Writer: Simon Oliver
Cover Artist: Moritat
Variant Cover: John Cassaday
Lettering: Sal Cipriano & Moritat
Colors: Andre Szymanowicz
Publisher: DC Comics
The John Constantine books of the past have had a history of mature storytelling, being under the Vertigo banner has allowed them to tell stories you would be hard pressed to find in the DC Universe. That came to a halt right before the New 52 reboot. Constantine, along with Swamp Thing and others were moved from Vertigo into the DC Universe, a world that has far stricter standards that must be adhered to. DC launched two Constantine series within the DC Universe, “Constantine” and Constantine” The Hellblazer” and both suffered from the change. With the Rebirth re-launch, there seems to be a shift from editorial to bring Constantine back to his roots, within reason. That’s why “The Hellblazer”, from writer Simon Oliver and artist Moritat, feels like DC is making an attempt to go back to the well that made the original “Hellblazer” series so good.
It’s important to note that this first issue of “The Hellblazer” is a bit of a continuation of the “Rebirth: The Hellblazer” one-shot that was released last week. In that we see John Constantine return to London and remove the curse that had kept him away. This first issue of the on-going series picks up where that left off. We were already re-introduced to Constantine’s best friend, the long-suffering Chas, who is once more driving Constantine everywhere and this time he’s even giving him the extra bedroom in his house to crash in. Chas has always been an important character in the various Hellblazer stories, not only for the friendship he brings Constantine but also for being the voice of reason and allowing exposition.
Further expanding on the exploits of the Rebirth one-shot, we’re also re-introdued to a character from Constantine’s past, an adult version of Mercury. It’s nice to see a character from a comic book that actually ages. Mercury was first introduced in Jamie Delano’s run from the first 40 issues of the original “Hellblazer” series. Here she’s an adult who has a particular disdain for Constantine, but she finds herself getting dragged into his world, whether it’s to help him directly or to help pay off a debt he’s owed to Swamp Thing. Having Mercury in the book also brings in another character that is firmly set within the world Constantine lives in, she’s a psychic and you can be sure she’ll be used in future stories.
Now that we’ve gotten that recap out of the way, let’s focus on this issue. We start in Sarajevo, 1914 mere minutes before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. We’re introduced to two acolytes of the Creator, where they struggle whether to allow the assassination to occur, but as history tells us, it occurred and World War I came to be. Fast forward to present day and we find a hung over Constantine awoken by Chas, seems that Swamp Thing is looking to call in a favor he’s owed (read “Rebirth: The Hellblazer) and it involves a girl. Swamp Things old flame, Abby, is missing and he’s having difficulty in finding her anywhere. He’s turned to Constantine to help. Knowing he owes him, John obliges and knows the perfect person to help him. Constantine, Chas and Swamp Thing make their way to Mercury’s home, where she berates Constantine, but agrees to help Swamp Thing.
Having fulfilled his obligation to Swamp Thing, Constantine and Chas head back to London and in the end we see the two acolytes again, only this time one has aged considerably while the other hasn’t aged a day. After some discussion it’s revealed that the Creator is set upon conquering the human race, and we can safely assume that John Constantine is going to be the one that stops them. It was a rather quick read, but still managed to contain enough story and introduce elements that can keep the series going.
The Creative Team
Writer Simon Oliver is a Vertigo veteran, one that has actually written a Hellblazer series before. Albeit it was a spin-off series based on Chas, but he’s still familiar with some of the characters within the Hellblazer universe. This was a good thing until it was realized that he’s also the author of the current Vertigo series The Last Gang in Town, which to be honest, is a bit on the bad side. Fears were allayed as the “Rebirth: The Hellblazer” was a genuinely fun read so it was inevitable that “The Hellblazer” on-going series would be as well. Thankfully it can be sad that yes, the on-goign has started off just nicely. One thing you can be sure of, being a British writer Oliver is not afraid to make any heavy-handed jabs, as he did with his jab at Donald Trump and his vision for American, comparing him to Adolf Hitler. This actually brought a bit of a feel for the old Hellblazer series where they weren’t afraid to make political statements. This time though it was at the expense of the United States. At the end of the day, Oliver seems to have a grasp on the series and the direction should be taking.
Moritat’s artwork is good, but it’s not his best. Having read his entire run of “The Spirit” I had high hopes for his artwork on another dark series. While it’s not a complete disappointment, the artwork feels incomplete at times. Many pages have panels with little or no background, and at times those that do have backgrounds look like they were added in digitally. It felt empty. Another complaint was the changing look of Constantine, at times it felt like he was drawing a different character. Still, I enjoyed most of what he pencilled. Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, but being a fan of his previous works I may have had unrealistic expectations. Yet, I’m still looking forward to his work and can’t wait to see how he portrays the dark that Constantine often finds himself in.
Perhaps the biggest gripe is the coloring. There’s a lot of brown in the color palette of the series and at times it gets a little muddied. There also seems to be an over use of shadow, in replacing line work. Far too many times the faces of characters look plastic like with the way the color tones are applied. It can get very distracting.
“The Hellblazer” is off to a good start, but it’s still not at the point of the Constantine we knew from the past. It still feels a bit sanitized, especially when you have all off the swear words getting the visual version of being bleeped. Having said that, Oliver and Moritat end the book with Constantine breaking the fourth wall in an effort to address what he’d just done. This felt a bit reminiscent of the Constantine series of old. I hope we get to see more of this.
Overall, “The Hellblazer” is off to a good start, while it’s clear that it’s not going to be the same adult oriented stories that we saw when it was published under the Vertigo imprint, it feels like they’re trying to bring him back to his roots. Or at least as much as they can without violating the more stringent DC Universe guidelines. Oliver seems to have a handle on how the story is set to progress, and Moritat’s artwork is good. It can be better, but nitpicking aside I still enjoy it. Fans of the original Hellblazer series and spin-offs will enjoy this far more than the previous two series.