Review- The Hellblazer #8 (DC Comics)
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Simon Oliver
Art: Philip Tan
Colours: Elmer Santos
Letters: Sal Cipriano
Release Date: 22nd March 2017
John Constantine continues his investigation into Abby’s disappearance at the behest of Swamp Thing, unaware that he himself is now being hunted. Mercury works on her own dangerous plan and an old friend crashes the party.
Simon Oliver has really brought John to life in the Rebirth run of this book and the half-real/half-DC world he inhabits. Despite appearances from Swamp Thing it really doesn’t feel like a traditional DCU book and instead feels very much like its own thing that just so happens to sit somewhere in the larger universe. Readers who appreciated the Brexit and old England references last issue will enjoy John’s ability to completely insult French officials with his poor grasp of high school French here. He is very much the loveable scumbag he has always been and his flaws very much define him.
Most of this issue is spent exploring the mystery of the Djinn and the diary Henry entrusted to his would-be attacker the issue prior, and in some ways the story drifts a little as we are witness to a couple of flashbacks from the original expedition. Like any good Hellblazer story, we are treated to fragments of the puzzle that will likely pay off later down the road, but it’s conceivable that this might upset some who would prefer a more straightforward approach. John dazzles us and his colleagues with one of his makeshift magic spells that promises to shed some light on the tale next issue, leaving us with a somewhat amusing final page.
I was a little surprised to see Philip Tan’s name on the last issue as his art tends to have a Manga look to it which I didn’t think would actually suit the tone or feel of the darker edges of the DCU. I was however proven wrong last issue when his work turned out to be nothing short of a delight, and this issue is no different. Yes, it can be a little jarring opening a book featuring John Constantine only to find the entire world populated by beautiful people, and at times John can look a little…strange… but the level of detail and fluid action contained in each panel brings a unique look and feel to the series.
Elmer Santos further enhances Tan’s Manga-esque visuals with an appropriately matching blast of colour. The sequences set during the day look great but it’s the panels set at night or in dimly lit rooms that really allow Sal to shine. It’s the colours used during John’s spell in the last few pages that will impress the most, however, with an arcane blue lighting up each panel.
With so much of the book being done so well it does however cast a brighter light on the stuff that could be better. Firstly, the story for the most part has been driven in a very specific direction since issue one, but as we reach what feels like the middle section of the tale, it’s starting to feel less focused, meandering a little. I would personally put this down to Oliver just looking to flesh out some of the less well defined parts of the tale, but it does almost feel like a different story entirely at this point. Secondly, although the visuals are stunning for the most part there are a few panels which feature a strangely chubby looking John, though to be fair the majority of the art more than makes up for it.
In the end, issue eight is a solid entry in the continuing adventures of John Constantine, and I am both intrigued and excited to see how this whole thing pans out. The character has taken a bit of a bashing since its transition from Vertigo to DC, but of the most recent incarnations this latest series does feel a lot more like the Constantine of old. I can’t help but feel a renewed sense of optimism about both the writing and the visuals that has been absent for many years. I feel that the current creative team are doing a good job so far and this issue is easy to recommend to a fan of the series but perhaps not so much to new readers who would do better to start from the beginning.
Rating : 4/5.
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The writer of this piece was: Dave MacPhail
Dave Tweets from @ShinKagato
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