Review by Karl Verhoven
Those who’d worked their long way through Empathy is the Enemy may have been confused by the ending as there was no indication that the story continued here. Much of what Constantine learned in the previous outing was modified or rendered obsolete by the conclusion, and this begins with Glasgow engulfed by chaos. The cause is a device activated by a Glaswegian mystic from the best of intentions, but he’s not the first man fooled by demons.
Denise Mina sets her stall out early: “Glasgow. Highest murder rate in Western Europe. Lowest life expectancy. Home of the knife-wielding twelve year-old. But that was the good old days. It’s changed. Now it’s a frightening place.”
That’s suitably glib and amusing, but once Mina dives headlong into her story there’s very little substance. Glasgow is beset by demons sucking out and feeding on depressing memories. Suicides are rife, and some old acquaintances – Constantine doesn’t have friends – drop by with four hours to save the world, but Constantine doesn’t want to because someone else will only ruin it again. There’s a solution, but however it’s dressed-up it amounts to hippy-dippiness, and for all the referencing of Milton (or Nick Cave) in the title, it hones in on a very minor element of the tale being told.
Artist Leonardo Manco delivers good Glasgow. Those familiar with the city will recognise the locations he’s photoshopped into the art, and there’s a certain perverse joy in seeing a horde of demons lured into the Kelvingrove Art Gallery to be dosed up on sucky sweets and porn. His cast possess an emotional resonance ranging from malevolence to ecstasy, and the permanently masked and helmeted soldiers elevate the sinister aspects.
The ultimate and whimsical conclusion plays on feelings endemic to every Scottish football fan, but is this petty-minded parochialism really the best Mina could conceive? The Red Right Hand disappoints. Constantine, lest we forget, the guy whose name is on the cover, is dragged along by others, largely a fatalistic observer rather than the finger that prods the action, and the plot lacks the wherewithall to fill the allotted pages.
There’s also a single chapter tale with no connection to the main narrative other than Constantine, and it occurs before his Glasgow trip. It might have been more sympathetically collected not in original publication order, but as the opening to Empathy is the Enemy. Map, a supporting character from earlier volumes, returns, and the tension builds as Constantine needs to ensure Map vacates London’s boundaries before his visions destroy the city. However, Cristiano Cucina isn’t the artist that Manco is, and the story unfolds at a leisurely pace, then concludes in a hurry.