I really can’t understate how influential Wizard was to me as a budding comics fan. I’d been going to the comic shop for a few years by the time I discovered the mag at a mall book store. I started out reading Superman and Batman comics and added other DC comics because I knew about them from the house ads, but it wasn’t until Wizard that I really began to learn more about comics as a whole. I’ve always been pretty risk-averse and budget conscious, so it took an extra push to spend my limited funds on something new. With Wizard, I found a group of writers who opened up my world to all sorts of new books I’d never heard of including, but not limited to Hellblazer and The Goon, both of which I’m writing about here today!
As I mentioned in my Halloween Scene 2019 kick-off post, I’ve decided to stick to Vertigo comics this scare season. The reason for that is two fold. First, the imprint was officially shuttered earlier this year and second, I was already pretty close to finishing up House Of Mystery.
Another week has gone by and I’ve knocked out another pile of comics, most of which came from my local library system. As you can see, we’ve got a mix of amazing indie artists, classic comic visionaries, crossovers and newer books. Hit the jump to see what I had to say on this batch! Continue reading Trade Post: Frank, Midnighter, Constantine, Spirit & Batman/TMNT
John Constantine, Hellblazer, Vol. 1: Original Sins (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Jamie Delano with Rick Veitch, drawn by John Ridgway, Brett Ewins, Jim McCarthy, Veitch & Tom Mandrake
Collects Hellblazer #1-9, Swamp Thing #76, 77
At the beginning of October I had two ideas that turned out to be pretty good ones: first, I should read some of the Hellblazer volumes I had sitting around and, second, I should see if anyone wanted to pay me money in conjunction with the first idea. As it turned out, I came up with an idea to run down John Constantine’s most dastardly moments from the early days of his solo series and it ran over on Topless Robot. It worked out well because of the premiere of Constantine on NBC, though I haven’t actually watched more than a few minutes of the show.
What I soon remembered after diving in to these books is something I noted when I reviewed Jamie Delano’s “The Fear Machine” arc as well as the more recent graphic novel Pandemonium and that is just how rich, robust and literary Delano’s text boxes are. Comics just don’t have that quality anymore and it took me a little while to adjust, but once I did, I realized I was reading something dark and special. As my list notes, Constantine makes some very difficult and awful decisions, but the more you read of him, the more you understand that no one else will make those choices and they weigh heavily on him.
Specifically speaking, this first batch of issues might seem like a series of one-offs, but they’re building off of themselves and each other leading towards the larger story coming to light in the next volume. The first two issues deal with an old friend accidentally unleashing a hunger god that leads John to NYC where he visits franchise stalwart Papa Midnite. From there you get a Yuppie-loving fart demon, a child murderer, a town that gets its boys back from Vietnam in a very unexpected way, a multi-armed soccer hooligan, a cyber mage, a deal with a demon, a terrible 35th birthday and a crossover with that other Vertigo mainstay Swamp Thing where the title character borrows John’s body to have sex with his lady Abby.
This volume is the perfect example of what Hellblazer was in its early days and not just because it’s the first. You get the sense of humor Delano instilled in the character as well as his intrinsically tragic nature. Plus, while you might not see them on the first read, there are a lot of seeds being planted that grow and bloom as the series progresses. I should note here that I haven’t read Constatine’s first appearances in Swamp Thing yet, so I’m sure some of that came from Alan Moore, but I credit Delano with creating something truly wonderful here in these issues.
Hellblazer, Vol. 2: The Devil You Know (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Jamie Delano, drawn by Richard Piers Rayner, Mark Buckingham, Bryan Talbot, Dean Motter & David Lloyd
Collects Hellblazer #10-13, Hellblazer Annual #1, The Horrorist #1-2
After all the build-up in the previous volume, issues #10, 11 and 12 hit like an atom bomb. #10 features an issue-long astral plane trip while Swamp Thing’s using John’s body. #11 explains why Constantine’s been having such a rough time in one of the most disturbing comics I’ve ever read. By #12, everything comes to a head, characters come crashing together and Constantine comes up with a particularly devious way of dealing with his nemesis.
The last regular issue of this collection is one of the craziest, dream sequence things I’ve ever experienced in any medium. Set against the looming threat of atomic mishaps, John deals with everything he’s caused and gone through leading up to this point. It’s not the easiest thing to understand, but then again, neither is the annual which switches time between John looking for a tape of his band Mucus Membrane and a past/future version of himself intertwined with Arthurian legend. It’s a lot to take in. The book closes out with the mid-90s two issue mini The Horrorist which finds Constantine drawn to a woman from a photograph who is wreaking havoc across the country.
Altogether these first two volumes don’t just set up the groundwork for a series that would go on to last 300 issues, continue on in a different form in the New 52 and make the jump to the big and small screens. One of the things that surprised me most about these two books is that Constantine doesn’t use magic in the way you might expect having seen things like Harry Potter films. He knows all about demons and monsters and angels, but instead of casting spells, the action is far more physical and more in line with a detective story. I like that take because it grounds the supernatural elements which can be off-putting at times.
Before closing out I want to say a few things about covers. First off, the ones for these trades are amazing. Getting Jim Lee and John Cassaday to do these covers is ingenious because they might help bring in new readers, but also because the original series covers are pretty insane. I mean, just look at them. These might be the most surreal, difficult-to-describe covers I’ve ever seen. It’s actually kind of shocking that they were used to try and sell a book back in the day.
Hi All, you might have noticed that I haven’t posted much here on UnitedMonkee.com recently. That’s because I’ve been pretty darn busy between work and the home buying process (which officially ends today!). I pitched a lot of different Halloween-themed freelance ideas this month, many of which got picked up. Now that they’re finally coming out, I wanted to share them with you.
I worked on two lists for Spinoff Online focusing on horror movies from this decade. I was super impressed with everything I saw. Hopefully I can get to a roundup post soon.
Over on Marvel.com, I write four Halloween Spooklights on various scary characters from the Marvel U:
Finally, I did two lists for Topless Robot that took a lot of work (if reading comics and watching movies can be considered as such):
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.
HELLBLAZER: INDIA (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Peter Milligan, drawn by Giuseppe Camuncoli & Simon Bisley
Collects Hellblazer #261-266
Reading Hellblazer books is always a little tricky, especially if you’re like me and only read them in bursts and bits thanks to trades either gotten from Sequential Swap, $5 trade boxes or friends. Putting all the pieces together can be difficult, especially with a character like John Constantine who has been built to have a million skeletons in his closet and old friends to call on him. Unless you’ve got an encyclopedic knowledge of the character, it’s hard to know if whoever’s asking John for help is an established character or someone new being introduced to move the story along. I guess it doesn’t really matter–it’s not easy for a comic geek to let go of his hold on/knowledge of/desire to understand continuity, but I’m working on it–so I’m trying to just jump in and figure it out. For whatever it’s worth, if you’re curious, I’ve also reviewed The Fear Machine, Empathy Is The Enemy and The Roots Of Coincidence. I’m sure I have or will repeat myself in this post compared to those, so maybe you shouldn’t read them…
Anyway, like those other volumes, I quite liked this one, though, also like those others, I’m still not sure if I have any more of a grasp on Constantine as a character aside from him being a badass with ties to the dark arts, but sometimes that’s enough. This book is split between two stories, a 4-parter called “India” and a 2-parter called “No Future.”
“India” is pretty rad, with Constantine traveling to the titular country and facing off against a demon who used to be part of the British effort to take over India. Nowadays, he has virgins sacrificed to him by a Bollywood movie producer, but the system gets a wrench thrown in it when the producer falls for the latest potential sacrifice. Oh and Constantine of course. The story was a lot of fun and pretty tight, but I absolutely love Giuseppe Camuncoli’s artwork. Dude just has such a sick style that fits this book so perfectly. I probably said this before, but he would be awesome on a Hellboy book or maybe one of DC’s upcoming darker books (he might have actually been announced on one, I haven’t been keeping up with the announcements).
I had an even better time with “No Future” because it goes back to Constantine’s punk rock roots (I’ve actually read one of the books that explained this). His buddy and fellow former punk rocker has built this cult that worships a dummy that supposedly has the spirit of Sid Vicious (I refuse to link to his Wiki page, you should either know he he is, look it up yourself or just watch Sid & Nancy). Constantine’s friend is having his people taken away by the new Conservative party which is made up of zombie demons. Another quick and dirty story, I had a great time with “No Future” especially seeing John done up as a green-haired aging punk. I also really appreciated Simon Bisley’s artwork. He’s a dude I’ve always heard of and appreciated from covers, but not actually read any interiors of, so this was a treat, especially given the subject matter.
With the exception of his relationship to a blue-haired girl who is still alive and a woman who he clearly loved and must have passed away in an earlier volume, I think India is as good of a jumping-on point for new readers. Like I said, Constantine’s a strange character because he seems to know half the planet (the more salacious and devious half, of course) so it doesn’t matter who you know and who you don’t. The holes are filled in for the most part as far as understanding goes. I have a feeling if you picked up the very first Hellblazer trade, he’d be running into old friends and enemies and killing demons or whatever, so why not just jump in here?
JENNY SPARKS: THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE AUTHORITY (Wildstorm)
Written by Mark Millar, drawn by John McCrea
Collects the miniseries of the same name #1-5
I’ve gone on record saying that I’m a big Authority fan, having reviewed a good number of the books on the blog, so this Jenny Sparks mini was right up my alley. I got it off a Sequential Swap and then saw two words on the cover that tend to turn me off from comics: Mark Millar. I’m just not a fan of the dude’s writing in general. I feel like he tries too hard to shock readers and I haven’t been truly shocked by a comic since Preacher and I’m fairly certain it won’t happen again. I will give the guy credit for creating great big popcorn books (the equivalent of a summer blockbuster), but for whatever reason, I don’t tend to enjoy those comics as much.
Anyway, my desire to learn more about Jenny Sparks and to check out some John McCrea art (I’ve been slowly collecting and reading all of the old Hitman trades and really dig his art), so I soldiered on. And, overall, it’s a pretty interesting little book. We do get more bits of Jenny’s history, but also how she met each member of the original Authority team and convinced them to join. For that alone, it will stay in my Wildstorm trade collection, but I’m not sure how many times I will go back to it.
For one thing, Millar decided to make Hitler a large part of one of the issues, stating that Jenny and he were friends back when he was a lowly artist and she suggested he go into politics. Later, she’s working as a spy during WWII and gets caught by the Nazis, but Hitler lets her go. Now, I’m torn on this because it feels like a very “look how crazy I’m being” Millar moment, but at the same time it makes sense that Jenny, being the spirit of the 20th century, would have influenced the good along with the bad. I’ll give it a pass for now. What I can’t give a pass is the non McCrea-ness of the art. Don’t get me wrong, the art is good, but it doesn’t look like the McCrea I know and love and have in my head when I think of him, which was disappointing. Add him to the list of artists who have changed their style for the worse from the 90s.
I can’t really see anyone aside from Authority fans really digging this book. It’s not Millar-y enough to appeal to his hardcore fans (though they probably already have read it) and it’s not like Jenny Sparks is a belovedly missed character (though I would definitely like to hear more about her getting sent into a crazy depression). Bonus points for getting a pretty good intro by Authority creator Warren Ellis in the book too!
HELLBLAZER: THE ROOTS OF COINCIDENCE (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Andy Diggle, drawn by Giuseppe Camuncoli & Leonardo Manco
Collects Hellblazer #243-244, 247-249
Even though this collection of Hellblazer breaks my number one rule for trades (collect EVERY ISSUE consecutively), it was still an interesting read. But, in cases like this I’m always left asking “Would it have killed them to include those two other issues?” I don’t tend to read Hellblazer books in any kind of order, just reading whatever trades I get my hands on, but it’s still frustrating to have that question mark hanging over my reading experience.
Anyway, the book is broken up into two related stories, the first about a room in the Vatican that doesn’t allow God to see what’s going on inside. The idea is that priests can go in there and do whatever their black hearts desire to whoever they can find and it won’t be considered breaking their vows. Considering all the bad energy in the place, it should come as no surprise that a demon gets loosed inside. I was raised Catholic, don’t practice now, but also took a lot of classics and lit classes in college that focused on Church teachings and its history, so the story was really interesting to me and had me wondering if that room really exists in the real Vatican. Constantine gets called in to get rid of the demon, but also has motives of his own. Without giving it away, I give Diggle a lot of credit for adding a few extra layers to the story than what someone else might have done.
The second story involves a businessman who’s done a lot of wrong trying to set up his own private heaven and then killing himself. He gets a demon to help him, but Constantine gets involved and winds up serving his own brand of justice. After that, though, we get an issue that probably plays better with people who have been reading Hellblazer comics for longer than me as Constantine comes face to face with the force that has been plaguing him for years. I’ll be honest, I didn’t completely understand it, but I think I liked it.
There are two elements that I really liked in this book. First off, the artists are amazing. Camuncoli and Manco should always be drawing Hellblazer or Hellboy comics as far as I’m concerned. They’re perfectly suited for this kind of work. The other aspect that I liked was Diggle’s ability to really set Constantine up as a man with a strong grasp of his own morality, punishing privileged, wicked men who has a devilish way of putting people in their place. He’s a great character that I really enjoy reading about and would have liked to have gotten those extra two issues in this book!
Originally, I was going to pair up John Constantine with Wolverine because they’re both characters with mysterious pasts who seem to constantly run into people they’ve had dealings with that readers have never been introduced to before. But, while looking for art by Tim Bradstreet of Wolverine, I saw all the Punisher artwork and the incredibly obvious smashed itself into my head: Constantine should team up with Punisher with art by Bradstreet or Steve Dillon and written by Garth Ennis (late 90s version if possible).
Here’s how I’d write the thing, in case anyone was curious. Punisher’s hunting down some mobsters in London and soon finds himself way in over his head because it turns out they’re mixed up with some magic. Luckily for him, Constantine’s been hunting this monster down and while he doesn’t stop the demon, he does scare it away in time to save Punisher’s life. From there, the pair team up to take on the monsters both human and otherworldly with lots and lots of bullets, blood and swearing along the way. I envision a scene between Frank and John where they’re exchanging their favorite curse words, possibly while fighting a monster. No, it’s not the most original story in the world, but it sure would be fun, wouldn’t it? A mix of great action and fantasy would be rad.
What I like about both characters is that neither of them could be considered good men, yet they do what can be considered good: removing evil from the earth. They’ve both done terrible, awful, horrible things, but they’ve done it with the supposed intent of helping their fellow men (the good ones at least). I think they’d pair well together once they saw that. Neither would be 100% comfortable because they’re dealing with the kinds of elements they don’t usually interact with.
If only Marvel and DC could stop their nonsense and get some fun crossovers going. I’m sure they’re a logistical nightmare, but I’m also pretty damn sure they would sell like crazy.
HELLBLAZER: EMPATHY IS THE ENEMY (Vertigo)
Written by Denise Mina, drawn by Leonardo Manco
Collects Hellblazer #216-222
John Constantine is one of those characters that I have a lot of love for, but don’t know if I really get the character from my limited experience (a few trades here and there, Azzarello’s run on the book and random issues while working at Wizard). It’s the same way I like the Creeper. Anyway, I’ve got a list of all the Hellblazer trades and I’m slowly checking them off the list. I got Empathy here from Swap and enjoyed myself. One thing you need to know about reading a Hellblazer comic is that, it’s completely normal to have no idea what’s happening. Constantine always runs into someone who he knew from the old days, does some vague magic and deals with some big demon or some such. That’s been my experience at least.
This time around, Constantine’s got to deal with a man who is reading empathy. After helping him, John has the sickness now which is leading him towards a Scottish cult on an island. There’s a lot of info thrown at you that will probably make a lot more sense on a second reading, something I hope to do if I ever get the whole series. Even with everything going on, the slow burn of the story allows you to think about things without ever slowing to a crawl. Mina has this great way of making everything seem important and has a knack for writing interesting side characters. And Manco might be the perfect Constantine artist. He’s got a kinetic style that makes the panels seem to almost hum with magic.
If you’ve never read a Hellblazer comic, this is as good a place as any to start. The only continuity thing I didn’t really know about was why Constantine has sworn off magic. I’m guessing it’s after a particularly harrowing encounter with a demon in a previous arc, but it’s never really explained. It’s also not really that important because, SPOILER he does in fact use some magic.
HOUSE OF MYSTERY VOL. 3: THE SPACE BETWEEN (Vertigo)
Written by Matthew Sturges with Bill Willingham and Chris Roberson, drawn by Luca Rossi, Jim Fern, Grazia Lobaccaro, Ralph Reese, Sergio Argones, Eric Powell, Neal Adams, Gilbert Hernandez and David Hahn
Collects House Of Mystery #11-15
Boy, I hope you guys are reading House Of Mystery. I’ve been a big fan since it launched and even reviewed the second trade here. The idea is that the House of Mystery is a place outside of time that travels from different dimensions come to while traveling. Most of them can leave, but a few people are stuck there. In exchange for getting hooch and food, the patrons have to tell a story which is sometimes written by someone other than Sturges and drawn by a different artist. With the third volume, though, the ongoing story takes on a life of its own with star Fig dealing with her dad now being stuck in the House and the truth about some of the big players in the book. To make up for the lack of side stories, the 13th issue actually consists of all side stories by the likes of Neal Adams, Eric Powell and Gilbert Hernandez.
This is definitely not a good place to start reading, obviously, but I can’t recommend a comic book more than House Of Mystery. It’s good for longtime Sandman fans–yeah, it’s that House Of Mystery–, non comic book readers and people trying to check out something new aside from superhero books.
HOM is one of those books that I wait for the trade on because there’s so much going on, but that means that I’m behind. So, I’m still waiting to find out what’s going on with the huge cliffhanger at the end of this trade.
LUCIFER VOL. 1: DEVIL IN THE GATEWAY (Vertigo)
Written by Mike Carey, drawn by Scott Hampton, Chris Weston, James Hodgkins, Warren Pleece and Dean Ormston
Collects The Sandman Presents #1-3, Lucifer #1-4
I really wanted to like Lucifer. I love Sandman and am a big fan of Mike Carey’s writing, but I found the second half of this collection (the first four issues of the ongoing series) to be nearly impenetrable. Gaiman had this amazing knack for weaving these epic stories that also included regular human beings. Sometimes you’d be reading through the issue trying to figure out why the hell you were supposed to care about some blond girl and then, bam, it all makes sense. Unfortunately, in this story, Carey doesn’t have that knack.
I liked the first story enough, which showed Lucifer doing a favor for heaven to get rid of some ancient shadow gods. Like the later story, it involves a regular person getting sucked into something much bigger and it pays off. The second one though just seems to keep winding around the main story without really making it clear soon enough why I should care about this kid aside from the fact that he’s persecuted. Meanwhile, Lucifer’s dealing with a fellow fallen angel and his tarot cards of death. It just didn’t suck me in enough to keep reading so I actually quit two or so issues in. As a side note, it’s hard to tell exactly where the issues began and ended because they didn’t reprint the friggin’ covers between issues (I hate that).
Any Lucifer fans out there? Is it worth continuing on?