Review by Win Wiacek
This review concerns the 2008 five chapter version of The Laughing Magician. A review of the revised 2019 edition with considerable added content will follow.
Continuing directly from the events of Joyride/Systems of Control, this second collection of the unstoppable mystic trickster written by London’s Pride Andy Diggle comprises a chilling prelude and a visceral saga that sets up the series for a longer, even darker tale to follow in The Roots of Coincidence.
Modern mystic Constantine is indulging in his downtime of choice: ciggies, booze and a hot date when he’s summoned by the ethereal Map, patron god of London, to rescue a trio of young thrill-seekers who have inadvertently slipped into the metaphysical hell of Shadow London. Grudgingly acquiescing, to his eternal regret, the sordid sorcerer forgets his own first principle of “what are you really after?” .
The 2008 edition begins with ‘Smoke’, starkly illustrated in the classic dry-brush manner of David Lloyd by Danijel Zezelj, but that’s been shifted to Systems of Control in the revised editions. The 2019 version of The Laughing Magician begins with ‘The Passage’ a prologue illustrated by Leonardo Manco (as is the rest of the volume) which introduces Mako, a War-Mage in devastated Darfur who’s hunting for the eponymous ‘Laughing Magician’. A Muti master (blackest blood magic), the deadly sorcerer is thwarted by an old wizard (last seen in Hellblazer: Original Sins) who sends a warning to Constantine by possessing an aid worker and dispatching him to Britain.
Magic is harsh and has no thought for innocence. The harrowing trip is just a taste of what is to come when Mako gets the right scent and follows all the way to London.
The trilogy of chapters that follows once again displays the callous superiority of comics’ greatest anti-hero as he finesses one threat against another, but the book ends without closure as his foes are now aligned against him and the trickster leaves his home turf to prepare himself for what’s still to come.
Andy Diggle has a powerful feel for and grasp of the idiosyncratic world of John Constantine. Blending gangland, contemporary news headlines, politics and the ghastly unknown, these dark pleasures are some of the most compelling stories in a series that has spanned more than twenty years and drawn the best work from a truly stellar cast of creators.