things I like about being born in Britain is having a tangible connection with an ancient culture. When I was an infant, my parents took me to Stonehenge, site of all sorts of mysterious rituals (not that I appreciated it at 3, but there is a photo of me sitting on one of the stones, which is nice because you can no longer even go near them, let alone sit on them.) There is tangible evidence of a long history of Celtic tradition, druids, and rituals performed around Britain. The country is packed with mysterious, symbolic remnants of an ancient culture. There are massive chalk drawings, burial mounds, knolls, walls and roads all over the place which date back thousands of years. It is part of the basic fabric of life in the UK. Now why on earth would someone leave that to go to New York to find a man with no history to learn “real magic” from? Ignoring all of that, John Constantine’s history has been well and truly flashbacked in Hellblazer and we have a lot of proof that he was doing “real” magic from early childhood, in his teens, well before he supposedly went to NY and met “Nick.”
We are supposed to believe that taking this character and making a duplicate of him in a separate universe and then crapping all over his established history and character makes some kind of sense to DC. I can’t. Marketing or otherwise, this is a mistake and an insult to a character I liked enough to follow to a rather out-of-focus new book. Disappointing doesn’t even cover it. Luckily issue #296 of Hellblazer came out last week and it was bloody perfect, filled with funny, miserable, messy insanity. Milligan, Bisley, Camuncoli and Landini continuing to do a great job. If you want a bit of magic in your comic books, pick it up, start anywhere and work backwards. When you find a storyline you like, the back issues are all available in collected editions.
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