Hellblazer Reviews

Original Sins
TITLE:  Hellblazer
SUB-TITLE:  Original Sins
PUBLISHER:  DC Comics Vertigo
WHAT IT IS:  A trade paperback compiling the first nine issues of the series.
GENRE:  Horror (trenchcoats, British accents and spells)
WRITTEN BY:  Jamie Delano.  ILLUSTRATED BY:  John Ridgway and Alfredo Alcala with covers by Dave McKean.
PAGE COUNT:  254.  Color.
DATE OF PUBLICATION:  First published 1992.  Later reprinted with first issue cover.
 
CONTENT:  Reprints issues 1-9.
NOTES/SPECIAL FEATURES:  Forward by Jamie Delano with more of his politics and an explanation of the crossover with Swamp Thing story. Cover by Dave McKean.
REVIEWED BY:  T.M. Doyle
WHAT I THINK:
The character of John Constantine, a secondary player in the Swamp
Thing series, began his starring role in the issues of Hellblazer compiled here.  Alan Moore’s Constantine was a colder customer in the Swamp Thing universe; here he is more of a normal man and yet somehow even more rakish.
 
One of the least attractive features of this compilation is that it cuts off the plot mid-storyline, and that same storyline was a crossover with Swamp Thing.  Although Jamie Delano provides an broad explanation of the crossover plot in his foreword, this will probably not be satisfactory to readers unfamiliar with either the Swamp Thing storyline or later issues of Hellblazer.
 
The first two issues have Constantine fighting a hunger demon, a allegory perhaps for the American way of life.  Then, Constantine bamboozles up and coming yuppie demons in Thatcher’s London. Most of the following issues concern the conflict between the minions of Heaven and Hell on earth over the coming incarnation of a new human/supernatural hybrid–but this is the storyline which is cut-off.
 
Delano develops or implies a great deal of backstory in the rush to flesh out Constantine’s character.  We are introduced to the ghosts who used to be Constantine’s friends even as he creates some new ones. Constantine’s apparent modus vivendi is to betray friends and
acquaintances for the sake of saving the world and/or himself.  His guilt in facing his ghosts is perhaps more extreme here than later. Constantine actually jumps from a moving train to avoid his haunters.
 
The early issues are also littered with references to the exorcism gone wrong at Newcastle and Constantine’s subsequent institutionalization. His inability to save a little girl in that exorcism is the major focal point of his life (but the event itself is shown in a later, uncompiled issue).  
 
The early issues introduced the character of Zed, who becomes a kind of feminist pagan saint later.  She is the first living Constantine love interest in the series (the dead Emma being introduced earlier in ghost form).
 
The demons and the supernatural are often a bit campy at this point in the series.  This provides great moments of humor, such as when the chimera of soccer thugs rips itself apart over which team is best. But this campiness undermines any sense of real horror.
 
Visually, there is much line detail, but sometimes this confuses the image. The young Zed looks old because of all the line.  An odd discrepancy is that the ghost of Emma appears in color in the first issue — in the following issues Constantine’s ghosts are usually black and white.  The McKean covers are great as always, thought not up to Sandman levels of intricacy.
 
The quality of the writing is good, but the politics of the series is here
particularly heavy handed, pro British Labour Party.  This has never quite meshed with the punk background and street wisdom of Constantine.  He is ill-suited by background and behavior for political preaching.
 
The storyline features prominently the Vertigo anti-apocalyptic theology: that humankind is better off without the hierarchies of Heaven and Hell, and that Constantine is a hero for defying both of their visions of the end of things.  This view of the cosmos that takes the religious mythology at its word and yet puts a humanist spin on it is one of the more interesting cultural aspects of the Vertigo line.
 
After a solid start, the series would later lag as Constantine became too passive and PC.  It would take Garth Ennis to revitalize Constantine by nearly killing him in the “Dangerous Habits” storyline.
 
MY JUDGEMENT:  SOLID.
WHY:  The book is necessary background for any Hellblazer fan, and
enjoyable for others.  However, it has not aged as well as some Vertigo material.
IF YOU DIG THIS, CHECK OUT:  The Horrorist, Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits.

Dangerous Habits
TITLE:  Hellblazer
SUB-TITLE:  Dangerous Habits
PUBLISHER:  DC Comics Vertigo
WHAT IT IS:  A trade paperback compiling the debut of Garth Ennis with DC Comics.
GENRE:  Horror (trenchcoats, British accents and spells)
WRITTEN BY:  Garth Ennis.  ILLUSTRATED BY:  Penciller:  William Simpson.  Inkers:  Various.  Covers:  Tom Canty.
PAGE COUNT:  160.  Color
DATE OF PUBLICATION:  1994.

CONTENT:  Reprints issues 41-46.
NOTES/SPECIAL FEATURES:  Forward by Garth Ennis describing his big label debut. Cover by Glen Fabry.
REVIEWED BY:  T.M. Doyle
WHAT I THINK:
In his mainstream debut, Garth Ennis revitalized a sagging Vertigo
mainstay and established his own reputation as a horror comic author.  He would later broker this clout into his own series, Preacher.
 
Dangerous Habits follows the hero of Hellblazer, John Constantine, as he slowly succumbs to the lung cancer brought on by his trademark chain smoking.  The natural simplicity of his condition is well juxtaposed to his grandiose supernatural antics.  Cancer places the main character in a unique corner:  he cannot solve his problem by disposing of one of his friends or acquaintances.
 
A highlight of the book is the parade of colorful secondary characters, usually well fleshed out even when they’re not flesh and blood. Constantine staggers from friend to foe, searching for some miraculous remedy to his terminal condition.  He has lunch with a friendly and attractive succubus, Ellie, and evening drinks with the “Snob,” a.k.a. the archangel Gabriel.  He searches out his boozing friend Brendan (an atypically paddyish story for Ennis), only to find that he too is dying and at risk of losing his soul.  In one of the best moments of the storyline, Constantine saves Brendan soul, but only by enraging the Devil who is already hungry for Constantine’s damnation.
 
Dangerous Habits also introduces the character of Kit (widow of the lucky Brendan), the only sustained and convincing Constantine love interest. They are brought together in a typical Hellblazer synchronicity, and together face the death of another terminal patient who had befriended Constantine.  As with Molly and Tim in the Books of Magic, however, Kit has apparently been written out of Constantine’s life permanently.
 
The climatic showdown where Constantine takes on the three highest
denizens of Hell is surely a high point of the entire series. Constantine’s temporary triumph becomes the foundation of future tragedy, as Hell’s lords have a fury well beyond that of women scorned.  
 
Visually, bodily fluids flow more prominently in this unusually visceral run in the series.  The color scheme effectively tracks different parts of the action (for example, a washed out greyish look for the cancer ward scenes).  The detail of line is better than much of the writer driven Vertigo material, which usually puts all the artistic weight into the issue covers.
 
Verbally, the dialogue is not yet as smooth and natural as what Ennis
would achieve in later work, but the internal monologue narrative of
Constantine is as good as it gets in the series.  And the great Ennis
touches, from Constantine’s defiant gesture against the lords of Hell to the Pogue’s quote on the last page, set this storyline apart from Vertigo’s Neil Gaiman wannabees.  For all his relishing of offensive material, Ennis is a romantic, and where others would conclude with confrontation and triumph, he concludes on the bittersweet love punctuated note.  Vertigo and DC are certainly going to miss Mr. Ennis.
 
The storyline features prominently the Vertigo and Ennis view of theology: that humankind is better off without the hierarchies of Heaven and Hell, and that Constantine is a hero for defying them both in the face of death and damnation.  This view of the cosmos that takes the religious mythology at its word and yet puts a humanist spin on it is one of the more interesting cultural aspects of the Vertigo line.
 
The series had lagged as Constantine became too passive and PC. His approach to a mundane death successfully gave Constantine back his edge.  As Ennis points out for comic book authors in the forward, dying in fact can be much of a living, as long as someone else is doing the dying for you.
 
MY JUDGEMENT:  DGB
WHY:  The excitement of the Ennis debut is still palpable after nearly 10 years.  This is as fit a storyline to represent the Hellblazer series as any other in the comic’s long run.
IF YOU DIG THIS, CHECK OUT:  Preacher trade paperbacks,  Hellblazer:  Damnation’s Flame, Hellblazer:  Fear and Loathing, Hellblazer:  Tainted Love.
Fear and Loathing
TITLE:  Hellblazer
SUB-TITLE:  Fear and Loathing
PUBLISHER:  DC Comics Vertigo
WHAT IT IS:  A trade paperback compiling the Fear and Loathing
storyline issues plus two prelude issues.
GENRE:  Horror (trenchcoats, British accents and spells)
WRITTEN BY:  Garth Ennis.  ILLUSTRATED BY:  Steve Dillon with
covers by Glen Fabry.
PAGE COUNT:  160.  Color.
DATE OF PUBLICATION:  1998
 
CONTENT:  Reprints issues 62-67.
NOTES/SPECIAL FEATURES:  Forward by Warren Ellis (not exactly an interesting outside view).  Cover by Glen Fabry.
 
REVIEWED BY:  T.M. Doyle
WHAT I THINK:
In this Fear and Loathing storyline, Garth Ennis hit his stride in his stint with the Hellblazer title.  Some of the same themes would later appear in his own title, Preacher.
 
Fear and Loathing follows the hero of Hellblazer, John Constantine, as he encounters the perils of seeking the long road to redemption. He tries to con his way into a normal mid-life, complete with mid-life crisis.  We almost believe that he is obtaining some sense of balance and normality.  But Constantine finds in the end that he should have taken the straight road.
 
The first two issues are one shot stories which act as appropriate preludes to the Fear and Loathing conflict.  In the first, Constantine cuts off the family tradition of magic at himself.  In the second, Constantine humorously celebrates his fortieth birthday with friends old and new.
 
The remaining four issues are the Fear and Loathing storyline proper.  In order to protect himself against the lords of Hell whom he offended in the Dangerous Habits storyline, Constantine engages in a ruse against the “Snob,” a.k.a. the archangel Gabriel, in order to ensure his protection. But, in a connected development, thugs associated with Britain’s National Front go after Constantine and those dear to him.
 
Ennis’s account of the history of the angel Gabriel almost certainly directly influenced Kevin Smith’s backstory for his rogue angels in Dogma and perhaps also influenced the portrayal of Gabriel in The Prophecy.  It also marks a bolder blasphemy than had yet appeared in the DC line (the Swamp Thing Christ story having been censored) with the Annunciation being pictured as a rape.
 
A prominent secondary character is the succubus Ellie.  She hates
Gabriel for killing her angelic lover.  This idea of the union of demon and angel is also featured prominently in Preacher.
 
Fear and Loathing says the first good-bye to the character of Kit (the final is in Tainted Love), the only sustained and convincing Constantine love interest.  Her confrontation with fascist toughs in this storyline reminds one of the later fights of Tulip with her enemies in Preacher.  As with Molly and Tim in the Books of Magic, however, Kit has apparently been written out of Constantine’s life permanently.
 
The climax of Fear and Loathing is somewhat deliberately anti-climatic. We are almost immediately conscious that the triumph won by Constantine against his angelic and temporal opposition is futile, and that his goal of an ordinary life and love has eluded him.
 
Visually, we have the continued problem of the Dillon face, which can be so constant from character to character that it becomes confusing
distinguishing one person from the other.  Fortunately, in this title, he has the discipline of dealing with characters developed by other artists and the extra detail of line that Hellblazer at this time featured. And few artists are as adept at realizing the more extreme elements of Ennis’s vision.
 
Verbally, the dialogue has grown smoother than Ennis’s debut even as the telling has gotten mellower.  And the great Ennis touches, from
Constantine’s use of a chain saw on angel’s wings to the last simple line, set this storyline apart from Vertigo’s Neil Gaiman wannabees. For all his relishing of offensive material, Ennis is a romantic, and where others would conclude with confrontation and triumph, he concludes on the bitter love lost note.  Vertigo and DC are certainly going to miss Mr. Ennis.
 
The storyline continues to feature the Vertigo and Ennis view of theology: that humankind is better off without the hierarchies of Heaven and Hell, and that Constantine is a hero for defying them both.  If the Dangerous Habits storyline focused on the defiance of the infernal realm, Fear and Loathing is more about the defiance of the angelic one.  This view of the cosmos that takes the religious mythology at its word and yet puts a humanist spin on it is one of the more interesting cultural aspects of the Vertigo line.
 
This storyline lacks the edginess of the Dangerous Habits tale, but moved the Constantine character through a necessary arc in his development. It’s easier to understand him down when we’ve seen him up.
MY JUDGEMENT:  Solid
WHY:  Not as edgy or wondrously offensive as other Ennis works, but still a solid and essential part of the Constantine saga.  And at least it doesn’t have the silly AIDS insert from the original issues.
IF YOU DIG THIS, CHECK OUT:  Preacher trade paperbacks,
Hellblazer:  Damnation’s Flame, Hellblazer:  Dangerous Habits, Hellblazer: Tainted Love.

Tainted Love
TITLE:  Hellblazer
SUB-TITLE:  Tainted Love
PUBLISHER:  DC Comics Vertigo
WHAT IT IS:  A trade paperback compiling the two issues of the Last Night of the King of the Vampires, the Heartland story regarding Kit in Belfast, the Finest Hour story, the Hellblazer selection in Vertigo Jam #1, and the Hellblazer Special #1.
GENRE:  Horror (trenchcoats, British accents and spells)
WRITTEN BY:  Garth Ennis.  ILLUSTRATED BY:  Steve Dillon with covers by Glen Fabry.
PAGE COUNT:  176.  Color.
DATE OF PUBLICATION:  1998

CONTENT:  Reprints issues 68-71, the Hellblazer selection from Vertigo Jam #1 and the Hellblazer Special #1 (minus some of the Hellblazer gallery illustrations at the end).
NOTES/SPECIAL FEATURES:  A mis en scene introduction. Cover by Glen Fabry.
REVIEWED BY:  T.M. Doyle
WHAT I THINK:
In this compilation, Garth Ennis treats us to a series of short vignettes
regarding John Constantine and a short non-supernatural story regarding Constantine’s ex-girlfriend Kit.  The compilation has very little unity of plot or theme amongst its constituent issues.
 
The first two issues of Tainted Love, the “Last Night of the King of the
Vampires,” follow the hero of Hellblazer, John Constantine, after he has sunk into the wino gutter after the departure of his lover, Kit.  As a street person, he encounters the King of the Vampires, who gives us an all too lengthy vampire version of the history of the universe in between the commentary on homelessness.  Constantine handles him literally without even trying, but the conflict does not to jolt him back to his old self.
 
In the “Heartland” issue, we follow Kit in a distinctly non-magical story
about her return to Belfast. the only sustained and convincing
Constantine love interest. As with Molly and Tim in the Books of Magic, however, Kit has apparently been written out of Constantine’s life permanently.  For all his relishing of offensive material, Ennis can be a sensitive romantic, which this odd inclusion in the Hellblazer series proves.
 
The “Third of the Three” story is told by Constantine to a fellow
streetperson regarding an earlier incident in his life regarding the ill-fated revenge effort of a woman against her former lover.  In “Finest Hour,” Constantine is inspired by a vision of the death of a WWII fighter pilot to return to the struggle of existence (and to his trademark trenchcoat).  This is the sedate climax to Constantine’s stint as a street person.
 
“Confessional” is the last story in the compilation.  It is horrific, but
unsatisfyingly vague.  We are suppose to imagine a confession by the Devil so horrific that it drives men mad, but it’s hard to conceive of what such a confession would be.
 
Visually, we have the continued problem of the Dillon face, which can be so constant from character to character that it becomes confusing
distinguishing one person from the other.  Fortunately, in this title, he has the discipline of dealing with characters developed by other artists and the extra detail of line that Hellblazer at this time featured, though some of that detail was already fading.  And few artists are as adept at realizing the more extreme elements of Ennis’s vision.
 
Verbally, the dialogue has grown smoother than Ennis’s debut even as the telling has gotten mellower.  The Ennis touches here seem less compelling. One gets the impression that he has exhausted some of his inspiration regarding this character and universe not of his own creation, and needs the impetus of creating his own series, as he did with Preacher and Hitman.  But even this compilation reminds us that Vertigo and DC are certainly going to miss Mr. Ennis.
 
Philosophically, the story seems to search for the meaning of life and finds it in struggle.  This storyline lacks the edginess of the Dangerous Habits tale,  but moved the Constantine character through a necessary arc in his development.  He finds that he can’t kill himself in a world that constantly calls him out for a fight.
 
MY JUDGEMENT:  Solid
WHY:  Not as edgy or wondrously offensive as other Ennis works, and not really an essential part of the Constantine saga, but a solid collection of one and two shot stories that may be otherwise hard to find.
IF YOU DIG THIS, CHECK OUT:  Preacher trade paperbacks,
Hellblazer:  Damnation’s Flame, Hellblazer:  Dangerous Habits,
Hellblazer:  Fear and Loathing.
 

Author of AMERICAN CRAFTSMEN