Don’t read DC Comics’ Hellblazer: Rise and Fall #1 right before bed. It’s the casually terrifying story we’ve always wanted from a John Constantine title. Writer Tom Taylor, artist Darick Robertson, colorist Diego Rodriguez, and letterer Deron Bennett show us John Constantine in his element: haunted by his past and dodging angry demons. With this first issue, this creative team promises a big, violent and spooky ride.
Taylor makes sure we know the kind of person Constantine is, right off the bat. When we learn about Constantine’s past, we see it’s full of tragedy. But Constantine narrates it with a casual, unfeeling tone. Taylor doesn’t actually focus on Constantine though. He allows Aisha Bukhari, a childhood friend of Constantine’s, to play our protagonist. This is brilliant, because it allows Constantine to maintain his sense of mystery. Following Aisha, we feel almost haunted by John, like he and his problems could pop up around any corner. And sure enough, they do. Taylor puts us in a normal person’s shoes, so that we have someone whose horror we can relate to when shit hits the fan.
Robertson has the perfect gritty feel for a Hellblazer comic. Not only does he break all the rules when it comes to violence or terror, but he refuses to let his own panels hold him in. When Constantine is swirling around in a river, the panels on the page are as battered and twisted as he is. Robertson shows us the chaos on the page by breaking through the panel borders, and squishing them all together. Later, when a ghost shows up in the path of these demon hunters, Robertson again plays with his panel borders. He makes it unclear where the panel ends, so when we see the face of the ghost, three different places on the page, it’s like the ghost is three different places at once. Like the whole page is one scene and the ghost is everywhere. It doesn’t help that Robertson knows how to draw a face that could haunt you. The whole scene is outright spooky.
Rodriguez’s colors show us the dual nature of a character like John Constantine. One minute he’s making deals with demons, the next he’s getting drunk with the lads. Rodriguez colors everyone in warm, fleshy tones. It makes the comic feel human, gives each character some warmth, and makes it feel as though Constantine is actually connecting with people. At one point, though, as Constantine is trying to set up a ritual with his friends in the rain, the colors are grey and blue. When nothing happens, they begin to walk off. But Rodriguez is the one who stops them in their tracks. He covers the bottom corner of the page in red, giving the cue for danger to come rushing in. Rodriguez uses red to show the dangers of demonic influences, or the warmth of the interior of a bar. He’s telling us Constantine feels just as at home in both places.
Bennett’s lettering in this issue is big and bold, but subtle as well. His “squeltch” sound of a body hitting the pavement is as gruesome as the scene itself. The large “bang” of a gun is followed by the small “thd” of the bullet finding its mark. Bennett is constantly adapting his letters to fit each situation, never settling for cliches. But his lettering really shines when we see one of Constantine’s flashbacks. Constantine’s narrations are in little text boxes, but they deliberately interrupt the dialogue of the page. When Billy, Constantine’s rich friend, asks if John knows what he’s doing, John’s narration explains briefly that he liked having a rich kid around who was scared of what he could do. He then says he still had to look out for him though. This is all in the narration before John responds, saying “Don’t worry. I won’t let anything happen to you, mate.” The narration, slipped in between these lines, allows us to see John’s insecurities. He doesn’t think he can just care about someone, he feels he needs a sidebar with us to explain he doesn’t care as much as it might look. He’s fine when faced with death or demons, just not human intimacy.
DC Comics’ Black Label title Hellblazer: Rise and Fall #1 is spooky, funny and brilliant. Taylor, Robertson, Rodriguez and Bennett bring their A game to the table. But they also don’t get too in their own heads about telling a big, crazy story. They find the horror in the mundane, and the fear in casual settings. It lends this issue a truly terrifying tone, and assures us that this creative team has us well in hand. Pick up DC Comics’ Hellblazer: Rise and Fall #1 August 1st at a comic book shop near you!