This post originally appeared on Panels, which is now Book Riot Comics
This is John Constantine. Leave your name and soul, and I’ll get back to you.
Uh, sorry, I must have the wrong number. I was looking for some guy called Constantyne.
Jay: We start in a graveyard. Some young’uns are in a crypt mucking around with incantations. Which is all fun and games until someone loses an eye. Or, in this case, until they all lose each other. They each wake up in a different location, seemingly not knowing where they are. There’s some spooky goings on (have I ever mentioned how much I’m freaked out by mirrors? I was told some scary stories as a kid, messed me up) then they all wake up back in the crypt.
Dave: I’m with you on the mirrors. I think for me it probably starts with the Bloody Mary urban legend and also a fascination with Through the Looking Glass, and then goes into… well, staring into mirrors while, ahem, possible in some kind of altered state. I may be revealing too much here. What I do like with this scene though isn’t that these kids end up in some kind of weird mystic dimension of glass or whatever. It’s like a really creepy house lit in a sickly green color.
Jay: My grandfather used to like to tell tall tales. Especially if they were to scare me off a certain kind of behaviour. He once swore blind that He’d seen a monster over his shoulder in the mirror after telling a lie. Adults….man, It’s a wonder kids ever manage to grow up without being terrified of everything.
Anyway. We cut to Hogwarts, where John is drinking alone, getting maudlin and listening to Warren Zevon. In his underwear. Manny interrupts the musical goodness to give John his mission of the week.
Dave: You know, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, now that we have a better handle on both Zed and Chas, I do feel like it’s easier to leave them out for an episode, and I like John flying solo. It feels more Hellblazer-y, him leaving behind his friends of the previous encounter to get swept up in something new. On the other hand… while I’ve liked Manny in previous episodes, he does feel a bit more like the expository plot instigator here, doesn’t he?
Jay: I like that Jon clearly feels the same way about the cursed map as we do. He refuses to look at it here. Then we get… DICKIE BENNETT IN THE HIZZY. John drops in on a university lecture being given by one of the old Newcastle crew. Dickie is withdrawn from the world, doped up on sedatives and choosing not to care about anything. In a very effective way of showing us his mindset, we see that he delivers his lectures by a pre-recorded tape, even though he is still sat there in the room. That’s more interesting, I think, than having him choose not to be there. It speaks to a particular state of mind, present but not conscious, living but not engaged.
Dave: Excellent point. They avoid some easy cliches here. I also like John’s appearance in the lecture. Challenging Ritchie Simpson (Professor Dickie Bennett), smiling at the college girl. We know enough about this John now that we can see a bit of the facade, and that just kinda makes it work all the better.
Jay: Elsewhere on campus, one of the young’uns from the cold open is attacked. First he sees a spooky cowboy in a mirror (oh come on, please, enough with the mirrors) then he’s suffocated. Except, it all seems to have happened in his head.
Dave: Y’know, this isn’t a bad thing, but I was caught a little off-guard by the storytelling here. He sees the reflection, then he’s back in that weird house — or is he remembering being there last night? It’s a little unclear, but then we cut to his dead body and it doesn’t really matter. What I do like is that they used editing to make this off-putting — rather than too many effects.
Jay: One of Dickie’s students calls to cancel a study session due to the young’uns death, and then another student sees… great, I’m just going to have to get used to this mirror thing… the spooky cowboy.
Dave: The structure of this episode is interesting. Remove John and put Ritchie in a slightly more removed role and this is a weird teen horror movie. The ambitious college teens accidentally unleash a terror that is now stalking them.
Jay: John starts investigating to see who is attacking the meddling kids. Oddly, he doesn’t start with the janitor, or old man Jenkins.
Dave: I like the bit where John does a little incantation in the crypt to see what the kids had been up to. There’s a shot in there where he’s chanting and he’s backlight by a stained glass window. It’s a guilty pleasure, maybe, but it’s a nice shot. Hellblazer cover-worthy.
Jay: Another mirror. This time the cowboy is watching on as one of the students practices ballet. In the dark. Not sure why. Surely it would be safer with the light on? Anyway, Even I, mortal enemy of the central conceit of this episode, can admit that the ballerina scene was very well done. This ties back to what we talked about last week, about how the show is most effective when the supernatural is handled with practical effects and craft camera cuts, rather than CGI.
Dave: Exactly. I think thus far in this episode, they’ve struck the proper balance.
Jay: Now the plot starts to come together; astral projections, other planes of existence. I dunno, I keep getting distracted by Dickie Bennett’s hair. We learn the villain is Jacob Shaw, who left his body behind and transported his spirit to another realm. Basically it’s a fun twist on Freddy Krueger. Shaw pulls people into his realm to play chop-chop with them, and any damage done to them in spirit will also show up on their bodies. John and Dickie witness this when they find one of the students in a trance, witnessing his arms slice open as he is attacked in the steal realm. Sure, it’s CGI, but it’s mixed in with practical and it works.
Dave: It is a bit Freddy Krueger, isn’t it? But I was also thinking a bit about films like Inception, with the literal world-building. Though even that doesn’t quite get to it. Shaw is this mad architect who has carved out his own little realm — his own little corner of the universe. And that’s a fascinating conceit, really. We’re playing with bits of spiritualism we don’t often see on mainstream TV.
Jay: We find that the victims are still ‘alive’ in the astral plane, even though they no longer have living bodies to return to. I like that. Although it’s a bit of a repeat of last weeks theme — separating people from their bodies — but it’s still a neat idea. I get the same feeling I did last week; these were meant as mid-season stand alone stories, but now that plan is out the window (or mirror).
Dave: Yup, I wonder how we would have taken this episode if it had come earlier in the season. It’s an odd stand-alone episode, continuing to edge away from the momentum of the big “Saint of Last Resorts” two-parter. So I find myself liking these MORE now, but also wondering if we’re losing a little of the momentum that you and I both enjoyed.
Jay: John takes Dickie and the one surviving student — Lilly — to Hogwarts. John tells her that the reflective surfaces are all protected, Shaw can’t reach her from there.
But then Lilly pulls out her phone and looks at the screen, which is a reflective surface, and so now I need to throw my phone away.
Dave: So basically, your arch-enemy would be either a) The Mirror Master from The Flash comics or b) A Disco ball. Good to know… filing that away in my Batman “Emergency Protocols for if my friends ever go power mad” file.
Jay: Imagine how fun I am in a house of mirrors. Anyway. John and Dickie pull a little hocusy pocusy trick, with Manny’s silent help, to transport themselves to the spooky astral house, and head for a showdown with Shaw.
Dave: Dreamscape! Dennis Quaid! That’s also what I’m kinda thinking here, along with Nightmare on Elm Street!
Jay: Dickie takes control of Shaw’s world, and they rescue Lilly… after initially forgetting to rescue Lilly.
Dave: That’s totally like Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, where the kids all learn that they can have powers in their dreams. Which was followed by Part 4, Dream Master, in which… uh, I’ve lost you now, haven’t I? Your respect at the very least.
Jay: What? Oh, sorry, I was distracted by Dickie Bennett’s hair again. So, the heroes win, the villain is vanquished, the hair is gloriours. Dickie wants to stay in magic happy CGI sunshine land(TM) but John tells him he’d be running away. After a tense will he/won’t he scene, Dickie comes back.
Dave: I kept checking the time left on the episode, sure that it was going to be Jacob Shaw coming back in Ritchie’s body. If this was a straight-up horror film, that’d certainly be in there — part of that classic fake-out double death scene. But, you know, I’m glad they didn’t do that here. It helped the episode seem smaller… quieter in some way.
Jay: In the last scene, we see that Dickie is now delivering his lectures himself, rather than using a pre-recorded tape as he was earlier in the episode. He’s engaging with the world again. For now. They’ve nicely foreshadowed where they can/might go with this character.
Dave: I kinda wondered if this was going to tie into a certain storyline with Ritchie Simpson from the Hellblazer comics. I’m glad they’ve done their own thing with him here. I like that he gets this simple character moment here.
Jay: Overall I thought it was a very strong episode. The CGI at the end was a bit over the top, and the confrontation between Dickie and Shaw was rushed. But in a 43 minute episode — where they’d already left out Chas and Zed to make more room — they were always going to have to compromise on something. This was definitely the kind of story where the journey was more important — and more spooky — than the destination. And I liked the ideas they were playing with.
Dave: I agree on the CGI at the end, but given that it was a fabricated reality that kinda made it a little easier to accept it. Weirdly, this felt more like a short Hellblazer story — a single issue or a two-parter — than many of the previous episodes. That made this one feel a little bit odd for me because I think in the past 3-4 episodes I’ve mostly let go of the comic book as I felt they’ve found their own voice for Constantine. But with this one, I found myself kind of pushing at the edges to see how it would work as a Hellblazer story, which isn’t really fair to do. That said, I liked that this one was able to weave together this teen horror flick with some elements of Eastern spirituality to get into those ideas you mentioned.
Mystical Artifact Count: Ummm… I didn’t notice any? Are we counting the mirrors?
Cool music count: Warren Zevon.
1. Would you like to see Richie Simpson follow the same route as his Hellblazer counterpart, or cut a whole new path?
2. The show wraps up in a couple weeks. Are there any issues or storylines from the comic you would like Dave and myself to tackle in place of weekly episodes?