Page 45 Review by Stephen
"The Second Coming of Johnny Silk Cut."
John Constantine: basically he's one big smoke-screen.
So Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis / Steve Dillon eras of HELLBLAZER in all their quick-witted, socio-political brilliance are wrapped up, complete and we start afresh with new regular artist Sean Phillips of FATALE and CRIMINAL fame. Including a few earlier appearances Sean drew 38 issues in total with an unbroken run of 44 painted covers beginning here.
I know this because I bought THE ART OF SEAN PHILLIPS written by Eddie Robson based on extensive interviews with Sean and his collaborators, and heartily recommend that you do so as well! It's not just an art book, it is a full and frank insight into one career and the recent history of comics as a whole. Within you learn also how many rewrites were demanded of ALEC, FROM HELL and THE PLAYWRIGHT's Eddie Campbell on HELLBLAZER which is why, after such a frustrating experience, he quit. Really: you would demand rewrites of Eddie Campbell? It is to Eddie's credit that you really can't tell. His Johnny Silk Cut is a riot.
Had some of that in a restaurant once, Arthur
I took it home and cooked it
Tasted just like fish."
John is called in to exorcise a mate's Uncle Arthur, killing him in the process. Whoops. What worries our John is that Arthur was having the same apocalyptic visions as himself and a quick browse of his bookcase confirms that Arthur was far more than he let on.
At which point Arthur's family disappear, replaced by Murnaar the bipedal cat demon, Bona Dea who's both blind and blunt, and the ghost of Sir Francis Dashwood, legendary founder of the equally infamous Hellfire Club. They have a warning:
"Reality has been hacked in the middle with a machete. The guts are about to start puking out."
Urban legends are being made manifest.
"Unreason has been let loose like a mad dog."
They claim the only way to reseal the fragile, thin membrane separating life and death, reality and unreality, reason and unreason is a world trip by plane, binding its circumference in a circle using a talisman which is Constantine's case is a zippo lighter engraved with a snake-circled tree. Of course it is. It's far more relevant than you think.
It's the perfect plot for Campbell who lets loose his encyclopaedic knowledge of history, politics, literature, theatre and folklore while exploring the preoccupations with life and reality which he would later expound upon to great comical effect in THE FATE OF THE ARTIST.
"Wait! This isn't a joke! This serious - real life's a joke!"
"You're tellin' me."
All the while Sean Phillips is choreographing Constantine in what amounts to a ballet: as one ciggie after another is lit to perch permanently between his teeth, he is left with both hands free to lurch and pinwheel across the page, smoke swirling ever upwards. All this, I might add, is drawn straight into inks giving the forms, shadows and action a fluidity which blew my mind at the time. Phillips' art is always fully grounded in each environment without cluttering it up with detail when unnecessary. His Australia is as immediately recognisable as his London suburbs in spite of all the photo references Eddie Campbell had diligently supplied getting no further than DC HQ. There's also an arresting, haunting depiction of effects on an individual's body of the Ebola virus and Eddie warns the world 20 years ago of what we're all facing now. If only more people read comics, eh?
Paul Jenkins picks up the plot post-Campbell (who has stuck around long enough for a rip-roaring finale), delaying John's flight from Australia just long enough to embroil him a struggle between Aborigines under siege from the relatively recent white man and facing eviction from their land that has been theirs for millennia. It gets brutal.
Before all of this, however, original series writer Jamie Delano returns to deliver a Constantine classic which finally explains precisely why his long-suffering taxi-driving constantly-on-call mate Chas is so loyal - no, so devoted - to the presumptuous, manipulative man who gets him into so much trouble with his missus, Renée.
It is gloriously gross, involving Chas' excruciating dreadful mother - the proverbial mad woman in the attic - and her pet / agent / spy/ familiar with whom she appears to be in symbiotic, telepathic contact: a wig-wearing chimpanzee called Slag.