07th Sep2020

‘Hellblazer: Rise and Fall #1’ Review

by Dean Fuller

Written by Tom Taylor | Art by Darick Robertson | Published by DC Black Label

I’ve always had a soft spot for John Constantine. Don’t get me wrong, man’s a complete tosser. He usually only does the right thing for the wrong reasons, self preservation more often than not, and yet he appeals to the Brit in me. Cheeky, sarcastic, dismissive of authority and with a wicked sense of humour, he ticks all the boxes we need him to tick. When everyone was loving Sandman back in Vertigo’s early 90’s heyday, I was loving Hellblazer. John Constantine was always at his best during his Vertigo days, with pitch black stories and a general FU attitude. When he became popular and DC decided to mainstream him he was still very readable, but definitely lost that edge, that streak of nastiness we expected. When I saw this new book was out under the DC Black Label imprint, I hoped ‘my’ John would be back. When I saw Tom Taylor was writing it, I knew he would be.

I knew Taylor would be able to tap into those nasty qualities that make John come over best, but what I wanted to see was his approach to a character that, amazingly, has been around 35 years now. Could he bring anything new to the table? Right from those first pages, Taylor shows he can. He literally goes right back to the start, John’s actual birth. Tragedy followed John right from the very beginning, a mother who died in childbirth, an abusive father clearly not cut out for fatherhood. John did what a lot of kids from broken homes did, he rebelled. The usual stuff. Alcohol, ciggies, sneaking out at night, practicising magic. Maybe not all the usual stuff… John had two particularly good friends growing up, one was his friend because he was a ‘rough’ boy (that boy was a rich soft lad), the other (an Asian girl called Aisha) because he could scrounge cigarettes on demand. Their little group had a nice enough dynamic, until one night John overstepped himself and tried to show off his magic. It didn’t go well. Let’s just say the trio was now a duo.

Back in the present and Aisha is a happily married police detective, obviously no longer in touch with Constantine. What could bring their paths to cross again? How about a man impaled on a church spire with wings artificially grafted to his body? I guess that would do it. That brings them together and the next few pages give Taylor a chance to have some fun, writing the classic Constantine banter and cocky attitude we know and love. The character humour interlaced with the horror of the story being revealed create a very effective vibe going forward here. The truly gruesome part of the issue involves Aisha’s partner, and the return of someone who shouldn’t have been able to return. Let’s just say that sometimes, they do come back. You know Taylor wants to keep the stakes high when that’s not even the worst thing to happen. That would be John getting home and finding a certain lord of the underworld eating cold Indian takeaway leftovers out of his fridge. It never just rains, does it?

This was a great issue that worked well on two levels. If you have never picked up a Hellblazer book before, this gives you a pretty decent introduction to the character and some of his past. If you do know John Constantine, this satisfyingly brought him back close to his Vertigo best. Something for everybody, you can’t beat that. Taylor has a ball writing this, perfectly capturing John and the world he lives in, and John himself. Darick Robertson is always a solid artist, and he doesn’t disappoint here. Everything Taylor throws at him he takes and draws perfectly, the seemingly simple lines and composition hiding some very cinematic draughtmanship. very Vertigo.

I was tempted to give this five stars but it falls just slightly short for ‘my’ Constantine, not enough swearing or amusingly used English expressions. It’s very, very good though.

Sometimes, John realises, it’s not better the Devil you know…

****½  4.5/5


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