Hellblazer: Lady Constantine
by Andy Diggle, Goran Sudzuka
(Vertigo, 2006)

Johanna Constantine is perhaps even more intimidating than her modern descendant, John.

For one thing, there's no fear that a watered-down version of her character will ever be played in the movies by Keanu Reeves. But, beyond that, Johanna is more focused than John and, because of that, perhaps more ruthless. Certainly, her uses and abuses of magic are equally inspired, and it could be argued -- based on this volume, at least -- that she looks better naked. For that reason, perhaps, she seems generally to be in better spirits.

It's 1785, and Johanna is commissioned by the Interventionist Branch of the British government to recover a sealed box recently lost in the northern seas. The circumstances that sank it to the bottom of deep, frigid waters are suspicious, perhaps even a bit scary, and the Powers That Be in Britain don't want it falling into the wrong hands. Johanna, cunning from the start, negotiates a recovery fee that includes lands, a title and an annual stipend that will stand her in good stead for the future. Of course, if she fails, her future is moot.

And she's not the only one who's after it. Foremost among her worries is Lady Blackwood, a mistress of dark arts whose hidden name is far older and, if Johanna only knew it, far more troublesome. Foremost among her concerns, on the other hand, is Mouse, Johanna's young, inexperienced charge. Fortunately, she counts as an unwilling ally the wood spriggan Jack-in-the-Green, a haunted antecedent of the modern Swamp Thing.

Lady Constantine, first published in 2003 as a four-book miniseries and collected in one volume in 2006, is a fast read, and the action on land, at sea and in other realms is agreeably violent and occasionally tense. Andy Diggle's solid plotting is enhanced by Goran Sudzuka's storybook art style, and combined they've produced a book deserving a sequel. Or a series of its own.

by Tom Knapp
26 August 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.