Hellblazer #267 by Peter Milligan and Stefan Camuncoli

There is a pointed alchemical pseudo-mcguffin at the beginning, where a silver sliver of redemptive light presents itself, that we might beg to come back to later. There is a weakness in the reader, a clearly mistaken belief that despite the dimly-remembered arguments of 20 years ago the ‘anti-’ bit of ‘anti-hero’ should basically be swapped out to form ‘grumpyhero’. That every chain-swinging, chain-smoking, cheyne-stoking gritmeister from the last generation’s reboot of the comicbook protagonist is a mere modern gloss on the Gawainian pureheart formula. As was frequently reiterated even in Garth Ennis’ last, ultra-black run on the character, even the type’s posterboy Frank (in my house we call him Frank because ‘The Punisher’ is not a word that you want coming out of the mouth of a three year old girl) is basically a well-intentioned softy, dealing with a very nasty case of PTSD but whose faith in the innocence of sweet children is strong and clear enough to drag him back from the edge of brain damage every six issues or so.

Constantine is supposed to be the same, in this moral coward’s book anyway. Despite everything, or so I thought, all the low down double dealing is just crow’s feet on an angel’s face – a necessary sacrifice of his own good character for the sake of the greater good (the greater good). He battles demons after all – you have to cheat sometimes. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it. When the stakes are as high as they frequently are in his life, such dedication to self-besmirchment in order to keep the plagues of hell safely down pit where they belong is a mission of saintly virtue.

So in my pathetic need to hold on to that belief that Constantine is a diamond despite it all, I will do what men-who-beat-women (and those who make excuses for them) so often do: She brought it on herself. It’s that weird alchemy stuff that Epiphany is doing, you see, it’s hit the Nigredo. The process is now literally spinning the universe around the axis of herself, supplying where necessary a twisted, awful walk-in like John Constantine to demonstrate the lesson she needs to learn about the corrupting potentials inherent in the pursuit of the magic life.

Yep: Yuk. What Milligan is doing is something pretty far out in terms of horror, modern or classic – taking care to craft boxes within boxes for the reader’s sympathy to catch itself in, where in its rush to run from the truth in front of it – this Constantine bastard really is a bastard you know – it will twist and squirm, like a greedy banker to defend its right to exist, bending back on its own fused spine, twisting into ever sadder, ever darker corners of itself in order to pretend that that bloke’s still a good bloke. To go back to Ennis again, in Preacher he detailed a version of masculine decency that defined itself with a line in the sand of ‘do no violence to women’. Milligan is taking that as his starting point for the character of Constantine himself – whatever else you need to know about this bloke, he’s not a nice bloke. A blame-me demon might be found to excuse his actions later, but at the moment we should be in no doubt as to the evil of the territories that we’re walking in.

I award this comic five brains out of five.

Appendix – edited excerpt from last week’s backroom chatter at Mindless Ones HQ

Bobsy: Wow – yusss!!


The Beast Must Die: That’s dinner!

I love it when my shopping list on a Thursday is only Vertigo titles – it’s like I’m 16 again!

Zom: Haven’t been to the comic shop yet – how did it all turn out, with Shade ‘n’ that? No spoilers!

Bots’wana Beast: I’m normally quite unmoved by ‘Cammo’ on arts, but he busted loose on this one. Best Hellblazer single ish in like a decade, I’d say.

TBMD: Totally agreed.

Bobsy: I’ve not read it yet, but basically if true then it’s more or less official: Milligan’s run on HB is the best, ever. Good for him. Good for us. Not good for John, but then things never are.

BB: Not sure if Best Ever but it’s definitely getting to a point where it’s worth thinking about it in those terms; I’d still opt for Ennis (I) at the top of the tree; poss nostalgia for all that unimaginable amount of brown in one comic.

Bobsy: Nah. Ennis wrote Hellblazer, and his riffs made Hellblazer more Ennis. Milligan wrote Hellblazer, and his riffs made Hellblazer more Hellblazer.

TBMD: In a fit of JC-nostalgia I dug out some old Jamie Delano Hellblazers – the Newcastle two-parter. It’s actually pretty great stuff – certainly the best thing Delano’s done (apart from maybe Captain Britain). Very, very influenced by Barker’s ‘the Books of Blood’ (but then who wasn’t in the 80′s?) and riddled with Thatcherite misery.

Bobsy: I think those old Nightraven one-pagers are the best thing Delano’s ever done. No room for the poetry.

TBMD: Oh man – the purple prose of those post-Moore pre-Vertigo comics!! It’s so ripe. I kind of miss it sometimes.


That Hellblazer: Rare Cuts book is a treat actually – you’ve got the two part Newcastle story, the Morrison two-parter, the utterly ace Diary of Danny Drake one-parter from Ennis and Lloyd, and the Delano and Phillips ‘Queenie’ one-off, which is about as grimy and nasty a Hellbalzer story as has been published.

Bobsy: Hellblazer was *brilliant*, really exciting, really nasty, totally comfortable with the characters and their reactions (good Chas work), art really pushed to the limit of the penciller’s style, really great all round. JoetB was good too.

6 Responses to “Review! Oooh! Hellblazer #267”

  1. Tweets that mention Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Review! Oooh! Hellblazer #268 (the one wot ‘as Shade in it) -- Topsy.com Says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Duncan Falconer, David Al. David Al said: The Mindless Ones on John Constantine, Peter Milligan, Hellblazer & the art of bastardry: http://bit.ly/al64Vi [...]

  2. Papers Says:

    NEXT ISSUE SHADE. I was terribly excited at that last page.

  3. The Beast Must Die Says:

    I was actually surprised at the thrill I got from it. So nice to actually give a fuck about a guest star.

  4. Bucky Sinister Says:

    Y’know, I didn’t care for the earliest parts of Milligan’s run, but I came back for the Bisley Sid Vicious two-parter, and have been pretty damn impressed. Looks like I might have to go digging through the back issues soon.

  5. The Satrap Says:

    Finally got this. The panel with poor Epiphany’s face all busted up was a blow, as in, it quite literally made me go “ouch”.

    …what men-who-beat-women (and those who make excuses for them) so often do: She brought it on herself…

    The comic has certainly done a good job of inviting the misogynist scum in every reader to come out and have a smoke. Constantine’s angsting in prior issues, over his being dangerous and needing to keep those close to him at arm’s length lest he hurt them yadda yadda, was designed to sound trite and ultimately harmless to any seasoned, jaded consumer of serialised comics. I turns out it was paving the way for this moment all along, daring us to show any sympathy for C. Milligan’s a right bastard.

  6. Yawn-Big Thrax's mate Says:

    weird that constantine grew out of a sting fanboy sketch by john totleben in the background of a swamp thing panel.

    got this hellblazer with fever 3 – the two best last pages i ever did see!
    (last page of fever, really, best ever last page!)

    loved the delano stuff with the travelling hippies. just fucking strange comics. lot of strange comics around at that time.

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