Sunday, April 17, 2011

John Constantine in Iraq


Hellblazer: Pandemonium, written by Jamie Delano, illustrated by Jock (2010): Delano returns to John Constantine (Hellblazer), the British occult investigator/magician character whose first 40 or so issues he wrote back in the late 1980's after Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, John Totleben and Rick Veitch created the character in Swamp Thing. He's working-class English and looks a lot like Sting, which explains why the movie Constantine had Canadian Keanu Reaves portray Constantine as an American living in Los Angeles. It makes perfect sense.

Delano has always been firmly in the Ramsey Campbell school of horror fiction -- wordy, literate, and concerned with evoking horror through off-kilter description moreso than sudden shocks or graphic violence, though both of those also have their role to play. Constantine is probably the world's greatest magician. He's also something of a bastard who tends to get his friends and companions killed during his forays against both supernatural and human evil. But he gets results, which has made him enemies in both Heaven and Hell.

Herein, coalition forces in Iraq track down Constantine in London, England to get his help with a peculiar occult problem they've discovered -- a prisoner who drives everyone crazy if he's not sedated. Soon, Constantine is waist-deep in blood as he tries to discover what the forces of Hell are up to in Iraq, though at least some of these demonic forces are also pagan deities (there's a brief shout-out to Pazuzu, the Babylonian demon who showed up in The Exorcist, while one of Constantine's demonic/pagan enemies from Delano's run on the comic also puts in a mythologically and geographically correct appearance).

With the help of a physically and emotionally scarred, Iraqi-born archaeologist, Constantine again manages to insert himself into the competing plans of governments and demons; Heaven, in this case, appears to be absent from the proceedings. I like Jock's art here more than I have on other projects -- he's understated in a way that reminds me of early Delano Hellblazer collaborator John Ridgway's art. The fantastic remains grounded, and dirty. Delano's become a better writer over the last 20-odd years -- there's none of the occasional straining for linguistic effect that could sometimes be a bit jarringly purple in early Hellblazer. Highly recommended.

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