Tony Black reviews Hellblazer: Rebirth #1…
John Constantine’s lost weekend in New York City was fun, but London’s where his heart is—only a pissed-off demon and a curse on his soul stand in his way. Even Constantine’s questionable ethics are pushed to the limit when he puts eight million souls on the line to get what he wants….
What to make of Hellblazer: Rebirth? It’s not your traditional beast but then from what I know of John Constantine, he’s not your traditional DC hero either. This opening issue from writer Simon Oliver definitely makes you work harder than many of the other Rebirth titles in terms of catching you up with the character and his world, and coming from the perspective of a newbie you may end up a touch lost when it comes to who Constantine is, what he does, and what the series is going to be.
That’s both its strength and it’s weakness, undoubtedly, as one of the appeals when it comes to Rebirth is its accessibility to new audiences (like me) and I’m not entirely sure how accessible this first Hellblazer will turn out to be. What it does well however is crafting a darkly comic tonal sense and establish the wise cracking nature of Constantine as a character.
It’s refreshing to see a comic, certainly, which takes place outside of America and yet still features elements of the Justice League (in this case Wonder Woman & Shazam, briefly), tethering it to the DC world we know, while at the same time feeling redoubtably part of a very different corner – a corner of demons, of magic spells, of creatures like Swamp Thing or the demon who torments Constantine throughout this, who he terms ‘Laughing Boy’. It’s a story about Constantine returning to London, returning to his roots, and one suspects the comic at large will explore him picking up the threads he left behind.
He’ll of course do it with a tongue in cheek, not to mention a cheeky propensity to break the fourth wall, and hopefully Oliver won’t be afraid to keep throwing really quite pointed digs at the Trump campaign over the next few months as he does here! Hopefully his plotting will improve, mind – the story here ends abruptly and given the darkly comic tone, the threat to Constantine rarely honestly feels dangerous. Plus there is that terrible American propensity to write almost every British character as if they’re off the set of a cheeky 1960’s Ealing comedy, though that of course may well be intentional.
Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll follow Hellblazer. As a newcomer I’m left indifferent to it, and to John Constantine, when I was hoping for a little more. It’s an issue that may well reward fans of the character and the tone of the comic historically, as it’s well written and quite often looks nicely grim and sardonic from artist Moritat, especially drawing the British locations, but in terms of narrative and establishing the run to come, it felt a little wanting.