Page 45 Review by Jonathan
Once upon a time - when DC was cherry-picking, reprinting bits and bobs rather than the whole series in order - there was a HELLBLAZER book called HAUNTED which reprinted the first slither here by Ellis and Higgins, but this is much meatier and grows increasingly rank. So sordid are some of these additional tales that one can only shake one's head at DC's decision initially to spike the short story 'Shoot' by Ellis & Jimenez which has since seen publication and does so once again.
It was at the time a long overdue return to the roots of a very British, anti-establishment title which mixed occult horror with the very real and repugnant nightmares of racism, homophobia, homelessness, other assorted social deprivations, callousness, cruelty and cover-ups. Ellis immediately stamped upon it a recognisable spirit of place.
"And all over London the sirens start and the cries go out and the tears don't dry and everyone looks up to find that the sky's so stained with streetlight that you can't see the stars anymore."
John Constantine, working class wide-boy and ruthless manipulator - a middle-aged trouble-magnet in a mustard-coloured trenchcoat - returns to London to find that an ex-girlfriend has made the headlines
as the victim of a particularly gruesome, sexually charged murder. Her ghost haunts the playground where she was happiest, before she'd met John, before he gave her the first taste of magic which may have led her to down the road to her death. Pulling in favours from Scotland Yard (for which there is always a price to be paid) Constantine comes into possession of her diary which details her seduction by an Aleister Crowley aficionado who began manipulating her perception, alienating her from her friends and using her for his own occult purposes.
For someone with John's esoteric knowledge it's not hard to figure out how, what or why. He even knows the who. But he's going to have to call in a lot of favours and get his own and others' hands dirty before he can lay Isabel to rest.
Ellis evokes a London whose very foundations are soaked in spilled blood, and populates the city with a fresh cast of supporting characters or - as regular HELLBLAZER readers refer to them - victims-in-waiting, for hanging around with Constantine is lethal. Nor does he waste any time in shoving the boot into Labour's successively right-wing Home Secretaries through the mouth of dodgy copper Watford:
"Things get worse every bleedin' day. It's like Maggie never left office. Lovely jubbly."
It's this string of friendship fatalities which PREACHER's Garth Ennis and THE NAO OF BROWN's Glyn Dillon exhume in the back of this collection when Constantine reflects on the sorry circumstances that led Gary Lester, Emma, Nigel and Rick The Vic into John's poisonous path. If anyone can ill-afford to become sentimental now, it's Constantine. Thank goodness his Kit got away.
Before that Ellis further examines the power of storytelling and depths of credulity: with artist Tim Bradstreet when John interrupts a writer's account of how he came into contact with the crib of the anti-Christ stillborn a year before baby Jesus popped unopposed onto the scene; and with Marcelo Frusin as another scribe seeks a scoop on the serpentine heritage of our beloved royal family. Oh, and I mentioned a price to be paid, didn't I? In a bedroom in Hackney a man has taken eight days to kill two low-level thieves in very imaginative ways. Landlords, eh?
The other chief attraction is, as I say, the reprint of Warren Ellis & Phil Jimenez's 'Shoot' which tackled child-on-child gun crime. Written and drawn before whichever the bloody massacre was back then, it was deemed too topical to print, which is precisely why it should have been printed in the first place. Heaven forefend that DC ever grows balls and proves topical.
A woman is reviewing video tapes of school shootings in order to address a Senate Committee with her judgement as to why they are happening. But she just can't see it and keeps going back to the audio tape on which Reverend Jim Jones persuades his congregation, all nine hundred and fourteen men, women and children, to commit mass suicide.
"It's deciding what to blame, you know? Blame the parents for keeping a gun in the house? Not without blaming the constitution and pulling the NRA's chain."
"The movies, the video games, the comicbooks..."
"More killers fixate and draw inspiration from the Bible than any other piece of culture."
"So if I did a Nintendo thing called "Flying Chainsaw Jesus" I'd be rich?"
"Ew. And you've got kids."
"And that's how I oughta know. You oughta see the little bastards playing their video games. Eyes bright, teeth bared, like wolves tearing up a sheep."
"It's not the games that do it, Brian."
No, it's not. Nor, I can assure you, does this have anything to do with our John or any hocus pocus whatsoever. That would have made this an awful Constantine story, and a complete cop-out on what it is another very real, real-world horror.
The only uncanny thing about John's involvement is that he's there at the site of every recent child-child slaying, but he's only there to see for himself why they are doing it as a favour to a friend whose own boy got blown away, and I believe both John and Warren are absolutely on the nail.
Jimenez owns this story as much as Ellis: without his pitch-perfect expressions, particularly the last one, it couldn't have worked. Now please see Andrew Vachss' HEART TRANSPLANT (at a mere £4-99) if you want to learn the truth about early self-esteem and bullying.