He has straddled between the real world and the supernatural realms, accidentally sent a young, innocent girl spiraling into Hell, and even bested the triumvirate of the infernal realms into saving him from lung cancer. Sometimes known as the Hellblazer, by others as the laughing magician, and shunned by those closest to him, he is John Constantine, a conniving mentalist, double-crossing magus who uses whatever wits and tricks at his disposal to banish all forms of evil to save the world—often at a sacrificial cost.

In this latest rendering of a character originating from the pages of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Ryan North reimagines a thirteen-year-old John Constantine (nicknamed Kid Constantine) in The Mystery of the Meanest Teacher. In revitalizing iconic characters from the DC Comics universe for middle grade readers, this title spotlights the supernatural detective in his teenage years. The story begins with the young misfit Johnny who engages with ghosts, monsters, and demons around the streets of London. When he incurs the wrath of the spirits haunting a candy shop, he hatches a plan to evade their fury by manipulating his parents into sending him overseas to a boarding school in America. In Salem, Massachusetts, he meets a reclusive classmate named Anna who, like him, dabbles in magic with a few secrets of her own. Together, they stumble upon an archaic book of spells owned by a history teacher named Ms. Kayla, who has a predilection for picking on Johnny at every turn. Is she a witch?  Or something more malevolent?

In rebranding John Constantine for a younger generation—complete with his iconic trench coat, t-shirt, and sneakers—Ryan North captures the magician’s snarky persona with a penchant for deciphering supernatural enigmas. Along with illustrator Derek Charm, they create two adolescent sleuths who navigate a contemporary world teeming with ancient magic, demons, and ghosts lurking in the nether realms. Armed with an arsenal of street magic and clever resourcefulness, Johnny teams up with Anna to uncover the mystery behind the sinister Ms. Kayla, meanest teacher at the Junior Success Boarding School. Although set in a slightly dark and gothic world, Charm’s cartoon style character designs add a youthful charm to the supernatural gumshoes. Vibrant colors adorn the panel backgrounds, while bold and tinted shades of orange and red energize flashbacks and climactic scenes with dramatic flair.

Packing a series of misadventures into this dark mystery fantasy, North infuses youthful insight to a character who occupies the supernatural sector of the DC universe that will diversify graphic collections with a badass superhero for young readers. This rendition of the Hellblazer resonates with themes of friendship, fitting in, acceptance, and self-identity. Constantine’s shrewdness and snide comebacks make for an intriguing character whose persona shines with self-assured confidence, though also cursed with a painful past that prevents him from fully befriending others. A smart delinquent, Kid Constantine retains the classic spirit of the defiant, wisecracking lone wolf who traverses the world in slick stylish fashion.


The Mystery of the Meanest Teacher: A Johnny Constantine Graphic Novel
By Ryan North
Art by  Derek Charm
DC Comics, 2021
ISBN: 9781779501233

Publisher Age Rating:  7 and up
Series ISBNS and Order
Related media: 

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: Canadian,

  • Jerry

    | He/Him Information Strategist, San Francisco Public Library

    Reviewer

    By day, Jerry Dear, APALA member and Information Strategist at the San Francisco Public Library tackles research questions in the Periodicals department. He also teaches in the Library Information Technology department at City College of San Francisco. By night, he serves the Asian American community and ventures into the vibrant literary arts and graphic novel scene. In whatever time remains, he indulges in comics, anime, manga, and Asian American literature and film.

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