The gallus insouciance of John Constantine and the clever, observational and perversely witty scripts of Peter Milligan seemed an obvious match for almost two decades before Milligan became Hellblazer‘s regular writer. When finally offered the opportunity, he became the longest serving guide of Constantine’s destiny. He improves, but this opening graphic novel is distinctly average.

Millgan’s start is a relatively low key diatribe about Christmas, if not obvious, then little more than an appetiser, although it’s interesting to see Eddie Campbell illustrating in a less sketchy style than usual.

The title story involves both common meanings of the word, with a large and unsightly growth having appeared, covering most of Constantine’s chest, and the tying in of someone crossing the union picket line is developed later. The chest covering is at an awkward time for Constantine, who’s just begun a new relationship with Dr Phoebe Clifton-Avery. She seems casually understanding about his activities and their consequences, until she’s sucked into them.

Milligan peppers his story with nasty asides. They may seem gratuitously clever, but the likes of a demon disguised as school girl in order to experience imaginative forms of demonic cruelty in the playground sets the atmosphere of Constantine’s world. There’s an equal lack of subtlety about Milligan’s barbed political comments, but then those that lived through the times have to purge somewhere.

There’s a jagged quality to the art that isn’t altogether appealing, but it’s one the reader better become used to, as the art team of Stefano Landini finishing the illustration over Giuseppe Camuncoli’s layouts accompanies the largest portion of Milligan’s work on Hellblazer.

Politics also informs the other story included, as Milligan addresses the social cleansing/regeneration undertaken by London as large chunks of Newham were renovated in preparation for the Olympic Games of 2012. Much is dug up during the refurbishment, and the modern day aspects of the story are interweaved with events occurring during the great plague of London in the 17th century. There are interesting aspects and the traditional art of Goran Sudžuka is more suited to Hellblazer, but this is a slim plot overly extended, and the involvement of Constantine’s friend comes across as contrived.

Maybe Hooked will be better.