Page 45 Review by Stephen
There really was nothing like HELLBLAZER when it first emerged as a spin-off from Alan Moore's SWAMP THING. Not in comics, not even on the television, really. It was like Billy Bragg writing Doctor Who for punks, Stephen King and Clive Barker readers. Vehemently anti-Thatcher during the years when, as Delano writes "the country -- starving -- ate out its own heart", it was a rallying cry against the social ramifications of political callousness and thuggery, and against mass media manipulation of the truth. It felt like there was a war on and this was one of our weapons, albeit a plank of plywood with a rusty nail against a squadron of intransigent armoured tanks. It starred John Constantine, chain-smoking, mack-draped master manipulator, and dealt with the horrors of the occult against a backdrop of the horrors of real life.
Morrison's two-parter is set in one of the many hundreds of social and economic graveyards which were once thriving local communities before coal became dole, and reflects the pervasive nuclear concerns of the day, along with America's military foothold in what Matt Johnson called the "51st State of the USA". He's more economical with words than Delano, and the hideous procession of brain-fried villagers, enacting their latent desires like the diner scene in SANDMAN: PRELUDES AND NOCTURNES, is accompanied by a sort of primal poetry. And the villain of the piece? Microwaves. Lloyd's smoky art leaves you feeling like you've watched the whole episode in the flickering light of a raging bonfire.
Neil Gaiman and Dave McKeans Hold Me was bursting with heart and ranks as one of my favourite Constantine sequences of all time. Mark hated it for the simple reason hed had almost exactly the same story in mind to write himself! As to the meat of this book, The Family Man, I leave you in the hands of our Jonathan:
"An old German woman once told me that if you lie down in a field, cows will come and lick your feet. Seems they're terrified but they just have to know. Futile old world, ennit?"
Sometimes when you read a trade paperback you've forgotten how good the original issues were, particularly if it's taken such a long time for them to be collected. Jamie Delano really was on top form here in this harrowing tale of murder and revenge. And perhaps there was a novelty and freshness in the John Constantine character at that time that inevitably is no longer the case today. As ever, Constantine manages to stumble right into the middle of a full-blown shit-storm, which here isn't even of the supernatural variety, but rather a brutal serial killer who specialises in murdering parents and children alike, earning him the somewhat ironic sobriquet of the Family Man. Constantine, of course, feels obliged to investigate, which unfortunately for him doesn't go unnoticed by our protagonist, the consequences of which are more far reaching than even John could have anticipated.
Delano's dissection of a chilling serial killer, his obsessions and his drives is impeccably written, and most disturbingly is completely believable. Similarly, his handling of Constantine, here out of his supernatural comfort zone but thinking quickly on his feet to stay just one step behind and sometimes only just one step ahead is compelling and riveting. As a bonus there are two more stand-alone issues as the end of the book, New Tricks about a junkyard with a particularly evil dog, and the aptly named Sundays Are Different where nothing is quite as it seems, only in a good way for a change!