[18 June 2008]
Hellblazer is an interesting anomaly in Vertigo’s catalogue. It is now in its twentieth year of being published in a time when the most popular Vertigo books last five years, if that long. In that time, John Constantine’s adventures have been penned by numerous writers, all of whom have a certain pedigree to them. Yet even with all the talent behind the character, John just has not been living up to his potential for several years. Enter Andy Diggle. What Diggle has done is strip Constantine down to his basic premise and made everything that was old new again.
John Constantine is probably most famous for having been created by legendary comic book writer Alan Moore during his stint on DC Comics’ Swamp Thing back in the early 1980’s. As legend goes, then artists on the title Stephen R. Bissette and John Totleben told Moore that they wanted to draw a character based on the look of Sting. Thus, England’s mischievious warlock was born. Constantine’s solo title, Hellblazer has been going strong for twenty years, and in that time, numerous writers have put their stamp on the character, and while some stints are praised and others held in lesser regard, the title itself has never really been as good as it was during Garth Ennis’ run on the title in the early 1990’s. With Andy Diggle’s bare-bones approach to the book, he has taken the character of Constantine back more to his original roots in Moore’s Swamp Thing.
This collection consists of three story-arcs. The first sets up Diggle’s vision of Constantine’s world. The second story-arc shows Constantine getting his “mojo” back, if you will. The reader’s first clue as to this is done primarily through visuals. Constantine has usually been depicted as disheveled and scruffy, whereas after his transformation, he is now clean, wearing what appears to be tailored clothes, and white gloves. This look harkens back to how the character was depicted during Moore’s days on Swamp Thing. This is what Diggle sees as quintessential Constantine. Forget the down and dirty John that has been in the Hellblazer book since its inception. Diggle transforms him back into what he was—confident and mysterious at the same time. The third story shows just how badass Constantine has become, and it is where the reader truly starts to see that Diggle has a bigger storyline in mind. Where it will go is at this time, anyone’s guess. What is apparent however, is that it would be wise to come along, as this is without a doubt the best the title has been in ages.
Art chores are still held by Leonardo Manco, who has been doing the interior artwork for a few years now. His style suits the book and he does well in depicting this new, more confident and brash Constantine, all the while retaining the horror aspect of the title.
Hellblazer is Vertigo’s most resilient title. For twenty years readers have been shocked and scared by the adventures of John Constantine. All the while, however, he has lost a bit of himself, and it took Andy Diggle to bring him back to what he was and make him matter again. This title has garnered a lot of praise within the comics community, even some comparing it to the “back to basics” approach of James Bond’s last adventure, Casino Royale. If anything, stripping characters down to their essence seems to be in vogue, particularly for those characters that have been around for a while. It is necessary sometimes to scrape off all of the detritus that has been collected over the years and make “back to basics” as much of a trend as “bigger and better” has been for a while. It’s a welcome change, and one that has reinvigorated John Constantine’s character. Hellblazer should definitely be a must-read for comic books fans, horror fans or fans of the character himself. The title has never been better, and we have Andy Diggle to thank for that.