Print issue No. 1 collects the Digital Firsts 1 & 2, “Rose” and “Magic”. Enter John Constantine, without whom the whole landscape of comics might look very different today. I don’t think that’s overstating: when he emerged on the scene in 1985, he was a trailblazer, a revolution, a stiff middle finger to the Comics Code Authority and complacency everywhere. Hellblazer was a comic that challenged, offended, pushed buttons and boundaries, and gave us a fundamentally flawed hero whose behavior was completely human despite whatever magical abilities he utilized.

Whatever Constantine has become since then–his mainstream popularity, his (bad) movie adaptation, his current TV show–none of those things will ever diminish the awesome force he brought to the DC Universe. If anyone had told me twenty years ago that a foul-mouthed chain smoker in a trench coat could sustain a horror-themed comic book for 300 issues, I probably would have balked. But then I first met JC in the pages of Swamp Thing and it was clear even then that he was something really special.

So a moment of thanks to Alan Moore who created him, Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, and all the many writers and artists who carved out and contributed to his long history–a history which Tom Taylor and crew now join as Constantine enters the Injustice fray–on the side of the Bat, of course, because anything else would be obscene. John is a humanist, after all, and if there’s one thing he can’t tolerate is big costumed wankers thinking they can run the universe.

We’re starting a whole new year, but don’t expect a slow primer-style introduction. Year Three gets right to the good stuff by introducing Constantine’s point of view on the current state of affairs, his daughter Rose (who doesn’t know he’s her father), and, in typical Constantine fashion, his determination to save the world from behind the usual scrim separating the natural and supernatural worlds.

This time, however, he acknowledges that this isn’t a job for one and he immediately sets out to enlist the help of the world’s greatest detectives: Batman, naturally, and more surprising, Detective Chimp, who (perhaps for good reason) has not yet made an official appearance in the New 52, though he has been mentioned (and therefore technically exists). If you’re not familiar with the character, he’s basically a genius chimpanzee in a Sherlock Holmes hat. Created in the early 50s during the talking super-powered animal craze, he’s somehow managed to sustain some popularity over the years (he even made an appearance on the Batman: the Brave and the Bold cartoon series).

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Hopefully Year Three will also let these two shine (before they get killed of course)

The Good

This comic is full of typical Constantine hilarity. He disrespects everybody from Trigon in hell to Batman himself (I don’t know who’s scarier!). Though we only get a small taste for what’s coming, the journey through necessary exposition is well-mapped, characters are introduced without it feeling like a parade of who’s who, and dramatic tension is sustained through the complex juxtaposition of wildly differing personalities. Although:

Spoiler
At one point, Constantine tells Chaz to look in the back of his cab, where both Batman and Detective Chimp are scowling, and we immediately know those two have a lot in common. I laughed out loud (as Chaz and Constantine do). It’s an absolutely priceless bit of comedic storytelling. The succession of frames as we see what they see, see them suppressing their amusement, and then bursting into laughter is a perfect sequence.

Bruno Redondo has contributed all the layouts for whole of this first issue, which is awesome because it makes for an introduction that is definitely consistent (even with Vicente Cifuentes and Xermanico sharing the finishing duties, one on each half of the book). Similarly, coloring duties are shared by Rex Lokus at the front and J. Nanjan following. I think Injustice suffered a lot of variation in the art especially in the beginning: Year One was the most uneven as the creative team found its footing. A lot of work felt rushed or just oddly matched. But by Year Three, the team (and it’s a large one) has definitely hit an admirable stride.

And I have to add: Redondo draws an amazing Constantine. He’s cheeky and serious all at once and has the rumpled, careless look for which he’s come to be known. In his early days, Constantine was quite tidy–even dapper–but he’s one of few characters who aged in real time during the course of his own series and the years were not kind to him. Though a lot has been sort of retconned/forgotten since the Hellblazer series ended and the new Justice League Dark and Constantine began, the characterization is nevertheless spot on–Taylor did his homework and then some!

Some other notable points:

  • For those of you Raven fans, we get a brief glimpse of her current status along with nice cameos from Dr. Fate and Zatanna.
  • Neil Googe and Rex Lokus provide us with an awesome cover that sets a nice tone for this new year.
  • I’m very gratified to see Taylor include Chaz in the story! Don’t know how long he will last, but as he’s Constantine’s only long-time friend, it’s fitting that we get to have him in this world.

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And Chaz brought his cab with him from London. You gotta love it!

The Bad The Tenuous

I’m uncertain–as some of you may be–as to how they are going to pull off the magical elements in context of the world they’ve built here. A very (very!) brief scene of the affairs in Superman’s camp highlights possible weirdness that may ensue. But unlike some of you, I don’t find Constantine’s interactions with Batman or the rest of the regular DC Universe to be necessarily jarring (Brightest Day is a good example of how well they can work together). That said, I prefer my supernatural elements to be understated (rather than wizardish, with foes flinging Eldritch at one another), and I’m not a fan of Justice League Dark, which this could potentially devolve into. I remain cautious, too, knowing that Raven is to play a big part in Year Three and she’s all about the super-powered magic. If you have no such reservations, you may proceed without trepidation. Be forewarned:

Spoiler
Seeing as Raven makes it into the Injustice game as a playable character and none of the rest of these magical folks do, it does not bode well.

Also–and this is totally subjective–but I dislike monkeys intensely and especially dislike them in comic books (they are always ridiculous). So I’m very skeptical of the inclusion of Detective Chimp. He doesn’t really seem to fit into this world, but I have to remind myself that this isn’t the world as we know it. This is an alternate reality to which the world we know will eventually come to rescue. If there’s a Detective Chimp in this world, so be it. I’m putting my trust in Tom Taylor to make it work, but I still cringe at the sight of him.

The Ugly

Are you prepared to watch things go from bad to worse? No matter how much of a fight Batman puts up in this world or who he has on his side, we know that there will be a truly desperate moment at which all is lost–and it’s getting closer all the time. Year Two was pretty dark. Will Year Three be even darker? Gird up; enjoy these lighter moments while you can.

Oh, and they can get away with saying “prick” in a regular mainstream comic book these days? Really? Wow! Once again, thank you Constantine for paving the way!

Recommended If…

  • John Constantine is one of your favorite characters and you don’t mind him taking over the story in a big way.
  • You’ve been anxiously awaiting the triumphant return of Detective Chimp to the DCU. Really? You have?
  • Most importantly: you want to see Batman finally out of the chair and on his feet!

Overall

Year Two closed hard and seemed like a tough arc to follow, but the creative crew is playing it smart by radically switching gears in terms of point of view. By picking up with Constantine in the aftermath of the failed uprising, we get plenty of breathing room and an opportunity to kick off new objectives without bogging down in what’s just happened. Also, this is a dang funny comic–much needed levity despite the ever-darkening circumstances.

SCORE: 8.5/10