Review: Hellblazer #1
Like the Rebirth issue, Hellblazer #1 brings back memories of the title’s hey-day in the 1980s when Rick Veitch was having John Constantine act as a vessel for Swamp Thing to have sex with his girlfriend Abby Holland in Saga of the Swamp Thing, or when Jamie Delano had him running around with telepathic hippies. It’s the comic book equivalent of pulling out a battered guitar case from the attic that smells of whiskey, urine, and Silk Cuts, which are just a few of Constantine’s favorite things. But writer Simon Oliver seems to rely too much on these past stories to create new ones for John Constantine and Chas. However, his characterization is sharp as ever as Oliver writes Constantine as a manipulative bastard, who has a lot of built up guilt and regret from New York where he had a shot at settling down with the culinary skilled, family man Oliver. Add an intriguing cliffhanger that could lead to a sociopolitically interesting, slow burn story, and Hellblazer #1 ends up becoming an above average read.
Moritat‘s art is touch and go in Hellblazer #1. Any time there is motion, action, or body horror, your eyes are riveted to the page like a cinematic cold open where an angel stops another angel from potentially stopping World War I before it starts. Colorist Andre Syzmanowicz adds plenty of rusty browns and reds to this cinematic sequence, which make the pages smell like death culminating in a panel of a skull and a blunt rendition of the casualties in World War I and World War II from He even can do humor too, such as the manner as Swamp Thing keeps popping up in Constantine’s life from Chas’ old client’s cannabis garden to a produce cart in New York.
However, where Moritat slips up is in the facial expression department, which is a shame because he is a pretty deft gesture cartoonist. (See the panel where Mercury slowly flips Constantine off for asking her to help him find Swamp Thing’s girlfriend.) Unfortunately, his characters seem to only to do mild consternation or blank resignation, like when Constantine just stares at Swamp Thing. This lack of “acting range” takes some of the bite out of Oliver’s combative, Anglicism-filled dialogue with extra snark, especially when Mercury takes Constantine down a peg.
Hellblazer #1’s greatest strength and the element of the comic that will keep me checking out the book is the way Simon Oliver has constructed the supporting cast even if some of his dialogue at this point leans a little too heavily on in-jokes to older Constantine stories. He writes Chas like a kind-hearted enabler, who enjoys driving around dangerous magicians and drug offenders. He is Constantine’s firmest supporter and hopefully one day, Constantine will let him know about what happened in New York. Oliver writes Swamp Thing with majesty, a little bit of warmth, and an “I owe you one.” kind of relationship with Constantine. Swamp Thing helped keep the Justice League off Constantine’s tail in Hellblazer Rebirth #1 so he must help him find Abby Holland in Hellblazer #1. But there’s no “American Gothic” retread as Oliver introduces Mercury into the mix. She has known Constantine since she was child and knows that his friends are better off without him. Oliver gives her the sharpest lines of dialogue and basically has her hijack the book as she is the one who ends up teaming up with Swamp Thing to find Abby, which is probably for the best. And hopefully we get to see their team up on the page even though this is technically John Constantine’s book.
With an ending that could be described as theological and also doesn’t connect to the Constantine/Swamp Thing/Mercury plot line at all, Hellblazer #1 has shown itself that it is a comic that both reveres the comic and character’s past while also treating its main character with the irreverence and disdain he kind of deserves. Simon Oliver, Moritat, and Andre Szymanowicz seem to be playing the long con in Hellblazer, and hopefully it pays off without skimping on the stellar characterization of Constantine and his not-so-merry band of brothers. (And a sister.)
Story: Simon Oliver Art: Moritat Colors: Andre Szymanowicz and Moritat
Story: 7 Art: 7.5 Overall: 7.3 Recommendation: Read
DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review