There's been a few changes to the world of John Constantine, but none to change the same jerkbag pseudo-Sting magician we've known and loved for thirty years. Fans of Vertigo's Hellblazer will be pleased, and I think fans of the character from the New 52 alone should be able to play along pretty easily as well. Some might bristle at the illustration style, but Moritat is a terrific talent that I know will just get better and better as his comfort level with this world and its players increases.
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
The Hellblazer Rebirth #1 Review and **SPOILERS**
Don’t Forget: Constantine is a Prick
Art By: Moritat, Andre Szymonowicz
Lettered By: Sal Cipriano
Cover Price: $2.99
On Sale Date: July 20, 2016
**NON SPOILERS AND SCORE AT THE BOTTOM**
Well, well, well, if it ain’t our oul’ pal John Constantyne, innit? ‘E’s a roight wanker fer shewin’ ‘is face around ‘ere! Hey, if Jim can do a bad British accent on the podcast, why can’t I do one in my introduction? Here we are, Rebirthing John Constantine, a character that had a pretty big change in tone when stepping over from Vertigo into the DCU during the New 52 (though curiously, less of a change when he stepped over from DC to Vertigo in the early 1990s.) So what can we expect to see here? Some kind of amalgam between his wandering, magical screw-ups in the New 52 and the interminable personal horrors he was subjected to in the Vertigo title Hellblazer? Mmmmaybe. You’ll just have to read on and find out!
This is a Rebirth #1 title, so what we’re looking for here is some clues, some indicators as to what this title might be like going forward. Well, the changes won’t be too apparently stark, since this title opens with John Constantine in London “some years ago,” getting beaten around by an angry demon for some reason or another. The demon, who John calls “Laughing Boy” because he doesn’t know his true name, threatens to send John to Hell, but Constantine reasons that he might have some old friends down there that would be ready to stage a coup, which you’d think wouldn’t be such a problem in the nether realms. So Laughing Boy tells Constantine to get the ‘eck outta London, which is why he was in New York City during much of his time in the New 52. To make sure he stayed out, the demon placed a curse on John that would eventually and painfully rip the soul from his living body as long as he stayed in London. Well, now the King of Bad Decisions is coming back to the jolly old, because Trump is running for president of the United States. Seriously, that’s his reason. I don’t blame him, frankly.
Once in London, he has his old buddy Chas pick him up at the airport and catch him up on all the Vertigo buddies he hasn’t seen for a few years. Chas casually brings up John Constantine being cursed while within the confines of London, and John immediately begins enacting his plan to escape the curse by waving a magic machete around that Chas brought to the airport for him. This somehow gets the attention of a meditating woman over twenty miles away, who says something mean about John Constantine, probably because she knows him. Meanwhile, back in London, Laughing Boy catches John Constantine writing some graffiti in magic chalk on the ground, and snatches him up as part of the neighborhood beautification initiative. This gives John a chance to prick the demon with a machete and drip his blood onto the ground, which takes the soul-stealing curse from John Constantine and places it on everyone in London. John is betting that Laughing Boy will relent before every soul in London is remanded to his district, and Lauging Boy is, well, laughing mostly. As Londoners begin to feel the effects of the curse, which initially feel like a head cold, Constantine drinks from a bottle of (probably) bourbon, because remember: he is an absolute prick.
Then we see something I didn’t really expect: Wonder Woman and Shazam discussing the situation in London, and what they should do about it. This is unusual, even during the New 52 when they kept throwing John into books in a desperate attempt to assert his relevance to the DCU (he crossed over with Earth-2, for goodness’ sake), it never felt like the stuff happening in books like Swamp Thing and Justice League Dark was happening during the business hours of that universe’s superheroes. But here is a scene where heroes are simply addressing the fact that John Constantine has created a shitty situation that is tough to ignore. Of course, Wonder Woman keeps a flat there and has dealt with Constantine, and Shazam mentions his run-in with John during Trinity War, which are nice touches and a good enough collective reason to employ these characters specifically. Then, Swamp Thing shows up! He asks Wonder Woman and Shazam to hang back on this one, Constantine got this—and doesn’t deny that he appears on John’s behalf because he wants something from the ol’ so-n-so. Wondy and Shazzy agree to stay loose out of respect to the Swampster, and that’s that. And I liked this a lot! Instead of having John walk into an issue of All-Star Western for no particular reason, we have the DCU acknowledging his existence and the havoc that he causes, and we didn’t even need to have them interact with John at all. Well done!
Back with Constantine and the demon, Laughing Boy attempts to get John’s goat by mentioning some skeletons in his closet, which is sort of what demons do. John stalls him for a while, then the meditating woman shows up on a motorcycle and immediately tells John the demon’s real name: Nybbag. With that, Constantine can banish him to the land of Oz or something, but before he does so he mentions that the woman’s name is Mercury, and she’s psychic. Ta-da! As a sort of epilogue, John address the reader through caption, admitting that he didn’t have a plan B, and the entire populace of London almost did lose their mortal souls. Remember: John Constantine is a prick!
I enjoyed this issue quite a lot, even though there was some narrative conveniences (though isn’t magic, itself, a narrative convenience?) I thought the characterization was strong and the issue said everything it needed to: the world of Hellblazer from Vertigo has been reinstated, but now it intersects with the main DCU and its characters. Which is completely awesome as far as I’m concerned. I am a big fan of Moritat’s artwork, and I think it works pretty well here, particularly in the detailed scenes. Like all Rebirth #1 titles, I don’t know that this comic book is entirely necessary to those looking to read the adventures of John Constantine. But I enjoyed it all the same.
Bits and Pieces: