Continuing the expansion of the Sandman Universe from DC Comics, the second issue of John Constantine Hellblazer barges onto the shelves this week, pushing the other titles around and generally making a nuisance itself. The 17+ age limit is justly earned and not just because of the use of excessive language; within these pages, horror awaits.
Those of a nervous disposition or are easily offended have been warned. John Constantine doesn’t pull his punches and neither does writer Simon Spurrier. If you want an easy read, you’d best look else where.
Great Things Are Done..
On the Streets of London, the gangs fight over territory and peddle their drugs but something worse is taking the gang members. A supernatural force is tearing apart anyone who wanders haplessly into the wrong park at the wrong time. Only one man can help; but John Constantine isn’t easily persuaded and threats don’t really work on him.
In this second issue of the Hellblazer relaunch, Simon Spurrier throws the central character into the middle of a supernatural nightmare while building a team of new characters around him. This issue continues to expand the cast that was introduced last month, filling out the roles and cementing Constantine’s character in the process.
Spurrier does two things exceptionally well this month. The first is that ‘A Green and Pleasant Land’ is a suburb urban horror story. It includes tropes from a selection of modern horrors and moulds them into something truly unnerving. K-Mag is a modern witch, gruesome to the bone and forms the body-horror element of the story. The ‘Angels’ in the park account for a large part of the supernatural but also provide the religious link that horrors tend to favour. There is even a mysterious old man and a sceptic to complete the assembly.
Naturally linking all of these elements is Spurrier’s take on Constantine who is, as noted in previous reviews, a return to the good old English Bastard of the late 80’s. And this is where Spurrier’s second success is evident: the narrative is brimming with subtle, and some not so subtle, social commentary. Like King Arthur of old, Constantine is a representation of England. He is a manifestation of the country in human form. The hopelessness, anger, and occasionally bitterness on display comes from a growing mood within a certain section of the population; a section who will probably be reading this comic.
Despite the grim outlook, the central characters are all fighters, desperate to survive. Constantine collects like minded souls both in the narrative and in the readership. Spurrier understands this and aims the social commentary directly at us, showing us the seedy truth but also reminding us that not all is lost.
Hell in Art
Aaron Campbell’s art captures the grimness of the violent horror and the disheartened mood of the country. His harsh inking style and use of heavy shadows creates an uncomfortable feeling. There is a lack of safety within the panels for either the characters or the reader. This disjointedness is partly a reaction to Constantine’s own displacement in time. He has yet to find a place in this modern day world and the art illustrates this at every turn.
Jordie Bellaire picks up this motif with her coloring. The panels are brought to life with expressionistic colors rather than realistic ones. Sicking greens and unnatural bright oranges carry the tone throughout. The colors even pick up elements of the narrative that might not immediately be apparent. There is an obsession with the poetry of William Blake in this issue of Hellblazer and Bellaire’s coloring reflects the artwork of the 18th century poet and artist. The flashback sequences especially conjure up images of the Romantic Age.
Creating a poetic flow to the narrative is achieved through the placement of the speech balloons and the breaks in the conversations. Aditya Bidikar breaks up the sentences so that he can space them out within the panels creating natural pauses. There is also some clever use of coloured speech balloons to represent supernatural elements of the story.
Constantine as a character has always represented the world outside the pages of the comic. He is a funnel through which real life passes so that it can be examined in fantastical tales of horror and magic. Spurrier’s take on the character is daring and exciting. He draws the horror out of the world and yet, it is the stark realities of our world that have the most disturbing effect on the reading experience.
Visually it’s a delight, if a touch grotesque, but it is hard hitting and Spurrier does not hold back. There is a lot within these pages that can cause offence and it’s mostly offence that needs to be caused. Unfortunately the real world is a tough place right now, and Constantine is feeling it all too well. But like any hero, anti or otherwise, the modern day wizard brings out the best in those around him and it is these sidekicks who are proving to be the most interesting element of this comic.