Page 45 Review by Stephen
"All I'm sayin', is chose the right words...
"And you can talk a person into just about anything."
The first three books of Brian Azzarello's stand-out, self-contained and so perfectly accessible American tenure on HELLBLAZER collected in a single exceedingly grim grimoire even by the series' own harrowing standards.
For the most part 100 BULLETS' scribe Azzarello was accompanied by Marcello Frusin whose chain-smoking occultist John Constantine is all saturnine scowls and wicked, knowing grins, primed to bait you. Relentlessly and remorselessly terrifying, visually he's the most charismatic he's ever been.
Some prefer the more matey Ennis & Dillon interpretation or Alan Moore's enigma in SWAMP THING, whence he first came. I love both of those without reservation but under this pair he's a cold, calculating and dangerous son of a bitch, and as masterful a manipulator as ever, choosing his words very carefully indeed. That's the core Constantine - the user, the player. He'll be getting his pawns lined up to perfection here, long before showing up to play
The first chapter of the second story, 'Good Intentions', is a perfectly formed short in its own right. The tension is held by a very tight, ominous, arched-eyebrow script and a claustrophobic palette of midnight, headlight and silhouette, as John hitch-hikes his way across the US of A, never missing a trick. The subgenre of hitch-hiker as victim/serial killer is given a great new twist with immaculate timing.
After that, Constantine's travels take him into the forested hills of West Virginia and a town called Doglick whose name you'll like even less when you learn its relevance. There the cocky bastard has the smirked wiped right off his face when he finds himself an unwilling, sexual participant in what looks very much like a snuff flick.
The third arc, 'Freezes Over', is at heart a cleverly crafted and equally claustrophobic, old-fashioned whodunnit with a singularly Constantine twist. Several parties are stranded by a snowstorm at Keith and Hope's remote bar. There are the regulars, Rudy and Alma, there's Pete, a couple with their young girls, a burly trucker and three surly strangers, one of whom is bleeding from the gut. And then there's the guy in the car
Enter John Constantine, strolling through the blizzard with that oh so knowing look on his face. He stops to look in the car window, and the two men's eyes meet. A few minutes later the trucker finds the man in the car dead, impaled on a chunky icicle. Then the phone lines also go dead, the strangers grow hostile, their guns come out and fear of the local legend - the so-called Ice Man - takes hold.
But if, as Constantine maintains, there is no Ice Man, then who killed the guy in the car?
We begin, however, with 'Hard Time'. Here artist Richard Corben has put away his airbrush in favour of forms and textures which are puffy, rancid and grotesque. They're physically unpleasant for a script which pulls no punches when it comes to depicting the brutal racial and sexual politics of a maximum security US penitentiary.
You won't find out why Constantine's in there until the final chapter, but you'll be too busy wincing and wondering just how John's going to keep his arse and tackle intact long enough to give everyone exactly what they deserve.
Which he does.
Collects issues #146-161 and a story from VERTIGO SECRET FILES: HELLBLAZER #1.