Review by Frank Plowright
Closing down the Vertigo imprint, then having an adult Black Label line instead surely made sense to someone at DC, but then it’s the company that routinely used to issue Superman trades missing out several chapters. There’s more desperate marketing here, attempting to connect Hellblazer with Sandman via the cover titling.
So John Constantine is back, with another British writer in control for this and the conclusion in The Best Version of You. In several ways it’s almost back to the beginning, not just because it’s return from nowhere for Constantine, but also because Aaron Campbell’s scratchy art recalls the work of John Ridgway on the earliest Constantine solo stories, just with the darkness turned up. That’s on the part of Simon Spurrier who comes at Constantine’s sordid world and the grubby establishment perpetuating it with a sense of righteous anger not seen since Jamie Delano wrote the series. Then, Marks of Woe also has the clock ticking on it because Spurrier has researched what in 2019 was contemporary gangster speak, which five years down the line is going to be dated, and Constantine already finds it ridiculous. For the time being, though, it cements drug-dealing gangster the Haruspex as a unique individual.
The Haruspex has a problem. His dealers are being killed by something on the common, and Spurrier surprises by leaning heavily on the visions of William Blake, brought to great corner of the eye life by Campbell. Spurrier nails Constantine’s personality from the start. He’s offensive, cocky and happy to go along with whatever sure that there’s a deal to be made if he finds himself over his head, and Spurrier sets up more than his match in the form of Glaswegian pub bouncer Nat. The sparky conversations between the pair of them are a smutty delight. So is Constantine rummaging around in an organic cafe desperate for a bit of sausage and bacon.
That’s in the next story, where it’s uncertain if the bigger threat is the mystical menace or the new age babble from the tree-hugging tosser with the man bun who wants to be Constantine’s apprentice. His appearance as drawn by Matías Bergara is totally different, colourist Jordie Bellaire picking up on the large white spaces Bergara leaves by turning up the brightness and giving the art a pastel watercolour look. As smart as the two-parter is, it just looks wrong somehow. Thankfully Campbell is back with Bellaire’s murk for Marks of Woe’s final outrage at a hospital.
However, while there are six really good chapters here, it’s touch and go at the first knockings, with Constantine squeezed into Timothy Hunter’s world where he doesn’t quite fit, and an extended solo renewal drawn by Marcio Takara. They’re feet-finding exercises for Spurrier, but hardly compelling despite setting up what follows. Still, better to get them out of the way early.
Since the Vertigo imprint was flushed away Constantine’s had a rough time of it among the superheroes, but this is the genuine article as previously beloved. Be warned, though, due to the Peckham patois it’ll lose half a star’s quality every year from 2024.