Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 94: Hellblazer #26
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks (more or less), with each week devoted to a single writer. This week: Grant “Nukes is scary!” Morrison. Today’s page is from Hellblazer #26, which was published by DC and is cover dated February 1990. Enjoy!
Morrison’s early success at DC gave him the opportunity to have a crack at Hellblazer, and the results were … well, uneven. He worked with David Lloyd, so his two-part story (this is part 2) looks nice, and it’s a bleak enough story, so it fits in well with the whole “John Constantine has a shitty life and never actually helps anyone” territory that the series often veers into, but the actual prose is often pretentious, as we can see from this page. Morrison wrote this when he was 29 years old, but doesn’t it read like an angry (if precocious) teenager is writing it? The prose shifts back and forth between the simple narration of the action and, presumably, what’s going on inside the archbishop’s head. If you picked this up on a whim without reading the first chapter, would this be enough to get you to read further? Do phrases like “filled with complex light” interest or amuse you? Morrison is drawing a parallel between the irrationality of religion and the irrationality of nuclear proliferation, but does it work? The chanting that leads to the second page is supposed to be scary, but is it too silly? I don’t know. It feels like writing that is trying to be smart without actually being smart, and while a lot of Morrison’s writing is very smart, this isn’t one of those times. The thing is, this is a pretty good story, and Morrison’s dialogue throughout is quite good even when he gets a bit pretentious. It’s even pretty creepy, and although it’s bleak as all get out, it’s not the most depressing comic you’re ever going to read. The desperation to be clever on this page stands out because, even when it gets weirder later in the issue, it feels more in tune with the tone of the story.
Lloyd is a nice artist, though, isn’t he? This comic isn’t as polished as some of his later work, but he does a nice job fragmenting the page to reflect the fragmentation of society that’s occurring in Thursdyke (yes, the Thor parallel is extremely deliberate) without becoming too confusing. We naturally move from the holy man to the panel next to him, then downward, where his body points us toward the panel in which the target is drawn on his face. The gutters form a bit of an abstract lightning bolt, which I have to believe is deliberate. Lloyd’s sickly blues and greens hint at the sickness of the town, while the yellow in the background in the final panel foreshadows the nuclear death that the people hope to bring down on the town (whether they succeed or not I’ll let you discover for yourself). It’s a nicely colored page, and Lloyd manages to bring some gravitas to the silly spectacle of a bishop wearing a missile as a miter.
This feels a bit more adolescent of Morrison, especially when you consider his strong writing on both Animal Man and Doom Patrol, both of which began before this issue saw print. Maybe John Constantine makes writers try to write like Alan Moore, or did at that time, when the character hadn’t been out of Moore’s hands for very long. I don’t know. This is a better story than the first page indicates, but this page is a bit tough to get through without chuckling.
Next: My favorite comic book series! Perhaps my favorite issue from my favorite comic book series! You all should already know what it is! If you don’t, you won’t find it in the archives, although you will find a bunch of other cool comics.