Review by Ian Keogh
Well, the title almost says it all, at least as far as half this graphic novel’s concerned. This is a book of two halves, and the best of Milligan’s run on Hellblazer. The first half is darkly comic, the second merely dark.
The beige trench coat that’s been Constantine’s wardrobe since his earliest days was stolen by his neice Gemma during the course of Phantom Pains, and it’s now missing. It’s been worn by Constantine for so long as he’s dabbled in all kinds of mystical murk that’s a residual essence about it, an eau de Constantine if you like. The new owner made the mistake of taking it to a dry cleaning establishment, from where it contaminated every other garment in the place, causing the owners of those clothes no end of discomfort.
Yes, this is Peter Milligan in wilfully capricious mode. The primary’s narrative is the coat’s as it moves from one new owner to the next, embedding a little piece of Constantine as it transfers. The original owner has problems of his own as he’s promised to put the frighteners on some visiting Mafia men on behalf of London crimelord Terry Greaves. Then there’s Gemma, under obligation to those who helped her in Phantom Pains, and they’re not the types who accept no for an answer. Given all that, it’s not the time for Constantine’s talent for magic to start failing him.
Sailing through all that daftness we have Milligan’s great characterisation of Constantine. You truly believe this is a man who’ll face off against the first of the fallen with a witty one-liner. Just at the point when it appears everything’s been wrapped up rather nicely, very little real harm done, Milligan throws in a really nasty twist. It seems some people just have a self-destructive streak that just won’t be shaken, and that sets up the book’s second, far, far, darker portion, ‘Another Season in Hell’. We’re constantly told what a bastard Constantine is, how he acts on the hoof risking everything and figures he can deal with the consequences later, and he’s at it again. It’s a learning curve, but don’t go looking for Rimbaud as it’s just a convenient title. Unless Milligan is implying Constantine and Satan are two sides of the same coin.
Most of the art is by Giuseppe Camuncoli providing layouts for Stefano Lanzini, except for the chapter when Carli Ihde finishes those layouts to no discernable difference. It’s what we’ve come to expect over the last few graphic novels, always professional, telling the story, but rarely is there any image that will stick in the head, one that you’ll come back to and want to look at again. They produce a fine craggy Constantine and a disgusting coat. Gael Bertrand supplies two chapters. As one is the conclusion, to label them fill-ins isn’t doing them justice, and Bertrand goes a step further. There’s more life, more detail, more elements that catch the eye about his pages, but never at the cost of sacrificing the foreground clarity.
As good as it is, the Devil’s Trench Coat isn’t the ideal sampler of Milligan’s Hellblazer as it reveals too much that you’ll then want to head back and read without knowing. And in Constantine’s world once you know, you can never forget. Don’t forget that Death and Cigarettes is up next, mind.