REVIEW: The Mystery of The Meanest Teacher Makes John Constantine Endearing

Kid Constantine is the only person in his world who can do magic. Naturally, he uses that ability to dimension hop into a much better candy store than he has locally. Here he immediately steals and eats the most delicious chocolate in the multiverse, only to discover that this is the eternal chocolate that keeps a Lovecraftian horror at bay. This is, as one might say, just the cold open. As fans of author Ryan North might expect, The Mystery of the Meanest Teacher gets even more madcap from then on.

The Mystery of the Meanest Teacher: A Johnny Constantine Graphic Novel

Wes Abbott (letters), Derek Charm (art), Ryan North (writer)
DC
June 29, 2021

The cover of the Mystery of the Meanest teacher by Ryan North and Derek Charm - two kids stand in front of a looming spectre with pink eyes

To evade the Eldritch terror he has unleashed, sixth-grader Johnny Constantine is sent from England to Massachusetts, where he is frustrated to realize magic works differently on different continents. The European lore that had guided him is not applicable in North America. He is no longer as able as he had been, and that allows for a fun adventure to ensue without him being too powerful to be in peril.

At boarding school, he befriends Anna, a fellow outcast who, it turns out, can also do magic. Together, they investigate what could be making Ms. Kayla, their impeccably dressed History teacher, so mean. Spoiler: magic!

Derek Charm’s art in The Mystery of the Meanest Teacher is perfectly suited to the story. His lines are bold and dynamic, with expressive facial expressions and body language from the characters. His color work also adds a lot, with cool colors for backgrounds that make the characters pop in bright warm tones and impressive shading that adds to the mood as well as the three-dimensionality of the characters.

As an aged-down version of John Constantine, Kid Constantine works surprisingly well as a character. Personally, I found his morally grey antihero affect to be much more endearing from a tween than it is from an adult. The Mystery of the Meanest Teacher is aimed at middle-grade readers. But as an adult reader, as I read about his policy to avoid making friends because people only let you down, I wanted to give him a hug and a mug of hot chocolate and help him learn to trust again. The wish to nurture him is a departure from my regular response to adult Constantine, which is to wish that he would shut up and go away. As WWAC luminary Melissa Brinks has put it, regular adult Constantine is a “garbage bag of a person,” and an “off-color bastard.”

While this book does have some nods and winks for adult fans of John Constantine and other DC characters, overall The Mystery of the Meanest Teacher is aimed at middle grade readers who want to see kids on an adventure, doing magic, and outsmarting grownups.

Canadian writer Ryan North peppers his writing with Britishisms, such as Kid Constantine calling people “love” and “mate,” and referring to “across the pond,” but also uses the word “turf” instead of patch. He has a purportedly American character who refers to “grade six” instead of sixth grade. While these issues stand out for me, a nitpicky adult, the intended kid readership is unlikely to be thrown. Furthermore, the demons, dimension-hopping, and spookiness are all age-appropriate.

When Kid Constantine is in a good mood, he is enjoyably reminiscent of North’s Squirrel Girl, which is welcome because Squirrel Girl is, of course, excellent. I think The Mystery of the Meanest Teacher will be a fun summer release for kids who will enjoy reading about characters stuck at school while they are on vacation, and it will be an excellent reread in October for a spooky Halloween season.

 

Emily Lauer

Emily Lauer

Emily Lauer lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter and dog. She teaches writing and literature at Suffolk County Community College where she studies comics, kids' books, adaptations and visual culture. She is a former Pubwatch Editor for WWAC, and frankly, there is a lot more gray in her hair than there was when this profile picture was taken.

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