Page 45 Review by Stephen
Collects Hellblazer: All His Engines original graphic novel by Mike Carey & Leonardo Manco
and #230-238 wherein Andy Diggle kicked off his own blistering run.
Fortunately I wrote a bit about both.
All His Engines
Neil Gaiman offers the headline quote, "Mike Carey has written the quintessential Constantine story," which I was almost positive represented a favour to a friend, until I hit the first dozen pages. What does Gaiman mean by "quintessential"? I can't tell you that, but I can suggest what I would have meant: British, political, involving what's left of John's mates and played like a game of poker. Although there's merely a smidgeon of politics, excepting those of hell and death, there's plenty of the rest here even though the majority of the metaphorical car crash takes places in Los Angeles, for it brings Britain with it:
"Fucking hell, Chas! They drive on the right! The right!"
"Don't panic, John. It's a learning curve."
"Yeah, well, I don't wanna be here when it flattens out!"
Chas is one of John's longest-standing and longest-suffering friends, and he's been chauffeuring the trickster around for years ("See, it's a cabbie's license. Means I can drive and give marriage guidance counselling."). Usually wherever John wants to be is where Chas doesn't, but when his niece falls into a coma out of the blue, and when it appears she is part of an epidemic with no trace of a viral strain, Chas calls in all his many favours and calls up John Constantine. One more dead acquaintance and a plane flight later, it's immediately clear to Constantine that things aren't quite right.
"Something's dead wrong. A taste in the air, like hot iron. A fingernails-on-blackboard noise, too high even for dogs. Or maybe it's just that it's six in the evening on the Santa Monica freeway. And we haven't had to slow down once."
Carey is on the toppest form I've known of him. I'm no fan of his current run on the main title, and when you go in with such heavy prejudices based on perceived past performance that you don't even want to pick the book up, it's only a remarkable composition that changes your mind. The script felt like Ennis, the art like a moodier, more solid John Ridgeway (so that's the first two eras in one blood-soaked package), and Constantine has to summon up all his powers of baiting and bluff - as well as a prideful Aztec God - to do a better job of saving Chas' niece than he did with the girl back in Newcastle.
"You forget yourself. I am no upstarting demon, scrabbling in the dirt of the human soul. I am Mictlantecuhtli. I am a God."
"Great stuff. I'm John -- and I'm a bastard."
Scathing and witty, I've not relished this series so much since Garth Ennis's run, and if you've never tried it then Andy Diggle's run would be a very fine place to start. Both the book and John Constantine are back on top, socio-political form after a cathartic return visit to Ravenscar Asylum where Constantine spent much time following that ill-advised outing in Newcastle, whilst Andy brings back the humanity at its heart and reunites the bite with the bark:
"Two years they had me locked up here, off and on. Back before Thatcher sold it off to the private sector and Blair turned it into a super-casino. After all why treat the mentally ill when you can fleece 'em for every penny they've got?"
It's back to being pertinent with property redevelopment and youth gun crime, impertinent with the well-earned laceration of the establishment's bullying of and cash-ins on the disadvantaged, and genuinely frightening with its painful pincer movement of supernatural horror and physical danger. It kicks off with Constantine being slowly drowned. Most of all, it will make you very, very angry, and that's what this book under Jamie Delano originally set out to do and managed so magnificently.
Comics as political agitation: always of vital importance.
Oh, and the joyriding...? Not just of cars, but of people.
What on earth could possess you to do that?
Continued then wrapped up in HELLBLAZER VOL 21.