Page 45 Review by Stephen
Whoa, these massive, mortuary slabs are now such value for money: 400 pages including a massive amount of material never previously reprinted! Take John Smith & Sean Phillips single issue set in the seeming safety of a late-night laundromat, in which Constantine casually concedes to have had the occasional boyfriend; or the two-parter pencilled by Steve Dillon in which corporate corpse-snatchers go ballistic on them before cottoning on to the fact that the calibre of a cadaver is as nothing to living tissue. Shame John and Chas offer themselves up as upgrades.
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 Red-Wedge Billy Bragg writing Doctor Who for punks, vegans and chain-smoking drunkards, plus Stephen King and Clive Barker readers. Vehemently anti-Thatcher during the years when, as Jamie Delano wrote, "The country starving ate out its own heart", it was a rallying cry against the social ramifications of political callousness and thuggery, and against the mass-medias 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, painfully juxtaposed here by a time when he was happy.
"He could have stayed there forever and perhaps he should have, spurning the grey land across the Irish Sea for nights of laugher and life itself that became morning before you could draw breath. The whisky did flow like the wine, as the old song goes. Sadly for Constantine, the time went just as fast."
So when was the last time HELLBLAZER came even close to bringing a tear to your eye? With Garth Ennis it was all about friendship, love and loss, whether it was his old Irish friend Kit, the woman who could match him pint for pint, suddenly back in his life again as a take-no-nonsense lover, rendering him as daunted as a schoolboy with a crush
or his acts of calculated kindness towards the succubus who'd spurned Hell for her love of an angel and arrives on John's doorstep, both on the run from Heaven and Hell, they believe, and she very pregnant indeed.
The tragedy of that was the inevitability of it all: Chantinelles demonic role and very nature was to tempt, and tempting the purest was her ultimate goal; angel Tali duly fell in lust, but then turned her lust into love. They both did exactly what they were ordained to do, and it should have been something beautiful. Well, it was. But some parties value conflict far more than confluence
That one will make your stomach churn, as will the awful fate of the kindly Laura, landlady of the Northampton Arms, who burns to death in her very own pub.
The socio-politics are never far behind, here in the guise of a Royal on the rampage, possessed by a demon with prior, the establishment rushing round to cover his tracks; the faltering fortunes of The Lord Of The Dance; and John's manipulative power-play with the Devil ignited during DANGEROUS HABITS. The King of the Vampires also sets out his stall on Hampstead Heath here for the very first time, so if you're wondering what took DC so long to collect together all this material key to understanding the whole of Garth Ennis' run, you are not alone.
Here's John's final, passionate rebuff to the King of the Vampires, delivered with measured confidence and conviction:
"I'm happy with the life I've got, thanks."
"Why? What's so frigging good about it?"
"'Cause I know who I am. I'm real. I don't forget about it like all those others do and that's why they're all so mysterious, by the way. So no one twigs there's bugger all to them."
"And what's so good about being real, then? Can you tell me? You seem very sure of yourself, you little mortal bastard, so I'll tell you what... If you can tell me why your ordinary, piss-boring life is better than mine, you can walk out of here alive. If you can't, I'll cut your throat and drink my fill and leave you half alive forever."
"Easy. Can you go for a walk in the park and hear the birds sing in the morning? Can you kiss a girl and know she loves you? Can you go out and get pissed with your mates? I can. And just so we're sure about who's better off, why don't we sit here together and watch the sun come up in an hour or so?"
Make no mistake: John is playing the long game, and he is moving his potential pieces into exactly the right positions for the end game. At least
those which are still left on the board after his arrogantly miscalculated clusterfucks.
Includes my all-time favourite Glen Fabry covers, one of which used to loom down from my guest-bedroom wall. Strangely, my guests rarely ask to stay twice.