John Constantine, Hellblazer: The Devil You Know

January 17, 2009

hellblazer-2With this collection published in 2007, Hellblazer lovers can begin the long process of forgiving Vertigo for its absolute neglect of the series’s classic issues. After Original Sins in 1992, Vertigo had gone on to print Dangerous Habits from Garth Ennis’s run and then not looked back, issuing more from Ennis and other hip writers-of-the-moment like Warren Ellis, Brian Azzarello, Mike Carey, and Denise Mina. That’s right: if you had been wondering how John Constantine would fulfil his promise to Nergal and stop the Messiah’s coming, how he was going to double-cross Nergal and stop his triumph over good, and what that cryptic bargain with the Swamp Thing (who appeared in the last pages of Original Sins) was about, unless you caved in and invested in rare single issues, you would have waited a whole decade.

Sure, this oversight shows how new the genre of trade paperback really is, that there was a time when marketing wisdom somehow saw good sense not to be systematic, but it’s no excuse. The Devil You Know finally completes the Nergal arc in grand iconoclastic strokes: Constantine screws everyone literally and metaphorically, from the potential mother of God and the Swamp Thing’s lover (eeew!) to the demon Nergal and his own computer-geek friend Ritchie (we all have one), who he accidentally fried the last time. All the action finds a crucial centre in the famous-by-name Newcastle storyline, which pinpoints the exact moment after which everything grows more and more wrong in the magus’s life: it’s his secret origin tale, if you will. The volume then unwinds in Jamie Delano’s distinct off-beat style: he whips up an unexpected beautiful but haunting post-narrative narrative about nuclear apocalypse and the fragility of meaningless life…

Another radical level proceeds to break off here with a story revealing the trickster himself as an archetype, the age after King Arthur having its own version called Kon-Sten-Tyn (get it?). Let those know-nothings who babble on about Neil Gaiman’s originality read this irreverent gem with Merlin’s tale-spinning death-yearning head, and tell me that it isn’t the antecedent to Gaiman’s head of Orpheus, son of Morpheus the dream king. One more story, a final one which acclaimed artist of V for Vendetta David Lloyd illustrated, is strangely the least enjoyable for me. It lacks the right dose of visual perversity and, while Lloyd’s watercolours are a marvel to behold, for Hellblazer I say: give me Richard Piers Rayner and Mark Buckingham, or the initial John Ridgway and Alfredo Alcala, anytime!

Gweek casts this collection into another 10 eternities.


2 Responses to “John Constantine, Hellblazer: The Devil You Know”

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