John Constantine: Hellblazer – Marks Of Woe
DC Black Label
Story: Simon Spurrier, Kat Howard
Art: Aaron Campbell, Matias Bergara, Marcio Takara, Tom Fowler, Craig Taillefer
Colours: Jordie Bellaire, Cris Peter, Jordan Boyd
John Constantine is back in London, back to his old tricks-and just in time, as things have become very dark indeed in his old stomping grounds. A small-time gang lord has found himself dealing with a big-time outbreak of supernatural weirdness…and, without any allies to call on and nothing left to call his own, John doesn’t have much choice in taking a paycheck from one of London’s worst, or accepting the help of one of the gang lord’s would-be foot soldiers. But what should be an open-and-shut exorcism turns out to be nothing but…and the madness is just getting started! Collects The Sandman Universe Presents: Hellblazer #1, John Constantine: Hellblazer #1-6, and Books of Magic #14.
John Constantine: Hellblazer –The Best Version Of You
DC Black Label
Story: Simon Spurrier
Art: Aaron Campbell, Matias Bergara
Colours: Jordie Bellaire
One of DC’s and the Sandman Universe’s most iconic characters is back for more dark and twisted antics in volume two of one of the most critically acclaimed series of the year! Will Constantine protect a group of British fishermen from an ancient merwoman? Or stop a disgraced royal from unleashing a bloodthirsty horror? It all leads to John Constantine facing his final reckoning with the older version of himself who’s been seeding magical chaos all around England. Can the evil in John’s heart ever be contained? Or will it destroy the one life he would give anything not to corrupt? Collects John Constantine: Hellblazer #7-12.
John Constantine first appeared in The Saga of Swamp Thing #37, and was created by comics legend Alan Moore. In 1988, he was given his own series, Hellblazer, which ran until 2012, lasting 300 issues. On top of a few other solo series, he also joined Justice League Dark and appeared in various other titles, including Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. In short, the working class wizard has been very popular over the years.
In 2019, a limited, twelve-issue run was confirmed as part of the new Sandman Universe, and this entire run is collected in the two trade paperbacks I’m looking at today. Now, I picked these releases up because both the live-action TV series and animated movies starring Matt Ryan left me in the mood to jump back in with the character. The first thing to note is that this is very much a mature-rated story. It is, honestly, brutal at times. You need only look to the graphic, visceral birth of a unicorn in the second book to see what I mean.
Meanwhile, John is his familiar, old school self. He chain-smokes, swears, tells off-colour jokes, and lies and manipulates his way through the story in style. At the same time, he is working towards the greater good, even if he is kinda doing so because his hand is being forced. I was also happy to see him reference an old boyfriend. That was important because Constantine has been canonically bisexual for years, and so to slip that in there was a nice way to show that this hasn’t been forgotten.
We were also introduced to a couple of new characters for the duration of the series, including Nat, a Glaswegian female bouncer, Noah, a mute London council estate kid, and Tommy Willowtree, a new age wizard that does magic with puns. All three are important for different reasons, and they fit nicely within the confines of the tale.
The story itself was excellent. What we essentially get is a mix of interlinked adventures, all leading to an inevitable conflict with a villain that’s intent on causing chaos. The tale takes in everything from London street gangs to the UK government, referencing some very real issues without making it feel forced.
The humour is strong too if you can handle things having a bit of an edge. The crows in the first book, for example, were far funnier than I’d expected. It’s also worth noting that, even when his own jokes are crass, Constantine himself is not a bad person. In fact, he does a great job in dealing with racists in the books. It all builds up to a suitable climax too, with the true villain revealed and the heroes attempting a risky plan to bring him down. That the result isn’t entirely what any side would want is even better in my eyes.
Art wise, the team does a phenomenal job. The art is gloriously detailed, especially during the macabre moments. That in your face approach to the horror works really well, and the characters themselves are equally as good to look at. The series is also perfectly capable of applying some visual flash when it’s called for.
Now, the releases are not perfect. If I’m being honest, the paper used in the books felt a little cheaper than I expected. There are times that the story seems to skip over some things too. For example, Nat certainly gains a belief in Magic pretty quickly and easily. So much so that it just felt like something was missing.
These are minor flaws though. What we have here is a story that screams ‘the bastard is back’, and I was so happy to see the titular antihero given a fresh coat of paint that wasn’t watered down. If you enjoy protagonists that lean to the darker side of grey, if you enjoyed Constantine’s appearances in the Arrowverse, or if you simply want a dark horror story, these are well worth a look. I give the complete set a 4.5 out of 5.