I wasn’t planning to read Hellblazer Rebirth #1. I wasn’t even going to touch it or glance at it in the shop. I was just going to leave well enough alone, for once.
Then circumstances contrived to leave me hanging around the comic shop for a little while longer while I was on my lunch break, talking shop with the other geeks. Then I saw the cover and John Constantine staring at me, a wicked gleam in his eye. And then he started speaking to me.
(Okay, I know it’s not Alan Moore seeing John Constantine in a Westminster sandwich bar or Jamie Delano spotting him near The British Museum, but work with me here, okay?)
“You’ll never know for sure, will you, mate? Sure, that Oliver tosser wrote that shite story about every cabbie in London, including bloody Chas, having some secret mystic knowledge. And that git Moritat turned in that bloody awful fill-in artwork for Black Canary and Batgirl. You’re certain you won’t like this new book of mine… but you’d still never know unless you look at it.”
“Quit trying to tempt me, John. It’s not going to work,” I thought.
“Oh, I wouldn’t stoop to base trickery on you. We both know you’re too clever for it.”
“I’m also too clever not to notice base flattery.”
“Ha! Too right. But we also both know you can’t stand not knowing things for certain. You’re the sort who wants to have a reason for hating something, if you’re going to hate something. There’s a reason you like me, Matt – we both stare into the abyss despite knowing better, because someone has to. And who better than you?”
I sighed. The bastard had a point. Didn’t I cosplay ol’ Conjob? Hadn’t I written a Hellblazer reader’s guide? Hadn’t I created an episode guide for the short-lived Constantine TV show? Hadn’t I even sat through the bloody Keanu Reeves movie, all in the name of “just making sure”? Wasn’t I an expert on all things Constantine?
Damnit, I was. So I told the manager I’d be picking up one more thing, charged three bucks and some change on my debit card and did something I was fairly certain I was going to regret.
Sometimes I hate being right.
To accurately describe Hellblazer: Rebirth #1 requires the use of words that John Constantine can no longer say, being as how this book is firmly part of the DC Universe at large. Denying myself expletives in sympathy, I think I can safely say that this book is the greatest betrayal of the Constantine brand since the Keanu Reeves movie.
I can’t even bring myself to call this book a festering dung heap because that would give it far too much credit. A dung heap can prove useful as a source of fertilizer. I fear grinding up this book would salt the earth and leave it as barren as Moritat’s artwork.
There is no sense of consistency to any of the character designs in this book. John himself goes from being depicted in a photo-realistic fashion to a demonically distorted drawing on the same page. You can also see this discrepancy in the backgrounds, with round-faced cartoon characters standing behind a realistically rendered John. Another problem is that the characters’ expressions frequently don’t match the dialogue, as in one scene where Wonder Woman maintains the same bored, closed-mouthed expression in every panel – even the ones where she is supposed to be shouting!
The coloring is uninspired, with most of the issue being depicted in dull hues of brown and grey. The one exception to this is a scene with Swamp Thing and the superheroes, which almost seems to have been spliced in from another comic. One wonders if these pages were among those handled by Andre Szymanowicz rather than by Moritat?
Simon Oliver’s story is similarly lifeless and formulaic. The plot of the issue is standard stuff, with John returning to London to confront the demon who lay a curse upon him that forced John away from his adopted home town. The action concerns John playing a supernatural game of chicken as he waits for Plan B to kick in. While this occurs, other characters do nothing in the blind hope that John isn’t about to screw up.
Ignoring the implausibility of any story dependent on Shazam or Wonder Woman standing idle or trusting John Constantine (a dicey prospect, even if The Trinity War is no longer in continuity, which I’m pretty sure it is), Oliver’s writing holds about as much water as a wiffle glass. The story reads like a Cliff Notes’ version of the greatest hits of Garth Ennis, with John’s previous battle of wits with a demon being settled in one page and the central battle being resolved off-panel on the final page. And Oliver’s script – while offering a number of Easter Eggs for fans of the original Hellblazer title – proves largely inaccessible to the new readers this first issue should be trying to lure in.
Ultimately, the biggest problem with this issue is the type of Constantine John Oliver has chosen to write. Much as actors playing Hamlet must decide whether Hamlet is a man of action slowed by indecision or an indecisive man forced to act, so too must Constantine writers make a choice – does John’s cynical manner hide a hero’s heart or is he truly a manipulative wanker?
The poor writers tend to portray John as a right selfish bastard. The great writers showed John to be a bloke with good intentions who honestly tried to make things better only to have things go wrong. By that definition, Simon Oliver is a poor writer, who has no real grasp of Constantine’s character. John is a scoundrel but he’ll ultimately try to do the right thing. The final panel of this issue tells you everything you need to know about Oliver’s take on John Constantine and whether or not you should keep reading this series.