Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Constantine in Hell

John Constantine Hellblazer: The Gift: written by Michael Carey; illustrated by Leonardo Manco, Fraser Irving, Tim Bradstreet, and others (2004-2005; collected 2007): Mike Carey's fine run on what was DC-Vertigo's flagship title for various stretches of its 300-issue run comes to a mournful close. It's a volume that really needs to be read immediately after the previous collection, Reasons to be Cheerful, as the two collect what is really one long arc. 

Pissed-off, post-punk, Liverpudlian magician John Constantine finds himself in the crosshairs of an entire demonic family, three of whom are his children by a particularly sinister form of magical rape (!!!). And they're the grandchildren of his longest-running demonic foe, Nergal, who's been messing things up for Constantine since the early 1980's Newcastle incident that sent John to the Ravenscar psychiatric facility for several months.

But Nergal needs help against his daughter and grand-children to regain his kingdom in Hell. And John needs Nergal's help before all of John's remaining friends and relatives end up murdered by John's demonic hellspawn.

The whole thing is marvelously written and illustrated, though I occasionally wish that Leonardo Manco would let go a bit in his visuals, especially in those occasionally photo-referenced urban backgrounds. But his character work is exquisite, and in that 300-issue-run, I'd rank him below only John Ridgway and Steve Dillon as long-time artistic chroniclers of the Hellblazer.

Mike Carey's swan song on the title is as gritty and imaginative as ever, with the politics of Hell never so tellingly and squalidly depicted, nor John's anguish. Really a fine end to a fine run, and hopefully DC will collect this and Reasons to be Cheerful in one volume when they reach that point in the re-reprinting of Constantine. Highly recommended.

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