Constantine: The Hellblazer Volume 1: Going Down

Ming Doyle, James Tynion IV, writers; Riley Rossmo & others, artists; Ivan Plascencia, colors

DC Comics, 2016

Rogue mage John Constantine gets another DC series, this time with "the Hellblazer" back in the title. The portrayal justifies the Hellblazer tag: Constantine's character includes strong elements from the long-running Vertigo series, as well as parts of the New 52 version. So John is back to being a bastard whose involvement in magic tends to hurt his friends; but he also utilizes explicit magic and magical objects to an extent he never did during the moody original run.

The first five issues form a single arc (although they are not titled that way) which explicitly revisits Constantine's magician origins. The ghost of his old friend Gary Lester (Gaz) informs him that something is killing his ghostly entourage--all of the unfortunate friends and acquaintances who died due to magical misadventure--who have been haunting him all these years. The problem stems from his early days with the punk band Mucous Membrane, when he was just beginning to dabble in magic. In the course of portraying those early days the creators do some retro-conning. John's love interest and band-mate Veronica Delacroix is a new creation, as is a respectable studied magician named Georgiana Snow. And there is a deliberate demonic connection to the band that was not part of the history before.

New York City is John's base in the series, but he must return to England to seek Georgiana's help. She is his opposite number in every way. She is a government exorcist (housed in the Wren Library's secret wing) and dresses in white; John is a street mage who wears a dark suit and trench coat (but one redesigned to look a bit more contemporary). So naturally they hate each other, but Constantine persuades her to help. As usual there is a resolution that comes at a cost.

The final issue in the collection is a standalone story that shows John back in NYC doing the odd magic job--driving out demons and such. At the end of the day he encounters a gargoyle of past acquaintance, who points out that there are a lot more magical incursions than normal. Something is happening, and it will be John's responsibility to deal with it. At the end of the story John finally hooks up with a new male love interest; his explicit bisexuality is another part of this new portrayal.

New artist Riley Rossmo brings an interesting new visual look to the series. It's a bit more angular and cartoonish than usual, but he gets the atmosphere right. I found I came to accept it quickly, so it was a shock when the third and fourth issues employed guest artists: co-writer Ming Doyle, Vanesa Del Rey,  and Chris Visions (plus an assist from Scott Kowalchuk on issue five). The guest artist's styles are arguably more in the Hellblazer tradition, but it's still an adjustment. The only other DC-friendly adjustment is the substitution of rows of little pentagrams in place of the f-bomb in the dialog. I thought it would get annoying, but it's sort of cute.

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Thanks for the review Mark.
I flicked through this and found the art too off putting. Maybe I should try to get past that.
I confess I quite liked the new52 Constantine - however sanitized it may have been and found the original Herllblazer stuff bit impenetrable - so maybe this is a middle ground I'd like.
Have you any thoughts on the new Rebirth version?

You're welcome. I confess that I had completely forgotten about the Rebirth version! DC must think the character has potential, or they wouldn't keep bringing him back. The first collection is due in April, so I probably won't get a look until then.

Judging by the description, the Rebirth version is trying to recapture the Vertigo approach. Which seems a little crazy, since it wasn't cancelled that long ago. As a longtime fan of the Vertigo title, that intrigues me. But if you prefer the New 52 Constantine (which I did like, even though the character was not so much sanitized as mainstreamed--made to act more like a superhero), I think you might like the Ming Doyle version. It keeps some of the New 52 characterization. And I quickly grew to like the art, even though I thought it was rather un-Hellblazer like at first.

There's only one more TPB of that run, since it only lasted 13 issues. Definitely not as daunting as trying to read the original run!


Many thanks Mark

.....Another couple of trades join my Wish List.


 Mark Sullivan (Vertiginous Mod) said:

You're welcome.

There's only one more TPB of that run, since it only lasted 13 issues. Definitely not as daunting as trying to read the original run!

Mark,

I had to let you know, I picked thus trade up digitally....and loved it!

I got past the artwork quicker than I expected  and would even suggest the book benefits from it eventually.

I've even pickjed up the second trade to complete the set.

I love this forum and the advice of the people on it.

Thasnks again Mark - and anyone with a passing interest in any incarnation of Constantine - recommended.

Excellent! Be sure to let us know how well you think the creators ended the series--that's always of particular interest to me. I don't know when I'll get to the second collection, but I'm looking forward to it. I completely agree with you about the art. I was dubious at first, but quickly grew to love it.

The second collection is probably not quite so good and the art changes a little. I would say it takes an issue too long to resolve itself but there are some nice moments and even nods to the Justice League Dark. John's relationship with his new 'love' did not convince - not for any obvious (spoiler) reason but more that he seemed too overtly involved and loved-up - didn't suit.
The 'Rebirth' gets a preview and the art is more conventional again - which I actually found disappointing.

Constantine: The Hellblazer, Volume 2: The Art of the Deal

Ming Doyle, James Tynion IV, writers; Riley Rossmo, Travel Foreman, Eryk Donovan, artists

DC Comics, 2016

Finally got to the second collection, so I'm appending it to this discussion. A lot of it revolves around John's relationship with his new male lover Oliver, which I agree is not entirely convincing. But it does drive the plot significantly, which is a rare thing in the Hellblazer world. The opening issue takes up the question of what is causing all of the magical disruption in New York City, beginning with killer trees in Central Park. Logically enough, John gets a visit from the Swamp Thing. 

The events in the park prove that something is going on, but then John finally reaches Oliver's cell phone, only to discover that Papa Midnite has taken him hostage. Midnite seeks Constantine's help getting his club and magic empire back--it turns out John's old nemesis, the demon Neron, is behind everything.

--more later--

So of course Constantine and Midnite wind up in Hell--which is hellish, imagine that. As usual John finds a way out, leaving Midnite and the demon Blythe behind. He travels through Faerie to Los Angeles, where Deadman manages to take over his body long enough to get him on a plane back to New York. There he discovers the cost of breaking a contract with a demon: he is unable to move against Neron. But in typical Conjob fashion he figures out an alternative. With the help of Zatanna, Deadman and Swamp Thing he works a spell taking the magic out of the city, making Neron's souls virtually worthless. It's a neat trick, but unfortunately his usual luck obtains when it comes to Oliver's fate.

A good Constantine story overall, with two nice plot twists at the end. Can't help but feel the DCU connections were a little strained, but they were fun (Swamp Thing especially). The art again went through changes over the course of the run. Riley Rossmo provided most of the internal art for the first few issues (along with the covers); Travel Foreman took over main duties for two issues--he has a compatible style, as well as history with this part of the DCU (e.g. Animal Man). But the series ended with two issues by a new artist, Eryk Donovan. While his style is quite compatible with Rossmo's--who did the covers all the way through, providing some consistency--it still requires an adjustment, which always strikes me as a poor way to end things.

It should be mentioned that there is some obvious--if not downright heavy-handed--political commentary in this arc. Titling it "The Art of the Deal" should be enough to telegraph the Donald Trump references. Neron also has a somewhat Trumpian pompadour hair style. The clincher is his speech to his demon followers to "make Hell great again" (the TV show Supernatural used the same trope recently). Hellblazer has been known for political references off and on throughout its life, so in that sense this fits right in.

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