Spoiler Warning: It should go without saying that there are spoilers in my reviews, so if you want to experience these stories and their surprises for yourself, maybe skip the rest of this article. Long story short: I’m willing to check out Hellblazer for the first few issues and see if it keeps my interest!
Ah, John Constantine. How I love to hate you.
DC Rebirth’s Hellblazer #1 conned its way onto shelves today and promptly told the other superheroes nearby to sod off. Written by Simon Oliver, drawn by Moritat, and colored by Andre Szymanowicz (with Moritat on back-up color duty), Hellblazer #1 brings uniquely gruff and sardonic John Constantine back to the city of London.
Now, I’m not an expert on Constantine – the bulk of my time with the character came in the form of Matt Ryan’s excellent portrayal of the character on 2014-2015 television show Constantine. However, it seems that was probably a suitable primer on the character, as the drinking, smoking, and casual disregard for the lives of others seems to have followed John Constantine from small screen to page.
I’m not usually a fan of the “charming asshole” stereotype. I find those protagonists to often be off-putting in their daily interactions with other characters. It’s especially galling when the other characters are legitimately competent, nice people and the “charming” protagonist regularly treats them like crap despite ostensibly being their friend.
But somehow, John Constantine keeps my interest. That probably has to do with the devilish situations he constantly finds himself in, courtesy of whoever is writing the story. In this case, Oliver (The Exterminators, FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics) definitely delivers an intriguing conundrum. Starting out with a flashback firmly establishing that Constantine should never, under any circumstances, set foot back in London, Oliver then… immediately sends Constantine back to London (blaming the character’s “Brexit” from the U.S. on Donald Trump is an especially nice touch).
Seeing how he deals with the nagging little detail of a demonic curse and the looming deaths of millions is what makes the character so much fun despite my usual inclinations. I can’t even complain about the abundance of dialogue and exposition in the issue – John Constantine’s “superpower” is his ability to con people. He can talk a cat into surrendering its meow, so the whole thing is just entertaining to read.
As far as the art goes, I’m on the fence. I certainly don’t dislike Moritat’s (Elephantmen, Teen Titans) style, but some panels seem drastically different than others. It gives the comic a somewhat disjointed feel, with some characters depicted with clear facial expressions and a suitable level of detail. Other characters (or sometimes the same character but in a different panel) get odd “broad strokes” depictions, making them seem surreal… or, honestly, just plain rushed.
One thing I do appreciate about Moritat’s style is the sense that London is a crowded city. In a few panoramic panels, buildings are jammed up next to each other, people stand shoulder to shoulder, and everything just feels cramped. Even panels with only one or two characters, those characters dominate the panels in a way the enhances the feeling of pressing crowds and tight streets.
On top of that, the whole issue has a sort of … I wouldn’t quite call it gritty… a hazy quality to it. I don’t know if this is meant to reflect the dark mood of the comic in general, or if it’s to reflect the air quality in London, but either way, it adds to the atmosphere more than it detracts.
There were also a couple of small moments that I thoroughly enjoyed. The first is the appearance of Shazam, Wonder Woman, and Swamp Thing, three characters associated with the mythical or supernatural sides of the DC Universe. It may just be a throw-away moment, or it might hint that Constantine could be dealing with these heroes later. Either way, I liked it.
The second moment I liked was the look of shock and disgust on Constantine’s face when he gets licked by the demon, Nybbas. It was a priceless moment of the protagonist being thrown off-balance and out of his “always in control” façade.
Finally, the fourth wall break at the end of the issue was great too. I feel like fourth wall breaks should be kept to a minimum, otherwise they become a hackneyed gimmick, so I’m glad that the character wasn’t talking to me throughout the entire issue (except for the narration, of course). But it was a great end to Hellblazer #1. My hat’s off to Oliver for that finishing touch.
I’d say you should give the series a try, and see if it strikes your fancy. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on it for the first few issues, at the very least.