Book Review – Constantine vol. 4: The Apocalypse Road

  • Title: Constantine vol. 4: The Apocalypse Road
  • Author: Ray Fawkes
  • Artist: Edgar Salazar
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: John Constantine
  • Publication Date: 2015
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 01/07/2017

**Spoiler Alert** Constantine Volume 4: The Apocalypse Road is the fourth and unfortunately, final volume of the New 52 Era John Constantine (Hellblazer) comics and graphic novel series. Fortunately, Constantine has been introduced again in DC Rebirth – but the first graphic novel collection of the newest series won’t be available until April. DC has, however, also collected the various Vertigo Constantine stories – so there is more to look for coming or available if you like the character and want to see different takes on him.

This story picked up after the cliffhanger from the last volume. John finds himself on an alternate Earth – an Earth where “John Constantine” isn’t a Mage of the Third (or as John says in this volume) Fourth Order. Rather, this alternate John is a rock musician. Mage John’s parents and his friends are still alive as well. Mage John is shocked by all this. However, no one is likely to survive for long – this alternate reality’s Earth has been invaded by aliens, aliens using an atmospheric gas to produce feelings of doom, depression, and helplessness to make it easier to subdue the population. And once that is done, the planet will be turned over to Darkseid to destroy at his leisure.

As John’s coming to terms with that, and meeting himself and his friends, and seeing his other path as potentially better but doomed – they realize he is a mage. At first full of anger, everyone from John’s parents, to his friends, to the other version of John, begs him to help them escape. Reluctantly, John agrees, but explains that Magic Always Has A Price. Unfortunately, no one really understands what that means. Mage John ends up paying a terrible cost, and makes a horrific sacrifice. However, his spell works and nearly everyone makes it back to our Earth. Unfortunately, Darkseid follows. John then pulls out the second spell in his pocket, metaphorically speaking. With it he manipulates Darkseid and saves our Earth. Again, the costs are very high.

At times this last graphic novel in the series felt a bit rushed; as if, knowing the series was cancelled they tried to wrap-up any loose ends. But it’s still one heck of a roller coaster ride and nothing that happened felt out of character. In fact, some of the darkest moments of the book were that devastating because they felt so realistic to the characters and their behavior. I highly recommend Constantine both this book and the entire series, and it’s companion series, Justice League Dark.

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Book Review – Constantine vol. 3: The Voice in the Fire

  • Title: Constantine vol. 3: The Voice in the Fire
  • Author: Ray Fawkes
  • Artist: ACO, Jay Leisten, Edgar Salazar
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: John Constantine
  • Publication Date: 2015
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/26/2016

**Spoiler Alert** This is the second time I’ve read Constantine Volume 3: The Voice in the Fire and I enjoyed it very much. The novel opens with John Constantine in a mental battle with Spellbinder. This is a battle John wins, getting Spellbinder secretly on his side in his on-going battle against The Cold Flame. However, we also discover how John became a mage in the first place and just what it cost him. John has been through some horrible experiences. Yet, he helps another magician to confront her demons, then helps the “demon” to realize his missing girlfriend has always been there waiting for him.

Technically, Constantine is supposed to be “recruiting” for the Cold Flame – in reality he’s trying to get as many mages and magic users secretly under his wing as possible to challenge and destroy the Cold Flame. And so John goes to Hong Kong to confront Graceful Moon. She draws her power from luck and good fortune – but her secret, magical empire has drained the luck and fortune of everyone in Hong Kong – making it an extremely unlucky place to live. The sequences in Hong Kong have some of the most amazing and colorful art. It’s truly beautiful. Constantine manages to defeat Graceful Moon and reverse her fortunes.

John then travels to a very dark, dense forest in Germany – to confront werewolves. That’s not really why he’s there, but it’s what happens. John’s also discovered that Zatanna has cast a spell on him to make him a better person. He attempts to have the spell removed.

However, just as the mage will cast the spell to remove Zatanna’s influence from John – at the Temple of the Cold Flame, Tannarak casts Papa Midnight’s “kill switch” spell to destroy Constantine. When both spells hit they cause John a lot of pain – but neither does what it’s supposed to – Constantine is hurled back in time to World War I where he meets an old mentor. The mentor tries to send him back, and sends Constantine to his own future instead. There, having seen a magical war – Constantine confronts and overturns Dr. Fate – taking his helmet.

As sketchy and episodic as The Voice in the Firesounds – I liked it a lot. Each of the stories was good. They were well-written and made sense in and of themselves and as part of a larger whole. The mages from issue 1 of Constantine are still serious threats (Tannarak and Sargon – and with Mr. E taunting Constantine from within the Moon Sword); and the magical war is a constant threat too. But these stories are tied together by filling in Constantine’s background. The more we learn the more it becomes apparent just what sort of horrible events John’s experienced. And this makes John a fascinating and sympathetic character despite his faults. Highly recommended.

Book Review – Constantine vol. 2: Blight

  • Title: Constantine vol. 2: Blight
  • Author: Ray Fawkes, Jeff Lemire
  • Artist: Renato Guedes, Marcelo Maiolo
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: John Constantine, Justice League Dark, Zatanna
  • Publication Date: 2014
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/21/2016

John Constantine is a fascinating anti-hero and a guy who just can’t win. Blight as a graphic novel is a little hard to follow because it ties in with other titles – some of which I’ve read, such as Justice League Dark and some I haven’t. The book opens with Constantine apparently having a nightmare – but then we learn that everything in his magical vault has been taken from him. The three evil magicians from Volume 1 are back: Sargon, Mr. E, and Tannarak. They are travelling the world offering independent magic users a choice: join the Cult of the Cold Flame or die and have their magic and very life absorbed by whichever magician confronts them. Constantine offers to join the Cult, but keeps his mind free by a little slight of hand with the Cult’s drugged wine. He then uses the one artifact of his (the Moon Sword) that the Cult hasn’t destroyed to absorb it’s magic to kill Mr. E – but instead of absorbing his magic himself, luckily Sargon and Tannarak take it instead. With Mr. E trapped in the Sword, Constantine asks to be filled in on everything. However, just then, Shazam (Billy Batson) touches Pandora’s Box (in events not depicted in this story).

The next volume opens with the Crime Syndicate (evil Justice League from a parallel Earth) having taken over, our Justice League Heroes having disappeared, and a magic-dampening field having made it impossible for Constantine to track down his Justice League Dark or any magic users – good, evil, or indifferent. He and his new League, including Swamp Thing, Pandora, Nightmare Nurse, and Phantom Stranger are all John has now to fight Blight.

The next volume has John and his new allies brought to the border of Heaven where they encounter a ticked off Spectre and John has a weird conversation with God, who looks like Toto from The Wizard of Oz. Yes, it’s as weird as it sounds. After their conversation, the Angel Zauriel follows Constantine to Earth and John binds him in a circle in the House of Mystery. How Zauriel helps to defeat Blight is a story found in Justice League Dark and possibly other collections.

The next volume in this book has John and his new Justice League Dark in Nanda Parbat. There John discovers all the magic users are trapped in a magical torture machine, the Thaumaton Machine – behind this is Felix Faust and John’s one-time mentor and friend (now bitter enemy) Nick Necro. There’s a flashback explaining the background of Nick, John, and Zatanna, including the spell that ties the three together. Constantine and Necro fight both physically and using magic – it seems Constantine will win – when Swamp Thing explodes in the house and John is suddenly about to be sent to a very bad place. – along with every one else. And that’s the end of the book.

Constantine vol. 2 Blight is a good graphic novel, the art is incredible and the characterization is really good. However, the one negative is it’s a bit hard to follow – it’s intertwined to another story and it’s just becomes a bit frustrating to have stories disappear into the ether. Some are picked up in the Justice League Dark graphics, but some were covered in other books, I suppose. Still it’s well worth reading to pick-up some more detail in the battle against Blight and to defeat the Crime Syndicate and return the Justice League to Earth.

Book Review – Constantine vol. 1: The Spark and the Flame

  • Title: Constantine vol. 1: The Spark and the Flame
  • Author: Ray Fawkes, Jeff Lemire
  • Artist: Renato Guedes, Marcelo Maiolo
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: John Constantine, Papa Midnight, Justice League Dark
  • Publication Date: 2014
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/18/2016

**Spoiler Alert** This is the first volume of the John Constantine solo series, but it is interwoven with John’s adventures as part of Justice League Dark as such at times I found myself having to realize where we were in John’s story – and that changes throughout the volume.

The first three issues collected in this volume are closely linked. Constantine is after Croydon’s Compass – a dangerous magical artifact that’s been broken into three pieces and scattered to the winds. Constantine wants it to prevent it from falling in to the hands of some evil magicians – but this is Constantine, so he probably wouldn’t mind having the power for himself. Constantine’s monologue explains both how his magic works (it has a high price) and Constantine’s point-of-view in using it. He obtains the first part of the compass, the needle, but his friend Chris dies – killed by the evil magicians hunting the compass and John. When he tries to obtain the second part, the face of the compass, he eventually succeeds but not before losing the needle to the bad guys. The third part of the compass is in London – and due to some sort of curse, John is physically sick and hurt the entire time he’s in London. As it turns out neither John nor the evil magicians can take the lens.

John then returns home to New York, only to face off against Papa Midnight. John gets beaten-up by Midnight’s men, but had cast a spell on himself – so the damage reflects back on Midnight’s goons. John then tracks down the man who had been following him on the behalf on one of the evil magicians, a man he’d see run a short-change con on a local business owner. John essentially mugs him, then donates the stolen money to the business owner, a friend.

The next issue ties in with the story of the Justice League trying to find Pandora’s Box for some reason – which also popped-up in Justice League Dark. John gets Shazam (Captain Marvel) to become Billy Batson, then uses a spell to switch their voices – so Billy sounds like John and John is able to become Shazam for a short period. They are attacked by a demon. When the spell is reversed, John tries to convince Batson not to touch Pandora’s Box – but Batson doesn’t believe him or even listen to what Constantine is telling him. John’s severely injured in the battle and the owner of the bar tries calling Zatanna but can’t get a hold of her. Then John is attacked by Chris’s ghost. John tells the ghost he was dying anyway because his brain couldn’t handle his power. Papa Midnight arrives. John has to convince Papa Midnight to save him, and John points out the danger represented by the Cult of the Cold Flame. Papa Midnight saves John. And John’s gone through Metamorphosis in Extremis for the third time – making him an even more powerful mage and magic user.

John Constantine is a fascinating hero – he’s an anti-hero who will sacrifice whatever it takes for his purposes. And those purposes are often the bigger picture. Constantine also doesn’t want to be the hero – but he has skills and those skills have one purpose – to fight the darkness. Constantine’s uniform is simple: black pants, white shirt, messy tie, tan trench coat. This is about as far from the brightly-colored uniforms of most superheroes as you can get. And despite his abilities at using magic, he’s a very human hero – his magic comes at a price, a price John will pay because he loves the rush. Yet at the same time, John tries to do the right thing – even though it often backfires on him. This is a promising start to a new graphic novel series that I think I will enjoy. First volume is recommended, though you may want to also read Justice League Dark to figure out what’s going on.

Book Review – Justice League Dark vol. 6: Lost in Forever

  • Title: Justice League Dark vol. 6: Lost in Forever
  • Author: JM DeMatteis
  • Artist: Andres Guinaldo
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: John Constantine, Zatanna, Nightmare Nurse, Swamp Thing, Deadman, Frankenstein, Black Orchid, Andrew Bennett (vampire), Madame Xanadu
  • Publication Date: 2015
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/07/2016

**Spoiler Alert** Justice League Dark volume 6 is the last in the collected series so far. The book opens with a dream sequence (showing us the real depth of John Constantine’s feelings for Zatanna) then he wakes up in a confusing, mixed-up, even upside-down strange house. John is in the House of Secrets, and the female manifestation of the House convinces him he must call members of Justice League Dark together to prevent the House of Mystery from engaging in a nefarious plot. Meanwhile in the House of Mystery, Zatanna is pretty much getting the same message from the male manifestation of the House – the House of Secrets is up to something and must be stopped. John and his crew (the House of Secrets, Frank(enstein), the vampire Andrew Bennett, Black Orchid, and Mme Xanadu, soon confront Zatanna, the House of Mystery, Swamp Thing, Nightmare Nurse, and Deadman.

Fortunately, this isn’t a long, drawn-out slug fest. The House of Secrets and the House of Mystery join together and form the House of Wonders – which plans on controlling the world by controlling it’s houses. John and Zatanna decide the only way to stop the disaster is to enact the K’am’Deva curse. This will extract all love for another from one person’s heart from all directions in space and time as if it never existed. While the other person is doomed to remember that lost love for all eternity. John volunteers to give up his love for Zatanna for the greater good. The curse is enacted and it destroys both houses – drawing them away in a whirlpool. But it’s so powerful – all of Justice League Dark is drawn into the whirlpool as well. John is the only one left on Earth, though he later remarks he was on “Earth-2”. Zatanna is taken, alone, to the very beginning of time. There she meets her father, Zatara, and his “wife and daughter”. Zatanna soon realizes this is an illusion – she is alone. And although her mind keeps conjuring illusions to keep her occupied – she breaks through the illusions one by one. Eventually she finds the One Tree and source of all magic.

Meanwhile, Frank, Bennett, Nightmare Nurse, and Swamp Thing end up at the very end of time. They find Felix Faust who has finally obtained immortality and realized it was a curse. The tiny island of Earth they are on is slowly disappearing into the dark of nothingness – so Nightmare Nurse conjures a magical boat and they all sail off in to the Dark.

Meanwhile Mme Xanadu, Deadman, and Black Orchid end up, briefly, in a crystal zone of every moment taking place simultaneously before landing in the Moment of Now which is a time and place that is trapped, in a perpetual Now. There, as Mme Xanadu tries to convey what movement into the future is to a people who have never experienced it – trapped, as they are, in a static moment, lets the leader kiss her. The kiss accelerates the aging – and the entire zone is destroyed. But it also pushes all of Justice League Dark to be reunited – meeting Nightmare Nurse’s boat and Zatanna who at first thinks it’s another illusion. Even John Constantine returns in the House of Mystery – though he says he’s an illusion created by Zatanna’s love.

The entire Justice League Dark confront an evil goddess from before time, Pralaya, released by the Curse. Together John and Zatanna defeat Pralaya and the House of Mystery crash lands on Earth – where they meet John Constantine. Zatanna decides to leave Justice League Dark and returns leadership of the loose group to John as well as giving him back the House of Mystery. It’s clear from the last few panels that John has no memory of what Zatanna meant to him – or of the love he had for her.

Volume 6 satisfactorily wraps-up the story of Justice League Dark but I want more, and I’m guessing the soft-covered versions continued (This graphic collects JLD 35 -40 plus Annual #2 from 2014-2015) and there should be one or two more collected editions to go. Well, I can only hope. I highly recommended this series.

Book Review – Justice League Dark vol. 5: Paradise Lost

  • Title: Justice League Dark vol. 5: Pardise Lost
  • Author: JM DeMatteis
  • Artist: Mikel Janin
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: John Constantine, Zatanna, Nightmare Nurse, Swamp Thing, Deadman, Frankenstein, Black Orchid, Etrigan the Demon (Jason Blood)
  • Publication Date: 2015
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/04/2016

Justice League Dark vol. 5 picks up where Volume 4 left off – with John Constantine having lost the House of Mystery and leadership of Justice League Dark to Zatanna. Deadman finds Constantine in a bar and hits him, seeking to even the score a bit for John’s trapping him in the Sea King. Brand rushes off feeling horrible about what he’s done. Meanwhile at the House of Mystery, Zatanna’s also trying to come to terms with the recent changes, her own increasing power, and her new role as leader – so she’s cut herself off from everyone. Frank(enstein) and Black Orchid tell Deadman they are leaving – the House of Mystery tries to convince them otherwise.

Nightmare Nurse, Asa, falls sick and the entire Justice League Dark learns her backstory. John tries to help Asa return to Alice’s body to save them both, but seeing it as a threat to Alice (Asa’s host) Zatanna gets in the way and Nightmare Nurse possesses her and starts to use her power. John and Asa are pulled into The Between, a metaphysical Limbo. In trying to pull Asa’s spirit from Zatanna – John accidentally sends the entire House of Mystery into The Between. Asa sacrifice’s herself to The Between so the House of Mystery and the Justice League Dark can return to normal space and time. Zatanna uses a very powerful and dangerous spell and rescues Asa – returning Nightmare Nurse to the body of the dying Alice Winter.

This volume also gets into Boston Brand aka Deadman’s background. Brand had been raised and trained in Nanda Parbat – the paradise – from childhood, before being set back in the world. Thus he has a connection to the mystical place. He tries to open a portal to it for Brahma Dass, his teacher, but it backfires and dangerous demons are released to destroy Nanda Parbat. Justice League Dark comes to the rescue, so to speak, and Swamp Thing helps return Nanda Parbat to glory.

Finally, “Scars” seems to be set in the future, with a lone John Constantine reflecting on what’s gone wrong for him, and his betrayals of his friends and colleagues. John and a few members of Justice League Dark, including: Zatanna, Cassandra Craft, Black Orchid, Nightmare Nurse, and Etrigan the Demon; are trapped in the House of Mystery in The Between. They find another trapped survivor, only he isn’t what he claims to be. Etrigan and Zatanna see through the deception – but all the Justice League Dark remains trapped in The Between.

Book Review – Justice League Dark vol. 4: The Rebirth of Evil

  • Title: Justice League Dark vol. 4: The Rebirth of Evil
  • Author: JM DeMatteis, Jeff Lemire
  • Artist: Mikel Janin
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: John Constantine, Zatanna, Justice League, Nightmare Nurse, Swamp Thing, Pandora, Deadman
  • Publication Date: 2014
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 10/17/2016

**Spoiler Alert** This issue of Justice League Dark opens in the middle of something going on – so I was very confused at first. I felt like I had missed something. Anyway, the Justice League are after Pandora’s Box for some reason – even though every time a Leaguer gets near it – it turns them evil, including Superman. The Phantom Stranger arrives at A.R.G.U.S. to warn everyone of the danger the Box represents. Wonder Woman goes after Pandora’s Box and is infected. Constantine gets the box from Wonder Woman and Zatanna but rather than arrive in London, he and Zatanna arrive at the Temple of Hephaestus and are swallowed underground.

Constantine and his team learn, too late, that Pandora’s Box is a doorway to Earth-3. It allows the Crime Syndicate (evil versions of the Justice League) to invade Earth. The crime syndicate causes all sorts of trouble and, off-stage, even defeats the Justice League.

Meanwhile, with his own team missing, Constantine joins forces with Nightmare Nurse, Swamp Thing, Pandora, and later Deadman, to solve the crisis. Opening Pandora’s box has also released Blight – a distillation of all the worst things about humanity. Defeating Blight requires the Big Guns including the angel, Zauriel. After that, Constantine must rescue his team and other magic-users, all held prisoner in Nanda Parbat. He succeeds but at a high cost.

Justice League Dark is consistently a very good book, and volume 4 is excellent. It’s complex, well-written, and has truly brilliant art. I read the book twice, and still found there to be an awful lot going on. The story isn’t hard to follow – there is just a lot of it. This is a highly recommended book and series. If you haven’t tried Justice League Dark it’s a must read. Volume 4 is the best so far, but don’t start there – this series must be read from the beginning.