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A review a day: John Constantine, Hellblazer: Pandemonium

That’s the official title. Blame DC!

The text is a bit raised, so it looks better in real life than on a scan

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.

Oh, that famous Iraqi humor!

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.

Poor Brad.

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.

Who doesn't love a combat jack?

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.

Why, John's just an old softie!

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.

12 Comments

I have always had really mixed feelings regarding the original Delano run in Hellblazer.

Like you said, he pretty much built the foundations of the character and writers are still using his ideas today,but the execution always left me cold. It seemed like Delano was trying to copy Alan Moore and the result was a overly-verbose style (particularly on the captions).

And I read the Ennis run immediately after, which in my opinion is the best Hellblazer run ever.

Yeah, I agree with you about Delano’s work on Hellblazer. He can be really verbose. If you’ve ever read World Without End, it makes his wordiness on Hellblazer look sparse. In this book, however, he really pulls back on that, and it works better.

Whats a good starting point for hellblazer?

Here’s my review, if anybody’s interested. As far as OGN’s with Constantine go, I take Dark Entries first, but Pandemonium is a good read.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

March 18, 2010 at 3:47 pm

I think it’s a bit better than you do Greg, and it was a breath of fresh air for the character.

He hasn’t been well written in his main book for a few years now – not since Azz left, though Milligan seems to get him, his plots just aren’t that good – with middle of the road stories from writers who don’t seem to really ‘get’ the character, and don’t have anything that exciting for him to do, and so having a writer who knows the character so well, I really loved this – Especially John constantly screwing people over by bringing up their guilt and fears, and then feeling bad.
John’s a prick by reflex, but he doesn’t revel in it.

With this and the Rankin story, I’m starting to wonder if graphic novels might be a better format for the character than an ongoing monthly series, where mediocrity has started to creep in, and too many writers are starting their run by taking him ‘back to his roots’, instead of pushing him forwards.

It seemed like Delano was trying to copy Alan Moore and the result was a overly-verbose style (particularly on the captions).

I liked that though – his horror was set in a grimy horrible England, and as the art wasn’t that detailed in the early days, he helped give you the feel of being in a run down room with a corpse (for example).
Also, letting you into John’s head was a massive departure from Moore’s take on the character, as the man you couldn’t read.

Whats a good starting point for hellblazer?

Whose your favourite writer whose worked on the book?

Pick up the first trade they did.

Ray Van Buskirk

March 18, 2010 at 4:21 pm

In my humble opinion, Delano wrote the most human or normal Constantine, which to me always made the “total bastard” traits of his character more frightening. For me, the first 40 issues of the series are the essential John Constantine. And I thought Pandemonium was great and Jock’s visuals were a treat. Good review Greg!

Thanks for reviewing this Greg, but harsher than I would be. I agree with “FunkyGreenJerusalem” (but oh dear mate, what a moniker?!) He said everything I wanted to say and then some.

Basically, I’m a HUGE fan of the character, and I felt that this was an excellent take on him. It felt fresh, lively, jaded and bitter all at once (which is what I’ve always liked about Constantine.) I was very happy to see him go back to his old ways of dubious bargains which impact questionably on the people around him, basically being the used-car-salesman of magic. Story, art, and the lovely quality of the book itself made it absolutely worth it to me. I realize that it’s an expensive volume, but comic books aren’t really cheap anymore, so it felt reasonable to splurge on a character for his impressive “birthday.”

I enjoyed it. I agree that it wasn’t groundbreaking, but I’ve never read a bad Hellblazer story. Though at this point I’ve only read through to the end of Ennis and from Aaron’s two-part fill-in through to today, so there might be a stinker in there somewhere, but i doubt it. Also, I disagree with FGJ. ONGs tend to be more isolated than I would like. I love long, simmering plots, and those work best in a serialized monthly comic. Occasional ONGs, especially specials returns of the greats, are a wonderful idea, but I want to see the main story continue as it has.

[…] Greg Burgas wraps his head around John Constantine, Hellblazer: Pandemonium. […]

It’s funny to see how Constantine looked in his early appearances, especially in Crisis on Infinite Earths. See the Swamp Thing Annotations http://tinyurl.com/2jc79 review of issue #34.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

March 21, 2010 at 5:26 pm

ONGs tend to be more isolated than I would like. I love long, simmering plots, and those work best in a serialized monthly comic.

I’m with you there, but for me, the monthly just hasn’t been good for awhile, and this and Dark Entries have been of a much higher quality.

JayPhonomancer

April 1, 2010 at 1:57 pm

I actually wan’t all that impressed with Dark Entries. Loved the build up but after the “reveal” I thought it kind of fell apart and didn’t really feel like a John Constantine story anmore.

My first encounter with John was Ennis’ Dangerous Habits and I think that’s a pretty good place to start. Ennis’ entire run is fantastic. I would agree that recently he hasn’t really been that well served although I liked most of Diggle’s stuff. Milligan seems a bit hit and miss. Like FGJ said he writes the character well (loved the “I don’t f**king sulk, I brood” line to Epiphany) but the stories have been a bit underwhelming.

It would be nice to see someone really take Hellblazer back to prominence again. Maybe Grant Morrison could take over for a while, introduce some pop magic into the equation?

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