I’m a gigantic fan of Preacher (see my posts on the subject here, here and here) so I jumped at the chance to read one of their earlier team-ups on Hellblazer from the early 90s. I was also curious to read some of the earlier adventures of John Constantine because, as I’ve said before, I’m interested in the character’s printed history. He’s one of those guys who have been around a long time and always seems to be meeting up with old friends and acquaintances, but if you’re a new reader you don’t know if they were actually in the book or not. This books if fun because, while I can’t remember all the people I was curious about when reading other Hellblazer trades, this one features a lot of Constantine’s friends (many of them former these days, I would guess).
The collection features six issues, the first two and last are one-offs for the most part with the middle three consisting of a full story. In the first, John tracks down a guy selling dark magic stuff to his niece. I didn’t even realize he had a niece or a sister, so that was interesting. The next was my favorite as it found our hero celebrating his fortieth birthday with a lot of the friends I mentioned before. The three-issue arc splits its efforts between following a fallen angel dealing with living on earth and his ousting from heaven while Constantine runs afoul of an evil government group working on some shenanigans. The last one deals with Constantine’s girlfriend leaving him after the events of the previous issues.
While this trade doesn’t really act as a Rosetta stone for the character and any of the questions I might have had about him and his past, it was interesting reading these experiences he had that helped create the mean, sour bastard that’s still kicking around these days. Plus, I am always down for looking at Steve Dillon art, even if he’s not quite as crisp in this as he would become.
I was also excited when I saw this book written by Jamie Delano who wrote Constantine’s earliest adventures in his solo book. I’ve read a collection or two of his issues and was struck by how literary they were (see my brief review for Fear Machine). A lot of times, if I see too many words on the page, I get tired and don’t feel like reading, but when Delano does that, it winds up being really interesting and, well, literary. I’m not saying Hellblazer comics are up there with Dickens or anything, but you get the feeling that he has some measure of respect for comics to use language that might have been considered too smart for the medium.
Delano does the same with this graphic novel that came out in 2009. I was still impressed with his writing style and how engaging it was, but also how well told this tale was. It hit some notes that I’d seen before, but not in a Hellblazer comic before. He basically gets blackmailed into working for the British government to go check out a demon they have sedated in a prison camp in the Middle East as part of the joint actions by the UK and the US in that area. He’s teamed up with a mysterious woman and we see how the story unfolds with a good deal of deserved twists and turns along the way.
Really making the whole package a lot more fun and interesting for me was the artwork by Jock. That dude really has a rad style that works perfectly in the realm of Hellblazer. For all those reasons — and the fact that this really did feel like a long form comic instead of a collection of issues thanks to it’s pace — I really enjoyed this book and will be keeping it in my collection.
As a kind of post script to this reading experience, I want to talk a bit about trade collecting for just a second. Hellblazer is a book with hundreds of issues and I’ve read a handful of the trades and never in order. As such, I’m curious about reading parts from all times in the character’s history and have bounced back and forth between the idea of keeping the books and getting rid of them. At this point, I’ve Swapped a LOT of them away and probably only have four or five in hand anymore. I wonder if getting them all and then reading them in order would add to the reading experience or if this is such an intense book that it’s better to put it in your brain once and not come back to it. At this point, I think I’ll hold on to the trades for now and try to get the ones I haven’t yet read, but that might all change again. Who knows. I’m flip floppy that way, I guess.