John Constantine, Hellblazer: The Devil’s Trench Coat (2012)

“Welcome to Hell, John …”

With this latest collection (#283-291), the regular creative team since #250 – Peter Milligan, Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini – are just one issue away from matching the previous longest run on the series. This was the peerless run in the early 1990s by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon.

The book contains two related stories from the long running series -The Devil’s Trench Coat and Another Season in Hell. In the first, Constantine’s niece has stolen his old trench coat and sold it. But the coat being exposed to years of magic has a will of its own that it exerts on a series of new owners leaving death in its wake. Meanwhile John finds that he is more susceptible to wild magic and not as finessed in the spells he casts. All of which results in a Mafia hit man trying to gun him down while possessed by the coat. In the second story Constantine agrees to go to Hell to speak to his sister so that his niece, Gemma, can find out why she found her mother crying one day and free her soul from Hell. While John thinks he has out-smarted the First of the Fallen, the demon comes to Earth to enlist Epiphany’s consent to bind her father’s soul to him.

During his run, Milligan has done a good job of taking Constantine back to the basics of the character and gradually introducing a darker tone to the storyline. This book contains some of the darkest material yet with the dark magic radiated from his old trench coat to Constantine’s return to Hell and his revenge on his evil twin for raping his niece. Not comfortable viewing or reading at times but a must for long time Constantine fans and horror lovers.

Vertigo Resurrected: Hellblazer (February 2011)

 

Quote:
“… if I go home without you, your lovely wife’s gonna cut my bollocks off …”

“Thank Christ. How do we get out then?”

“Out? How the bloody hell do I know?”

 

This comic is one of a series from Vertigo collecting material that has never otherwise been reprinted. This one features 2 two-part stories from John Constantine, Hellblazer.

The first comes from the middle of the Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon run of the early nineties and consists of issues 57 and 58. When Chas and John stumble across some modern day grave robbers at Chas’ uncle’s funeral, John agrees to help Chas get to the bottom of the matter. They soon find themselves in a fortified industrial unit in the middle of nowhere where the stolen bodies are being used as test subjects for needless ballistic tests.

This is Ennis at his prime and the humour is dark matter black even for him. The art is typical Steve Dillon and I love it. Reading this just makes me want to do that Hellblazer re-read that I have been promising myself for some time – along with the Sandman, Zenith, The Shadow and a host of others I don’t have time for just now. Excellent stuff.

The second story is by writer Jason Aaron (currently writing Scalped) and artist Sean Murphy (who also drew the Hellblazer: City of Demons mini-series) and collects issues 245 and 246 from near the end of the Andy Diggle run. The story sees a bunch of documentary makers come to Newcastle to make a film about Constantine’s old punk band, Mucous Membrane. However, the site they visit is the scene of demonic ritual that put Constantine in the Ravenscar Asylum. Unfortunately for the film makers, the shade of the demon is still lingering on the site and once disturbed messes with their heads.

I bought this comic for this story as it the only one I don’t have between my comics and book collections. It is quite a good story encapsulating as it does a piece of iconic Constantine back story for readers that may not be familiar the character’s full history. I like Murphy’s art and would be happy to see him have an extended spell with the book and character.

John Constantine: Hellblazer – Phantom Pains (2012)

 

Quote:
I … I want you to summon a creature … a terrible creature … who can hurt him. Hurt him like he hurt me.

 

This book collects issues 276 to 282 of the ongoing Hellblazer series. It was again written by Peter Milligan with art on the main story from Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini (one chapter has art from Gael Bertrand) and art on the two single issue stories the bookend the volume was by Simon Bisley.

Married life is not running smoothly for John Constantine. First his new bride finds his wound from his amputated thumb disgusting and runs off to console herself with a demonic spirit. Second his home-grafted thumb, taken from a dying car crash victim, has a life of its own and gets him involved with its previous owner’s affairs. And finally his niece, Gemma, is seeking revenge on John for the abuse she suffered at his wedding that she thinks was carried out by him. All of this while trying to avoid becoming indebted to his gangster father-in-law.

Another enjoyable volume from Peter Milligan, though the two single issue stories are filler and pretty lightweight – which is a shame as the second concerning the demon Julian and his abuses of the prisoners could have been really interesting if it had been given more space to develop the tale properly. The main story has threads that don’t really go anywhere but overall it is very good with yet another person close to Constantine paying the price for his deviousness. The hints in this tale are that John might be about to head out on another of the dreaded road trips, possibly to America if he can’t put off his father-in-law, so that is something I am not looking forward to as I didn’t really like the last one when Brian Azzarello was the writer. But hopefully Milligan can pull it off as he has taken the character back to his roots and created some of the most entertaining stories for a long time in this long-lived series.

John Constantine: Hellblazer – Bloody Carnations (2011)

 

Quote:
“I … I think you two know each other.”

“Nah,I’ve never seen this old geezer before.”

“Nice company you’re keeping, Epiphany.”

 

This book collects issues 267 to 275 of the ongoing Hellblazer series. It was written by Peter Milligan, who has been the series writer since issue 250, with art from Giuseppe Camuncoli, Stefano Landini and Simon Bisley.

The book has two stories. The first called Sectioned sees Constantine violently losing it with Epiphany and then starting to lose his grip on reality and ending up in a psychriatric hospital. He summons Shade to help him escape and figure out what is going on but Shade’s madness contaminates a potion Epiphany has made to heal her facial wounds which disfigures her even more. But Shade has a price for his help that John is unwilling to pay. The second story, Bloody Carnations, has Shade take Epiphany to Meta to heal her face but while there he tries to convince her that she is the dead Kathy George. Angry when she refuses him, Shade sends her back to Earth but in 1979 as a punishment both to her and to Constantine of whom he was jealous. Having decided that he wants to marry Epiphany, John must disrupt the plans of Nergal, who is determined that he not find happiness, and rescue his bride-to-be from his younger self.

Milligan takes Constantine back to familiar territory with this volume. Echoing episodes from his past with the incarceration in a mental institution and the return of Nergal and Gary Lester amongst others who gather for the wedding. I much prefer this kind of Hellblazer story where John is on his old stomping ground rather than when he is off on road trips such as in the last volume India. One reference to the old days that was a bit off for me was the reappearance of Kit, his true love from Garth Ennis’ run on the series. Apparently, he loves Epiphany more than he loved Kit which I find hard to swallow given his seeming indifference to her in the last couple of collections. Also someone should have given the artists a sample of what Kit looks like as I only knew who she was as she was referred to by name. But these are minor quibbles from a big fan of the Ennis run. On the whole this is a great book with Constantine at his tricksy best.

Justice League Dark #1

 

Quote:
Old crooked witches’ teeth hurting Superman. That’s all wrong.

 

Some characters most recently (or not so recently in some cases) seen in the Vertigo line of comics now turn up in the newly rebooted DC universe. Shade, the Changing Man, Madame Xanadu and John Constantine all make appearances as do Zatanna and Deadman. All great characters but hard to see many of them working together as a team long term.

Some of the Justice League show up as well (Cyborg, Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman) just to prove that this is a DC book and not a Vertigo one and to show Superman being injured and being ineffectual against magic. The story is filled with mystery, madness and dark portents but is still in its early stages as only Madame Xanadu and Shade have hooked up and none of the team have come face to face with the adversary yet, the Enchantress.

This is only the second comic that I have read in the DC universe reboot (Swamp Thing was the other) and I have to say neither has knocked my socks off yet. This one was written by Peter Milligan (who wrote the nineties version of Shade, the Changing Man) and is no stranger to other Vertigo titles. I hope that he is let off the leash enough that he can bring some of that Vertigo sensibility to this book. The art by Spanish artist Mikel Janin is very good – clean and detailed.

I will give this book (and the Swamp Thing) a couple more months to see how the stories develop but I am slightly disappointed that they haven’t produced more of a bang for the launch of the new universe.

John Constantine, Hellblazer: City of Demons (2011)

 

Quote:
“Did you hear something?”

“Don’t jinx us babes. You’ll be twisting your ankle next.”

 

This collects the recent five issue mini-series. It was written by Si Spencer who is another graduate of the 2000AD as well as being a TV script writer – most notably on the soap Eastenders (something I never thought would be mentioned in my blog). The art was by Sean Murphy who work was probably last seen on the Joe the Barbarian series that also came from Vertigo. The book also contains a short prose story from Winter’s Edge 3 written and illustrated by Dave Gibbons.

John Constantine just wants to have a quiet drink but when he goes outside for a cigarette, a chain of events leads to him dealing with an outbreak of demonic possession across London. He is taken to hospital after being knocked down by a car. Two doctors recognise the signs of demonic blood in Constantine and intend to use this to bring about Hell on Earth (?!?!? – apparently they just happen to be big occultists). Taking plasma from Constantine’s blood to infect blood supplies to other patients, the doctors unleash a spree of destructive violence and self-harming. With the help of his nurse Constantine has to discover what is going on and deal with the infected.

This is a great little story that takes John Constantine back to the dark essence of the character that has been somewhat lost by some of the writers on the main series. He is back in his element on the streets of London dealing with demonic possession in his own inimitable fashion. The blood of Nergal continues to prove to be both a blessing and a curse to Constantine. Of course you need to suspend your sense of disbelief quite a lot for the premise of the story but if you can do that it is a great read. I also like the art in this one – it reminds me of the work of Jock – although in silhouette Constantine is drawn with a very pointy nose which I found oddly distracting.

Si Spencer, as is no surprise from someone who wrote a comic called The Vinyl Underground, has used song titles from British post-punk groups as chapter titles. Sometime after noticing this I noticed that there were at least a few music references scattered in the dialogue as well. I list the titles here and give you the chance to name the groups and beat my score of 4 – although I recognised all the song titles I could not remember who recorded one of them.

      Accidents Will Happen

 

      Another Girl, Another Planet

 

      Nag Nag Nag

 

      Babylon’s Burning

 

    Going Underground

The Dave Gibbons story is a humorous little tale of festive cheer with Constantine on the hunt for cigarettes and a curry ending up tackling a resurrected plague victim dressed as Santa Claus.

John Constantine: Hellblazer – India (2010)

This book collects issues 261 to 266 of this long running title from Vertigo – it has been published continuously for 22 years and is the only title that survives from the imprint’s launch. This collection contains two stories – India and No Future.

The main story, India, continues the storyline from writer Peter Milligan that extends back to the start of his run on the book. In it a grief stricken John Constantine travels to India to purify his soul so that he can resurrect his dead, on-off girlfriend, Phoebe. While there he runs across a demon that is killing young girls in Mumbai that he must dispel before he can get what he is after from a local holy man.

The second story has echoes of John’s youth when he visits a punk collective on the verge of a Tory election victory. This story has a possessed effigy of Sid Vicious, evil, demonic Tories masterminding the election strategy and John getting a punk haircut.

A good collection but as the storyline carries on from the previous two collections it is maybe not a book for the casual reader. Nice to see Peter Milligan’s take on this character. I always feel that Hellblazer works best when a British writer is at the helm – the Azzarello run was not my most favourite – Milligan is a long time favourite of mine.