Rating: It's fine / ★★★
Genre: Supernatural Horror
Release Date: March 8, 2011
Publisher: Vertigo / DC Comics
Original Sins starts as a monster-of-the-week hardboiled horror comic that frankly put me off from its dated and distasteful takes. I’ve been Twitter-adjacent too long to be anything but annoyed at this particular combination of the abrasive & crass with progressive politics as told through a white lens because so often, that particular perspective hurts and/or excludes those they claim to ally with and then shields itself by claiming that authenticity, realism, or grit excuses the narrative of whatever harm it might cause.
The treatment of characters of color is particularly bad; the only character with agency is Papa Midnite, a Black Haitian voodoo practitioner who helps Constantine stop a plague demon originating from Sudan (in issues #1 and #2, “Hunger” and “A Feast of Friends”), and if it isn’t obvious from those set of words alone, a Black dude named MIDNITE (is it because his soul is dark or just his skin?) that practices VOODOO (makes him evil, obviously) is insulting when he is the only Black character to be found for 200+ pages. In the same story arc, there’s a wise, old Sudanese shaman that Constantine seeks out to info-dump lore on his pretty blonde head; this shaman isn’t a character, he’s a requisite plot point. Every other character of color is only paraded on-page so they can be victims of racial violence; Vietnamese (in “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”) and British-Pakistani characters (in “Waiting for the Man” and “Extreme Prejudice”) are both mentioned and shown only to illustrate that a white character is racist. They aren’t given names, let alone a life outside of these moments.
And with a hardboiled hero and structure, that is, with the issue template of a dark, but righteous man who does what needs to be done in an unfair world in order to set things as right as they can be by the end of the issue, I was bored up until “Ghosts in the Machine” (issue 7 of 9), where the disparate gold began to work in unison.
The cast had been established, the overarching plot had been sufficiently set up, and Delano’s prose got a bit more punchy, altogether making the last few issues a delicious unfolding of Constantine’s mounting troubles as he happened from one bad situation to another. There are still tired tropes in those issues around the depiction of women and gay men, but because the rest of the issues scraped together a strong voice, I was able to better forgive them of being so of their time.
I’m excited to continue the series despite a bad first impression. Knowing the imprint, the publication period, and the way these things go, I’m prepared for more bitter to go alongside the sweet morsels of the laughing magician.