Friday, June 20, 2008

Hellblazer #245

The last time a major American writer wrote Hellblazer, was the beginning of perhaps the worst time in this title's history. Having gone through a number of British writers, Hellblazer has a history of great stories. Writers like Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, even Warren Ellis, in his short run, have left an indelible mark on the character of John Constantine. But Brian Azzarello isn't one of them.

Lately Hellblazer has been on the up and up. Andy Diggle is one of the best writers of this generation, even though, not many seem to realize it. The Losers was one of the best series from Vertigo in recent times. Hellblazer was a natural fit for Diggle's writing style. And he has proven beyond doubt in his short run, that he's here to have his name included on the list of great Hellblazer authors. And that takes us to this issue which is part 1 of a 2 part fill in. Now I have no idea why a fill in was required since I don't see Diggle writing any other series, neverthless a fill-in it is. If I had to select any author to do a fill-in for Hellblazer, I would instinctively think of all the British authors available. I really don't see how an American writer could get Constantine's voice right. And in steps Jason Aaron. Possibly the most exciting comic book writer right now, Aaron is doing some great work both at Vertigo as well as Marvel. But Hellblazer. That seemed like an odd fit. But I love it when I am proved wrong, because ultimately proving me wrong involves writing great comics, and for that, I am game.

Aaron decided to visit a part of Constantine lore, that is often obliquely mentioned but has never been explored. His days as part of a music band. The story involves a TV crew who document little known bands who have been forgotten and here their attention turns to Mucous Membrane, Constantine's band, with a very dark past. The story is set in the band's haunt, in Constantine's favorite place. Yes, Newcastle. Switching back and forth between the TV crew and the interviews involving views on the band and Constantine, we slowly realize that there's something sinister lurking beneath the Casanova Club. While thats a familiar story, it is the execution that sets this issue apart. The front half of the book is loaded with foreboding, yet, the atmosphere is pretty casual, with generic characters and relationships. But when the horrors start piling up, they do so with an alarming speed and gruesomeness that characterizes British horror.

And all this without even the presence of Constantine in the story, who only manages to enter the picture on the last two pages, as he prepares to return to Newcastle. But this has been done before, even recently by Diggle and it hasn't managed to get old, yet. Aaron knows about Constantine, what makes him tick and what has made his series last for 20 years. The specter of Constantine is present throughout the story, even though he's personally not present. He builds up the inevitable meeting between the horrors that reside under the Casanova Club and Constantine, using horror that Hellblazer fans are all too familiar with. Sean Murphy's scratchy pencils complement Aaron's story as we are served another solid Hellblazer issue. This has become a habit, and I couldn't be happier.

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