The last time I read a comic featuring everyone’s favorite working class occult detective John Constantine, he was still living under the Vertigo owned umbrella. Beyond that my only other interaction with the character was the 2005 film with Keanu Reeves (I was in the camp that loved this flick). So while it may be needless to say, it’s been a while since John Constantine has been in my life and I’m really excited that he’s back! But the question remains, is it good?
The Hellblazer #1 (DC Comics)
The official DC synopsis reads:
“The Poison Truth” part one! London may have recovered from Constantine’s return, but he hasn’t. Mercury hasn’t forgiven him, but she won’t leave him alone, and Swamp Thing is calling in a favor. And all the while, bigger things are brewing…
Before I begin I’d like to briefly mention for fans of the character that DC released a The Hellblazer: Rebirth issue prior to this book. This isn’t a required read to understand the events of The Hellblazer #1, though–feel free to skip this book as it really seems to be a gift to the diehard fans out there, as my colleague David Brooke notes in his review.
Writer Simon Oliver begins our tale with a flashback history lesson everyone should be familiar with, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. For those of you who aren’t aware, the killing of the Archduke by a Serbian national was the start of a chain of events that led to one of the largest losses of life in human history, World War I.
During our journey through this history lesson Oliver takes a not-so-thinly-veiled shot at a certain loud mouthed politician: “Fifteen years later, riding a wave of anger over Germany’s surrender and national humiliation, Adolf Hitler is swept into power promoting to ‘Make Germany Great Again.’ ” The comparison to our current political climate and the reminder of the dangers of allowing ignorance and fear to rule is nicely placed.
Why is this relevant to our tale? Two brothers are present at the assassination and one of them has intentions to stop it, but is ultimately stopped by the other. It’s implied during this exchange that not only are the brothers something other than human but they know what this assassination will lead to if it’s allowed to proceed. I have high hopes for this setup as you have to believe there’s a really good reason for knowingly allowing World War I to occur. Either that or these guys are sociopaths.
When John Constantine finally makes his appearance it’s the introduction anyone familiar with the character would expect–a chain smoking, hard drinking, foul mouthed cynic with a clear knowledge of the weird that exists in the DC Universe. Within two pages we see a hung over John curse, smoke and walk into a garden shed to find Swamp Thing’s head with seemingly no concern.
John is living with Chas and Renee, a married couple in London that are in on his connection to the occult world. Renee is only mentioned by name, while Chas is present in the first scene and later chauffeurs Swamp Thing and John around London. I’m hoping we get more on his relationship with these characters. Why is John living with them? How did their relationship start? You know, the basics…
As some of you may or may not know, legendary comic book writer Alan Moore created John Constantine and had a very memorable run with Swamp Thing. My hope is that there’s more to the Swamp Thing/Constantine crossover than both characters having famous runs with Alan Moore. Setups take time, so I’m trying my best to be patient here, but thus far I’ve seen nothing to suggest there’s anything more to this crossover than fan service. Swamp Thing shows up out of the blue in London asking for a favor. Now one would think this implies that he needs John Constantine for a very unique problem; a missing girlfriend doesn’t strike me as such. Especially when you have resources like the Justice League at your disposal.
After a memory jarring chat with Chas we’re left with John reflecting in his room on events that occurred during his time in New York. John isn’t ready to face whatever happened to him in New York and his wall of cynicism is intended to keep Chas away from a very clear wound. Oliver appears to be using a tried and formula here, the sins of past leave their scars and often come back to haunt us.
We see this message repeated again as the two brothers from the beginning of our story return to close out the issue. Anyone with the slightest familiarly with the creation mythos can work out the heavy hints dropped here.
Is It Good?
Moritat’s art style isn’t my favorite but it’s clean, simple and consistent throughout the issue. As far as a first issue goes, the setup was acceptable but I wasn’t blown away by the writing. I enjoy crossovers like anyone else, but the writing feels a little lazy using that and a flashback to set the stage. But hey, this is the first issue and I need to be patient. Hopefully Oliver will pleasantly surprise me.
Correction: An earlier version of this article claimed Swamp Thing was created by Alan Moore. It has been updated to reflect that he did not create the character, but rather had a memorable run with it.