‘ello my luvvies and welcome to a new series of reviews covering the third on-going franchise of Constantine: The Hellblazer which is essentially a mischievous amalgam of the titles of the previous series.
While not as highly mature in content as the previous Vertigo titles from the back-when days, this latest instalment is nonetheless enjoyable and manages to capture the cynical, morbid savagery of the occult and the Laughing Magician himself. Front-lined by Ming Doyle, James Tynion IV, Ivan Plascensia and Riley Rossmo, this first volume views Constantine through a playful yet somewhat disturbingly malign and reckless lens as he investigates the deaths of the ghosts who have been haunting him. Yes, dead ghosts. While this point is more or less front and center for the duration of the story, the man of the hour himself is subject to narrative scrutiny; Constantine is a vicarious sort who feels deeply in tune with the ‘thin places’, areas where magic and the human plane align with each other separated by a very thin, tenuous barrier, usually in derelict locations and seedy alley ways. He thrives in the shadows and while he is more than aware there is always a price for the use of magic, especially for one’s own ends, he still decides to abide by these actions because he gets a thrill from it which surpasses drugs, sex and yes, even his beloved Silk Cut ciggies.
Written akin to a detective noir but drawing further emphasis on Constantine’s past sins rather than the ones he commits in-story, John has considerable skill, but his cunning is forefront. Everything John does in the story is ultimately to meet his own ends, every good turn he does is but an appeal for his own desires. There is a constant sense of moral ambiguity about the character as he gets to the bottom of this mystery while recalling his previous life. Additionally, and quite refreshingly, while it has always been known that Constantine is bisexual, this element of his character hasn’t always been fully explored, but here, in this series, this fact is brought to the fore, but not in the name of sensationalism, but merely establishing that Johnny is still a human with wants who does indeed favor both cheese and beef in equal measure.
Visually, the art has a distinct flavor to it, favouring an almost irreverent approach to colour, shading, angles and stylistic platitudes, it does suit the tone of the story and is certainly not afraid of being over the top. In one case, Constantine startles the daylights out of an employee of a clothing store, saturated head to toe in blood, starkers as the day God made him, wearing only a pair of socks and a glint in the eye. He commences to hypnotize the clerk into giving him a new set of clothes after she straight up refuses him and doesn’t even think twice about her employment being in jeopardy when her boss inevitably finds out. The entire sequence looks utterly absurd, but the situation begets the appearance. What I also enjoyed is how the characters themselves look, namely Constantine. Although I personally prefer my Constantine to be older and more grizzled, the Constantine here is younger and has a far more pervasive and defiant look to him, all elbows ‘n’ knees, perhaps as a direct reference to his days fronting his punk band Mucous Membrane. Oh, and at one point he gets completely pickled off his tits resulting in some fairly destructive yet hilarious mayhem. It’s amazing.
(BT Dubs: Yes, I did cock an interested eyebrow seeing him butt naked with stragetically placed shadows on his body.)
Admittedly, it initially took me a little while to get used to the aesthetics, but once the story kicked into gear and the stakes were established, Constantine could have looked like Margaret Thatcher and I wouldn’t have minded. Oh yeah, ducky, I went there.
All up, I thoroughly enjoyed the debut of Constantine: The Hellblazer; it’s a fascinating feast for the eyes of both hardcore Constantine fans such as myself and casual readers who are looking for something a little of the naughty, an entertaining storyline and a not too small streak of glorious dark humour. Personally I’m eager to see where this is going and given Constantine will be crossing paths with his classic frenemy Swamp Thing, I estimate good things are to come.