The Mystery of the Meanest Teacher: A Johnny Constantine Graphic Novel – Ryan North, Writer; Derek Charm, Artist
Ray – 8.5/10
Ray: Probably the single oddest project to ever come out of DC’s all-ages graphic novel line, the popular Squirrel Girl creative team of Ryan North and Derek Charm team up to reinvent the morally ambiguous Vertigo antihero as… a ‘tween mischief-making magician. On paper, it seems like a stretch, but both the creators and DC’s OGN line have a serious reputation for quality. How does this book shake out?
It makes a good start with a thoroughly Constantine opening. Sure, he’s only a middle schooler here and his scams mostly involve nicking chocolate from his favorite sweet shop in England, but he still manages to get on the bad side of supernatural forces—eating a ritual chocolate that keeps a demon at bay, winding up with an army of ghosts chasing him, and having to get safe passage to America from some friendlier demons. I was a little thrown by him having two living, happy, and well-adjusted parents, but I guess this is a lighter take. A bit involving a revenant version of Constantine taking his place was a great gag.
From there, the freelance magic student—who has a dark secret involving a friend who found out about his magic use—winds up heading over to Massachusetts to enroll in boarding school. He comes in with a chip on his shoulder and it’s backed up by what he finds—a school full of students who already know each other and think he’s a weirdo. Along with a homeroom/history teacher who seems to take an instant dislike to him, he’s not finding much to like—except one fellow student named Anna who seems to know more about magic than he expects.
It doesn’t take much figuring out to learn that this is a young Zatanna as the co-lead of the story. I believe it was spoiled in solicits, and while Constantine really only vaguely resembles his classic version, Zatanna is pretty recognizable. They team up to investigate the sinister Ms. Kayla, teach each other some magic tricks, and verbally spar—but the biggest stumbling block may be Constantine’s guarded nature that leads him to push everyone away the second they get too close. As the threat level intensifies, he’s forced to make a choice—run, or stay and face an all-powerful evil.
While this is a good story, it is definitely geared more towards a younger audience. There isn’t much of a mystery here, and the investigation seems rather Scooby Doo-esque at times. The life lessons Constantine learns feel a bit forced—we know he’s going to forget them in six months and make some more horrible choices. But it’s aimed at a younger audience and definitely hits that mark. The one really pleasant surprise? The appearance of a third magical DC character—who, while not explicitly a teen version, is also portrayed as an awkward rookie compared to his usual self complete with some hilariously offbeat wordplay.
Overall, this is a book by a skilled comic book creative team. As such, it doesn’t quite reach the creative highs of all-ages adventures like Metropolis Grove or We Found a Monster, which are by inventive cartoonists playing with the format more. It is a fun magical adventure with some surprisingly dark twists. I still find it a bit of an odd project—after all, the goal of this line is to introduce kids to these characters. And there really is no effective jumping-off point into other Constantine stories with this one without some BIG surprises. But with North and Charm, you know you’re going to get a good read.
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GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.