Constantine: Distorted Illusions

It is said that a little knowledge is a most dangerous thing, and one defiant magician from the pages of Alan Moore’s classic Swamp Thing inevitably maneuvers past perils standing in his path to sneer in the face of danger. A wise-cracking, double-dealing supernatural detective who escaped the jaws of hell, he is known as none other than the enigmatic and self-proclaimed John Constantine. In DC Comics’s trend of reimagining classic iconic characters, Kami Garcia (Teen Titans: Raven, Beautiful Creatures) and Isaac Goodhart (Victor and Nora: A Gotham Love Story) conjure forth a younger version of the notorious laughing magician venturing into adulthood in Constantine: Distorted Illusions.

The story starts off in London with an 18-year-old Constantine who, at the beckoning of his stepfather, secretly exploits an opportunity to hone his magic powers from the Lady Maguerite Delphine—a high-ranking sorceress of an elite magician’s society—as an excuse to take a trip to the U.S. Instead of serving as a magician’s apprentice, he would prefer to hook up with his best friend Monica and jam with a punk band dubbed the Mucous Membrane. While hanging out in Washington D.C., he pays a visit to Lady Delphine only to be booted out of her mansion for his reckless curiosity, but not before swiping a book of spells from her arcane collection, thus triggering a series of dangerous misadventures. Constantine teams up with a ragtag group of friends and dabbles with trick illusions to amplify the visual effects for their punk band gig. One spell leads to another until a vengeance spell is unwittingly cast, summoning forth an unspeakable evil that threatens to consume the very soul of one his friends.

This inventive take on the hellblazing magus presents a daring, self-assured Constantine whose heedless actions catapult him into a heap of trouble with deadly consequences, and drags his friends into messy predicaments. Along the way, he falls for a brunette named Luna at a night club, oblivious that she harbors a secret of her own. The plot unravels rapidly across different locales with panels shaded in dark purple and midnight blue, casting a mystical aura. As the action escalates, panel borders twist and bend, creating a supernatural, psychedelic ambience, throwing the characters into pandemonium. Garcia highlights a youthful rendition of Constantine whose impetuous boldness casts him into a whirlpool of misfortunes.

Packed with thrills, intrigue, romance, and deadly magic of supernatural proportions, this chapter in the Constantine saga navigates the delicate terrain of relationships, trust, dangers and consequences of taking risks, and assuming responsibility for one’s actions. Longtime fans will also witness a more down-to-earth and inexperienced Constantine whose moral compass steers him on a path towards redemption. Constantine: Distorted Illusion will add a lively dose of supernatural horror and edginess to young adult graphic novel collections.

Constantine: Distorted Illusions
By Kami Garcia
Art by Isaac Goodhart
DC, 2022
ISBN: 9781779507730

Publisher Age Rating: 13-17
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)

Batter Royale

Rose is an amateur baker working as a waitress in a small town restaurant. When she makes a special dessert for a food critic, she is invited to participate in a baking competition with her childhood friend Fred. This isn’t an ordinary competition though as the contestants are faced with obstacle courses, sabotage, and surprise ingredients like brussel sprouts.

Rose is motivated to win the grand prize in order to attend college at a prestigious cooking school. She is also dealing with her parents’ eminent divorce, her developing feelings for Fred, and a rival who is willing to do anything to prove herself to be the best. It’s no wonder she finds herself distracted and just managing to stay off the bottom in the competition. 

This story has all the feelings of a Hallmark romcom. The author/illustrator does a fantastic job of balancing the plot with humor, seriousness, and the competition. The judge makes a lot of corny baking puns, which is a fun recurring joke throughout the story. The illustrations are crisp and with just enough details to convey the emotions and visual cues that readers should be able to easily pick up.

Although there is not a lot of technique explanations in the text, this book does include detailed recipes sprinkled throughout the story. I did not have the chance to try making any of them, but the ingredients look to be standard baking fare and the directions easy enough to follow. Younger readers will need help from an experienced adult to help them understand some of the unexplained terms, but preteens and teens should be capable enough to follow along.

Batter Royale is recommended for any collection aimed at preteens or younger teens.  

Batter Royale
By Leisl Adams
Amulet Books, 2022
ISBN: 9781419750755

Publisher Age Rating: 12+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation:  Canadian,  Character Representation: Assumed Black, Canadian,

Chivalry

Originally published in 1993 in Angels & Visitations, this short story was apparently written in one weekend and is one of Neil Gaiman’s most reprinted stories.[i] The story is charming with a medieval knight on a quest, a wise, delightful elderly woman, and, of course, The Holy Grail found in a second-hand store. Mrs. Whitaker spends a good deal of time checking for bargains at the store and this time she finds the perfect ornament for her fireplace mantel. She barely puts it into place when Galaad arrives hoping to purchase the Grail from her to complete his quest. But, you know, it is the perfect knickknack for that spot! He continues to visit her with additional items to trade for the Grail but to no avail. He does get served tea and cake however and to visit with the enchanting woman. Eventually she makes a worthy trade for two of the exotic items he offers her: the Philosopher’s Stone and Egg of the Phoenix.

The prose story is whimsical and romantic, filled with grace, loyalty, honour, and friendship. The collaboration with Colleen Doran’s illustrations moves it beyond the charm of the prose and into the realm of magic and alchemy. Doran, a long-time collaborator and friend of Gaiman’s, wears this story with pride and her own tenure. She has created a masterpiece, interweaving the ancient tales of the Arthurian knights with a more contemporary story of a widow surrounded by memories and a quiet lifestyle in a small British village while remaining faithful to Gaiman’s writing style and text. I particularly appreciated the sharing of stories between Galaad and Mrs. Whitaker, his about his mother Elaine and other members of the Arthurian circle, illustrated in three full pages each with a series of vignettes, while Mrs. Whitaker’s stories of her husband are accompanied by images and artifacts from World War II. Doran was responsible for adapting the short story, the illustrations, and the Illuminated Manuscript Lettering. Todd Klein did the rest of the lettering which also adds to the charm and whimsy of the tale being told.

Working in watercolours, the delicate illustrations have a soft and dreamy look, harking back to the ancient Medieval illuminated manuscripts that Doran employed as inspiration. The brilliant blues and reds that make a frequent appearance on the pages add to the enigmatic and tranquil spirit of the story. In the Notes section at the end of the book she clarifies that she used 18K gold for some of the illumination, while attempting to evoke the watercolors of one of her favorite artists—Peter Rabbit creator, Beatrix Potter. The two styles compliment each other and complete the fantastical experience for the reader. No one is surprised that a medieval knight wearing armor and riding a horse visits the neighbourhood or that he finds a grail of another sort at the same second-hand store. The varied panel layout moves the story at a measured pace—this is not an action tale, this is one where the reader takes time to savour the illustrations, the prose and, perhaps, too, the idea of another cup of tea. Expressive faces and body language add an additional dimension to the story being related, especially with the incidental but important story of Marie.

I highly recommend this exquisite graphic novel for the story and the illustrations, but even more so for the collaboration between the text and art.

For those interested, there is currently an exhibition of this work at the Cartoon Art Museum: The Cartoon Art Museum presents Chivalry: The Art of Colleen Doran, an exhibition of original artwork from the Dark Horse graphic novel Chivalry illustrated by Doran and written by Neil Gaiman. This exhibition features Doran’s beautiful cover painting and twenty original pages personally selected by the artist and is on display from April 23 through September 18, 2022.

[i] Wagner, Hank, Christopher Golden & Stephen R. Bissett. Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman. N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press, 2008, 381.

Chivalry
By Neil Gaiman
Art by Colleen Doran
Dark Horse, 2022
ISBN: 9781506719115

Related media:  Book to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Representation: English