Page 45 Review by Stephen
"First, tell me about your strange friend. Have you known him long? Do you trust him?"
"I trust John with my life."
John Constantine is a trouble magnet; the problem is that deep down he enjoys it. Brash, rash and cocky, this streetwise trickster, this Laughing Magician with his nicotine-stained fingers and trademark trenchcoat relishes the war of wits - the blag, the bluff and the quietly palmed ace up his sleeve - and his insatiable curiosity drives him to places where no soul should go. That he somehow returns to enjoy his next pint is a miracle; that his friends rarely do is inevitable. Worse still, as John will discover, there is no such thing as a clean break...
Created by Alan Moore for SWAMP THING, Constantine was never callous, just careless. If he didn't cherish his friendships he'd never mourn their loss; nor would he be so susceptible to their haunting him. Furthermore, under his glib exterior with its wry wit and pithy putdowns lies a fierce determination and a horror of social injustice which he spies almost everywhere he goes, be it a starving Africa where "there are flies drinking from the eyes of children" or the rain-soaked streets of London strewn with the dispossessed.
Under Jamie Delano HELLBLAZER immediately established itself as anti-establishment, and the title's always been at its best when it combines the trappings of the occult with everyday fears, all too human weaknesses and the very real horrors that surround us all: racism, homophobia, domestic violence and fear-mongering itself; cancer, drug addiction, homelessness and hospitalisation; police brutality, the trampling of the masses and political abuse of power. Jamie was never shy of making the title an unapologetic rallying cry against the unforgiveable ravages that Thatcherism wrought on our communities, our personal liberties and the individuals left on the rubbish tip piled up in its wake.
Above all he communicated exactly how it felt to live in England at the time, and I'm not just talking about pollution, rags soaked in petrol stuffed through letterboxes or tribal football hooliganism. (Delano has an imaginative sense of humour: you'll find Arsenal and Chelsea fans here conjoined at the hip here, moronically beating the living shit out of each other. "Strewth, the ultimate fascist comes apart at the seams - talk about divided loyalties.") I'm talking about the weather!
"The traffic is barely moving and the back of the taxi still smells vaguely of last night's vomit. I decide to walk the rest of the way.
"The thin, Sunday afternoon drizzle greases the tired streets. Ignoring the queasiness which quakes my stomach like an uneasy swamp, I turn up my collar against the toothless gnawing of the early November wind
and merge into the welcome anonymity of the city."
It was such a shock to read a voice of Britain being published in America, and a geuine one at that. I can't imagine any artist other than Ridgeway at the time representing us so well, either. He managed what Lark later did for GOTHAM CENTRAL or Campbell for FROM HELL, stamping the series firmly on the unsafe streets as John strode down pavements past old, brick terraces and corner shops set on fire or looked up into the bleak, lightless flats above. Texture, texture, texture
Finally DC are making up for lost time and not just patching the holes in the HELLBLAZER library - which would require an awful lot of cloth - but starting again with numbered volumes, the first of which contains not just HELLBLAZER #1-9 like the original version but also SWAMP THING #76 and 77 so that you no longer have to buy SWAMP THING VOL 8 and VOL 9 to read the story's conclusion.
The book kicks off with an insect demon let loose on America by drug-addled Gary Lester who's flown in from Morocco to crash out in Constantine's bath. Crawling with bugs, he's in for one hell of a come-down but it's not the worst fate to befall some of John's friends here and, as ever, the spectre of Newcastle looms large.
"Yeah, well. Never look back's a good motto in our line of business. Too many bloody ghosts following."
Hubris and karma, John. You're far from immune yourself.