Review by Ian Keogh
Late 18th century adventurer Lady Johanna Constantine was introduced by Neil Gaiman early in his Sandman run, established as an ancestor of John Constantine of Hellblazer notoriety. She played a passing role in a tale collected within The Dolls’ House and her death was later referenced. As a capricious homage Lady Constantine had a charm. Was she, however, a character worth resurrecting for her own graphic novel?
Andy Diggle, then just starting his Vertigo career, makes a confident case. Applying John Constantine’s complex character to a woman of the 18th century wholesale wouldn’t work, at least not if the period setting were to provide a consistent background, and Diggle’s better than that. His tale is set before Gaiman’s and relates the case that sealed the reputation of Lady Constantine in her era, indeed earning her title and considerable wealth. Diggle portrays her as having the guile to haggle when requested to carry out a task on behalf of the King, correctly assuming she’s the only viable option.
When she’s instructed to retrieve a box that must on no account ever be opened, even those with minimal knowledge of classical myths will be able to hazard a guess as to what that box is, and they’ll be correct. The concluding surprise is also eminently predictable, but what remains better concealed is a familiar guest star. This isn’t a story dependent on the surprises mentioned, though, and we’re dragged along by the adventure.
Goran Sudžuka employs a clean and open audience friendly illustration style, creating a deceitful and alluring lead character that nonetheless has enough moments of human fallibility to render her sympathetic. There’s an initial thought that his monsters aren’t really that terrifying, but as befits a tale emphasising sleight of hand, that’s a mere feint, and the true horrors duly arrive.
By the conclusion Diggle’s cleverly referenced the later chronological appearance in the Sandman tale, dealt with a considerable threat in devious fashion, and reinforced the consequences of playing dangerous games, tapping into the misfortune that dogs her descendent. He’s also made a good case for later becoming Hellblazer’s writer.