May 25th, 2010
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.