It’s hard to assess a post-Hellblazer series featuring John Constantine. The original series was a dark, gritty chamber of the occult, with deliciously Vertigo-esque trappings, including adult content that served to heighten the stakes and deepen the rabbit hole ol’ John was tumbling through. There have been a few hits and misses among recent appearances of Constantine in the mainstream DCU and the newly launched “The Hellblazer” series seeks to set a new path for everyone’s favorite dark magician.
Simon Oliver is no stranger to the character of John Constantine, having written the much-loved limited series “Hellblazer Presents: Chas - The Knowledge”. In this issue, he introduces a promising villain and offers some great Swamp Thing lines. Overall, this entry contains a lot of “getting to know you” dialogue among characters and doesn’t excite, but it’s clear this will lay the groundwork for a fulfilling story arc. The lack of Constantine’s inner monologue is sorely missed. His projected thoughts were almost a staple in his original series and without it he comes across as a bit player in a larger tale. When he’s the most potentially intriguing character around (save for ol’ Swampy), this is a missed opportunity and a disappointment.
Taking in the artwork by Pia Guerra is a joy. Her unique style is easily identifiable and leaves me nostalgic for her work in Y: The Last Man. Her clean lines and simple details offer a pleasant reading experience but I’m left wondering how she handles the more chaotic, magical elements of a Constantine comic. This particular issue didn’t offer those opportunities, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for it. DC Comics colorist stalwart Carrie Strachan, a longtime staffer now relegated to freelancer, does a solid job with the palette the story calls for, but I’m left nostalgic for the non-digital colors of Constantine comics of old. I suppose it’s time to accept that Hellblazer is over and the THE Hellblazer is here to stay, so it’s time time get with the program and enjoy a new romp with the charismatic occultist and his gang of familiars.