(2006) Mike Carey & Leonardo Manco, Titan Books, £8.99, trdpbk, 128pp, ISBN 1-84576-052-2
DC Comics' 'psychic detective' is put through his paces by the veritable talent of Mike Carey, best-known for the Sandman's highly-praised spin-off Lucifer. While the transition from one anti-hero headed horror comic to another barely seems like a change at all, Constantine's world is harsh and unforgiving, the trials he faces are more personal and down to earth (figuratively speaking) than the epic Lucifer. In All His Engines, as with most of his adventures, it is Constantine's efforts to save those closest to him that makes the storytelling so compelling. His usual array of demonic bad guys are present, and it is with the malevolent Beroul he finds himself locking horns this time. Beroul finds himself in competition with other demons in setting up subsidiaries of 'Hell On Earth' and blackmails our hero into disposing of them for him. But the real star of the show is Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec death god, losing ground to this new competition. Much consorting with the supernatural follows as Constantine plays all sides against the others to save the life of the long-suffering Chas's granddaughter.
There is not much missing from what you would expect of a Constantine story and All His Engines definitely benefits from Carey's writing, not least as he is a Liverpudlian himself. The Brit references do not feel tokenistic, and Constantine's wit is at its best with a streak of British cynicism. The humour runs black as ever and the witticisms abound: there's a great sense of satisfaction when watching Constantine making a wisecrack to a being beyond the ken of mere mortals, like it's some punk kid in a seedy bar. Leonardo Manco's artwork fits the tone nicely and portrays John's world in all its filthy glory. It does not matter if he is skulking in the back alleys of his native Liverpool, or wandering through the glamour of Hollywood, he inevitably finds decay and gritty violence wherever he goes. There is a roughness to Manco's artwork that fits the character well, and a darkness that shrouds Constantine almost as if it is his natural shell. If there is one highlight in this novel, it is the appearances of Mictlantecuhtli, all of which are spectacular and full of vicious intensity. It is fun and games all round, and the story is resolved nicely, with not too much to ponder over after the last panel. Carey has now had a very successful run on Hellblazer, but this self-contained tale manages to showcase the elements of the series that make it so readable. It is obviously a good introduction to the character for new readers, not adding much to his expanding backstory, but a very enjoyable romp.
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