A review a day: John Constantine, Hellblazer: Pandemonium
That’s the official title. Blame DC!
So, in order to celebrate John Constantine’s first appearance (in Swamp Thing #37, which came out in 1985), DC has produced this original graphic novel, written by Jamie Delano, who was the writer on Hellblazer when it was launched in 1988, and drawn by Mark Simpson, who like Frank Quitely works under a pseudonym, in this case Jock. Clem Robins goes along for the ride as the letterer. It’s 25 dollars, and given that it’s Jock, it’s a really handsome comic book.
This is a strange book, because it’s tough to review. I mean, it’s a John Constantine story, written by the man who had more to do with creating the John Constantine we know today than even his creator. So Delano knows how to write a John Constantine story, and there’s nothing really more to it than that. So on the one hand, it’s a pleasant enough comic. On the other hand, Delano doesn’t really do much more with it. He does a nice thing by taking John out of his comfort zone (London) and sending him to Iraq, where his trenchcoat kind of clashes with the setting (especially when the soldiers make him wear a bulletproof vest), but overall, the story is a fairly standard story. John sees a woman on the tube wearing the full, black burqa, and he’s intrigued by her. He follows her to the British Museum, and when a bomb goes off in their vicinity, he gets her out of there and back to her flat. There, she drugs him and sets him to take the fall for the bomb. It turns out it’s a grand scheme by British Intelligence to get John to work for them. In Iraq, a prisoner has … done some strange things. Weird, mystical things that drive men mad. They want John to help, and the only way they can do that, as they can’t appeal to his patriotic nature, is to blackmail him. So John goes along, even though he tells them flat out that they can expect a “hefty bill” for it.
There’s a lot more to the plot, as John figures out what the deal is with the prisoner, gets closer to the woman who drugged him (she’s an agent for the Brits), and gets involved with the usual stuff – demons and the like. That’s why the book isn’t great – Delano relies too much on the standard supernatural stuff, and there’s nothing here that’s terribly fresh. Delano relies a bit too much on gambling, which isn’t visually exciting and therefore robs the climax, as well drawn it is, of some tension, and he doesn’t get too much into John’s psychological issues, so there’s no interest there. It’s mostly a puzzle box of a book, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s not that clever, so even as a mental exercise, it falls a bit short.
The best part of the book is John’s relationship with Aseera, the woman, because Delano keeps peeling back layers of her personality, and John has to adjust to them and move on. She’s an interesting character, full of contradictions and hidden depth, and it would have been nice to see more of their relationship. Really, the best thing about Constantine, usually, is how he relates to the women in his life, because he simply doesn’t know how to do it right. So the parts with Aseera are very well done, and while the rest of the book isn’t bad, it stands in stark contrast to the parts with Aseera.
Jock is good, as usual. Unlike a lot of artists who work in the “Vertigo” milieu, he seems much more comfortable with wide-open spaces than dark, enclosed spaces, so the scenes in the desert look tremendous, even though the rest of the book looks good as well. His unfortunate coloring choice for Hell – lots of red – robs that part of the book of some of its power, as the linework is drenched in the colors. I don’t mind the red, but it’s somewhat overwhelming. Perhaps that’s the point, but it doesn’t work too well. The rest of the book, however, is very nice.
Delano actually ties some plot points in with his original run on the book, but the nice thing is that if you’ve never read those issues, it doesn’t really matter – it’s more of a fun Easter egg for long-time fans of the character. It reminds us how long John has been around, carrying his own series (22 years and counting!). Delano knows John very well, and there’s a lot about the book that works. For 25 bucks, it’s a bit expensive, mainly because it doesn’t do anything new with John. It’s just a good, solid John Constantine book that looks great. I hoped for a bit more, but if you’re just looking for a decent supernatural tale starring Mr. Constantine, you might want to give this a look.