Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 315 (12/15) -- Dark Entries by Rankin and Dell'edera

It's a wonder that John Constantine isn't permanently crouched in a corner somewhere, keening softly and rocking back and forth in time with the voices in his head. (And, as I write that, I'm instantly sure that there have been at least two or three "John Constantine goes crazy/has a nervous breakdown" stories, probably from new writers trying to make their mark on the character.) Every major comics character has had far more drama in his life than the combined houses of Lancaster and York, but Constantine's drama has always been so relentlessly soul-destroying (literally so, since he's quite often twisting the noses of whatever demons and devils DC Comics is featuring this year) that one has to wonder how he can remain upright, let alone continue his line of wise-ass patter.

That thought has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot of Dark Entries, a stylish small hardcover from the Vertigo Crime line (which usually, I thought, stayed away from the borders of the DC universe, but I suppose Constantine isn't much seen in those parts lately) that came out last year, I must admit -- this is a sturdy, standalone Constantine story, which could have slotted into his continuity at nearly any point in the last twenty-five years. Scottish crime bestseller Ian Rankin, writing for comics for the first time, provides the script, and Italian artist Werther Dell'edera brings the art. And Constantine, as usual, drags in his world-weary, cynical, hard-nosed baggage -- one of the many young women who died on him [1] is in his mind through much of the middle part of Dark Entries.

The story, this time, is that Constantine is hired by a producer of reality TV shows, because his latest ratings blockbuster (coincidentally called "Dark Entries"), in which the usual sextet of sullen self-obsessed twenty-somethings are locked in a rambling, complicated house designed to scare them into quitting before they get the big payoff in the end, has started to act really strange, with nasty scares the creators didn't design in plaguing the inmates of the house. (So, in TV parlance, it's "Big Brother meets Fear Factor;" there's something quaintly 2003 about the idea.) Constantine agrees, for a sufficient pile of cash, to enter the house, join the contestants, and figure out what's going on.

And, of course, that's not what's really going on, as Constantine quickly learns. So he has to find out the full details of the real situation, and then extract himself, and as many others as he can (which often with Constantine means "none," but I won't say how successful he is this time) from that situation. Along the way, there's some reality-TV satire, but not nearly as much as I feared -- in particular, the contestants never become as loathsome and self-aggrandizing as their real-world counterparts, though the slick TV-producer figure isn't quite as slimy and sneaky and devious as I expected, either. Actually, Dark Entries turns into a pretty straightforward supernatural puzzle story, and is definitely on the subdued side for a comic starring John Constantine. (Come to think of it, Dark Entries doesn't substantially add to Constantine's weight of guilt and self-loathing, which makes it a rarity among standalone Constantine stories.)

Dell'edera is fine with Constantine and the contestants, making them each individual and identifiable while still giving the graphic novel a moody, edgy, "European" feel. But he's less successful with the supernatural creatures that show up late in the book, which look lumpy and odd -- I would have liked to have seen Rankin's script, so I'd know what they were supposed to be. In the end, Dark Entries comes across as a solid but not stunning story about John Constantine, feeling faintly disappointing given the fancy package.

[1] This was a half-jokey plot point the last time I read the regular Constantine comic, Hellblazer, and that was at least a decade ago. I have to assume that several more pretty young things have died on his watch -- in suitably horrible ways, of course -- since then, because that's just the kind of thing that happens to John Constantine.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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