Review by Karl Verhoven
Collecting the entire run of Hellblazer sequentially results in some strange combinations of stories, and welding the first third of the book by Eddie Campbell to the beginning of a long run by Paul Jenkins is such a case. The unifying factor is the assured art of Sean Phillips.
Campbell’s form of erudite curiosity isn’t a great match with John Constantine. What comes across is Campbell being more interested in in his historical research about the life and times of Benjamin Franklin and Francis Dashwood, politician and founder of the Hellfire Club, than Constantine’s horrific world. Campbell supplies some nice touches such as Constantine commenting “now there’s a phrase to chew over” in response to Dashwood talking of “the delicate use of terror”, and his cleverly articulated sardonic comments are a highlight. It’s combined with the neat idea of manifesting urban legends, but is set up to meander, and does.
Jenkins takes some time to work his way into Hellblazer. His earliest stories are more echoes of what’s gone before, but he has a handle on Constantine’s essentially fractured personality from the start, dropping in introspective reflections such as “I wonder when was the last time I got drunk and laughed instead of cried”. With the title story Jenkins picks at one of the most memorable creations from Garth Ennis’ Hellblazer, the First of the Fallen, now mortal and hating every second. ‘Critical Mass’ is a very satisfying story, following the darkest before the dawn and rabbit from the hat template that characterises the feature, and by the end there’s a sense of Jenkins having a bigger plan for Constantine.
Phillips is an extraordinarily adaptable artist. There’s little glamour about his work, but he can take anything thrown at him and make it look convincing. It goes without saying that he nails the scenes of Constantine’s usual grubby human existence, but he also draws you into the Aborginal dreamtime, or the mystical city of Abaton, and this is to do with his layouts as much as his effective style. When Pat McEown pencils a sequence, Phillips inks him for a consistent look, but while McEown is perfectly competent, something is lost.
Jenkins would accumulate one of the longer runs writing Constantine, his work occupying four bulky chronological reprintings of Hellblazer, with In the Line of Fire next.