With "Constantine" replacing the long-running Vertigo title "Hellblazer," it would be easy to write off this new comic before ever reading it. Even before DC's "New 52" had begun, the returning of John Constantine and Swamp Thing to the main DC Universe had already caught some flack, and there have been a lot of warranted fears about this possibly watering down the character. But with "Constantine" #1, Jeff Lemire, Ray Fawkes and Renato Guedes look to be going back to the character's roots, with a story that would have fit in with the pre-Vertigo branding of the title.
While Constantine was normally confined to "Hellblazer" and "Swamp Thing" (making his debut in the latter), the character did rove into other titles on occasion. "Constantine" #1 in some ways reminds me of the way that the character appeared in the original "The Books of Magic" mini-series, where he would interact not only with characters that would eventually be exclusively in the "For Mature Readers" branded books, but also faces like the Spectre or Baron Night. Lemire and Fawkes in particular bring back one concept from that mini-series and appear to be making the Cult of the Cold Flame a major adversary here.
For the most part, I think "Constantine" #1 works. It's less character-based and more plot-centric than "Hellblazer" became over the years (which in many ways had transformed into a dark soap opera), certainly, and it's not quite as "this is not for younger readers" the way that its predecessor had become. But there are echoes of those earlier stories starring the character; there's a tint of darkness throughout the comic, and Lemire and Fawkes are using like-minded characters as villains instead of trying to shoehorn in ones that wouldn't work so well like Bizarro or the Penguin. They present story goals and supporting characters that I could see appearing in a "Hellblazer" run, and that's a good start. Perhaps most importantly, Lemire and Fawkes haven't lost sight of the fact that Constantine is ultimately not the sort of person you'd want to associate with. Despite his appearances in "Justice League Dark," (also written by the same duo) he's not a team player and that is all the more clear here. If the portrayal of Constantine in the "New 52" is at its lightest in "Sword of Sorcery," it's most certainly the darkest here.
Guedes is an artist who's done all sort of different types and styles of comics, so it's nice to see him fitting in here. I think his realistic-based art style is a good fit for the character; the less-cartoonish the better is something that's always applied to him no matter what comic he's appearing. The character has the rumpled coat, the sharp eyes and a fair amount of the dreaded Constantine sneer thanks to Guedes. The only real misstep seems to be Guedes' top-heavy villain in the first issue; it's not over the top, but it feels a little over-emphasized. I do think that Guedes needs to talk a bit with colorist Marcelo Maiolo in regards to the finish product. Maiolo's coloring in general isn't bad, but it doesn't feel like it fits for "Constantine" #1. Too many of the pages are colored in a bright and cheerful manner. I'm not saying that we need to go to the dreaded "Vertigo brown" color palette, but this is a comic where the hues should be turned down a notch or two.
"Constantine" #1 is a book that I think a lot of people were fearing, and understandably so. Now that it's here, though, I feel that those who actually read the book might be surprised. It's not "Hellblazer," but it is off to a good start in its own right. Consider me optimistic for the future of "Constantine."