Review: The Hellblazer: Rebirth #1

HELLB_Rebirth_Cover_1-1DC Comics’ most unlikely “hero” John Constantine returns to his home country of England in Hellblazer Rebirth #1 as writer/Vertigo veteran Simon Oliver (Last Gang in Townand artist Moritat (All-Star Westernjoin forces to show exactly how he re-crossed the pond when setting foot in London triggers a demon-caused skin disease in him. This isn’t a retelling of Constantine’s origins even though the demon that he faces in the issue does mock his childhood and mistakes as a magician , but a classic con from the anti-hero as he bargains  with eight million souls (The population of London) to get a curse removed from him so he can return home to London. He is written him not as heroic in the slightest, but as a magician and bastard, who doesn’t “give a fuck” (in his own words) and manipulates those close to him. Oliver does set up one possible long term goal for Constantine as the series progresses, which is the redemption of the soul that he damned to hell in his first magic accident back in Newcastle, Astrid that has caused him nightmares ever since Hellblazer Volume 1 almost 28 years ago.

Simon Oliver dabbles in several takes on Constantine in his Hellblazer Rebirth issue as he gives him the swagger of the gambler that sold his soul to three different demons in Garth Ennis’ run, the connection to urban areas leftover from James Tynion and Ming Doyle’s run, the connectivity to the DC Universe from both Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing and Justice League Dark, and finally the appearance a supporting character who hasn’t shown up since Jamie Delano’s run. It’s a rich mix of ingredients, and Oliver mixes it up like a master chef while giving the Rebirth issue an actual plot instead of weighing it down by exposition. And when there’s exposition, it’s easy to stomach because Oliver has an excellent handle on the poetic, profane, and sarcastic voice that has made John Constantine such an endearing character to write about.

And this time, John Constantine has an added dose of cocky casualness as well that kicks in with the facial acting inthehellblazer_001_pg04 Moritat’s artwork. It seems that in almost every panel featuring his stubbly visage, Constantine is gripping a whisky bottle or tasting a bit of curry like the fate of eight million souls getting infected by a supernatural curse is no biggie. He just wants to get home, have a pint, watch football, or flirt with a girl and/or boy. This sharply contrasts with the colors chosen by Andre Szymanowicz (Archie) and Moritat as each scene featuring the curse has a touch of scarlet runes, and there’s a gradual darkening in the background as the demon starts mentioning Constantine’s past. He looks screwed. But there’s always a twist. If there’s one criticism I have about Moritat’s art, it’s that the superheroes Shazam and Wonder Woman, who make cameo appearances, look impassive and static compared to the expressive faces of Constantine and the other supporting players and demons. This could possibly be a commentary on how aloof they are from ordinary people unlike Constantine, who as a working class mage, is constantly pounding the pavement of cities all over the world and really seeing how they tick instead of just swooping in to save the day.

But the Justice League (and Swamp Thing) cameos actually don’t seem forced in light of Oliver’s storyline as Constantine is about to unleash an apocalyptic level magic epidemic, and this is something they would be worried about. Oliver also shows his knowledge of some of Constantine’s recent history as he stole Shazam’s power back in the “Trinity War” crossover in 2013 and works into the story that the JL sees him more as a threat than a morally ambiguous ally. There is no confrontation between the heroes and unsavory mage thanks to the intervention of Swamp Thing, who has a strange friendship and faith in Constantine since the “American Gothic” days when Alan Moore wrote about their road trip together. With the return of Chas and reintroduction of yet another player from Constantine’s past (Think early 1990s Hellblazer), hopefully Oliver and Moritat will continue to explore how Constantine’s friendships make him such a complicated figure and instantly sympathetic and unsympathetic as he enjoys bantering and taking out demons with them, but also sees them as expendable. (Google Gary Lester and then ball up your fist.)

Hellblazer Rebirth #1 is a solid standalone John Constantine tale that has high stakes, plenty of making deals with demons, snarky comments, a twist that will make hardcore Hellblazer fans wet themselves, and even a dash of British culture. Simon Oliver and Moritat get a tiny little political as it’s implied that Constantine leaves New York because of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy and a Tory sign waver gets temporarily infected by his contagious curse, but it’s no demons watching Margaret Thatcher speeches from hell. (While she was prime minister.) And it’s worth the $2.99 alone to see the sense of casual disdain that Moritat gives to his renditions of John Constantine.

Story: Simon Oliver Art: Moritat  Colors: Andre Szymanowicz and Moritat
Story: 9  Art: 7.5  Overall: 8.4  Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review