December 12, 2012

30 Books in 30 Days: "Hellblazer" vol. 1 and 2, by Jamie Delano et al

(CCLaP publishes mini-reviews of both books and movies on a regular basis, none lasting more than a few hundred words. A full list of CCLaP's book-based mini-reviews can be found on its main book page, and movies on the main movie page.)

Hellblazer: Original Sins, by Jamie Delano

Hellblazer: The Devil You Know, by Jamie Delano

Hellblazer: Original Sins
By Jamie Delano et al

Hellblazer: The Devil You Know
By Jamie Delano et al

DC Comics imprint Vertigo recently announced the coming cancellation of one of their flagship titles, John Constantine, Hellblazer*; and that has inspired me to finally read all 300 issues that will eventually make up the run (or at least as many of them that the Chicago Public Library carries), after reading individual issues here and there over the decades but never really becoming a regular fan. After all, this was one of the seven original comics from the late 1980s that convinced DC to launch Vertigo in the first place (and the only one still being published to this day), after coming to realize that a growing amount of their titles were starting to display a level of sophistication and edginess simply inappropriate for younger readers; and it could be argued that Constantine is the most well-loved of them all among actual comics creators, in that this grumpy, good-looking Brit with one foot always in the supernatural world is the one Vertigo legacy character most allowed to display an acerbic wit and world-weary attitude about the fantastical things going on around him, which is like catnip among an industry of writers whose jobs mostly revolve about the latest derring-do escapades of shiny happy superheroes.

I started my epic read with the first two graphic novels, Original Sins and The Devil You Know, comprising the first thirteen standalone issues from way back in 1988 and '89, both of them primarily written by Jamie Delano and drawn/inked by a variety of artists; but I have to admit with a little sadness that these are really starting to show their age, including purple prose that is much too overblown simply because Delano could now get away with it, illustrations that sometimes belie the pro/am state the comics industry was still in during the '80s, and a manytimes laughable obsession with such trendy targets as yuppies, Margaret Thatcher, London skinheads and other such instantly datable subjects. But much like my fellow CCLaP critic Oriana Leckert when she first disappointingly read Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns 25 years after it too first came out, perhaps my own disappointment with the first year of Hellblazer is actually a very good thing; because it means that the comics industry as a whole has been greatly expanding and maturing in those resulting 25 years, that it has reached such a level of legitimate sophistication that these first experiments from the start of this maturation now seem clunky and childish in comparison. I'm going to continue reading, because I'm fascinated to see how this title changes once taken over in the '90s by such industry legends as Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis and Brian Azzarello, and I also recommend these early volumes to anyone like me who's interested in seeing the long and slow morphing of both this title and comics in general as an art form; but certainly you should keep your expectations low when picking up these first collections, and understand that they were being produced in an age still dominated by campy TV Batman and throwaway titles still sold literally on spinner racks at drugstores.

Out of 10: 7.5

*Let's make it clear, however, that John Constantine as a character will still be going through new adventures, although to explain this to the uninitiated takes a few minutes. See, in 2011 DC made the unprecedented decision to literally cancel every comic their company was producing, reboot the entire shared universe where their stories collectively took place, and relaunch the "DC Universe" under a series of brand-new titles, collectively known as the "New 52." Then at the same time, they also decided to turn Vertigo into an entirely creator-owned comics line, and to take all the DC-owned characters in Vertigo titles and pull them back into DC comics; and so in practical terms that means that the character will now be appearing in a post-reboot comic put out by DC simply known as Constantine, the character itself rolled back to his early twenties in age (he had been aging in real time in Hellblazer, making him in his late fifties when the original title was cancelled), and now no longer beholden to any of the plot developments from these previous 25 years of stories. Which like all "New 52" decisions has been controversial among DC's original aging customer base (i.e. me and all my Gen-X hipster-douchebag friends), but that has had new issues selling to young people again like hotcakes, which of course was the whole point of the reboot in the first place.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 11:32 AM, December 12, 2012. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |