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Sunday, August 28, 2011

John Constantine – Hellblazer: Stations of the Cross



Title: John Constantine – Hellblazer: Stations of the Cross



ISBN: 1401210023

Price: $14.99

Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2006

Artist: Leonardo Manco, Chris Brunner, Marcelo Frusin, Steve Dillon

Writer: Mike Carey

Collects: Hellblazer #194-200


Rating: 3/5


John Constantine has lost his memory, to the extent that he can't even recall his own name. But unfortunately for him, Hell remembers him all too well. Constantine is in London in the aftermath of what looks like a bomb blast when he encounters Rose, a young girl with burns on her arm, trying to do some fishing amongst all the chaos and destruction. He takes Rose to the hospital, which is busy and crowded with disaster victims.



However Rose isn't all she appears to be. Moreover, Constantine manages to come to the attention of a large man with a love of violence. This guy seems to know everyone's darkest secrets, and he enjoys telling them the awful truth about themselves, preferably just before they die. This graphic novel is bloody, flinch-inducing and dark, therefore not recommended for younger readers.



Like the main character, the reader is left disoriented by events. Stations of the Cross is best read in the context of the previous Hellblazer trades, although since the plot deals with memory loss it can also be enjoyed as a stand-alone work.



Constantine tends to attract demons, and he finds that people around him are likely to die all too often. This graphic novel is full of a gritty oddness, and it's somewhat reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's Sandman series (Mike Carey has written some comic strips set in the Sandman universe), although it has less in the way of familiar mythological references. This work mixes dark magic with modern times.



Constantine blunders, or is pushed, into the premises of a cultish church led by a charismatic "savior". The chain-smoking occult antihero is faced with enemies from this world and the netherworld, and he's without his usual abilities. He's in the dark, unable to do much more than act like a victim. But his battle is about much more than mere physical threats. John also has to deal with temptation when he's offered a way out, although the price could well be higher than he can imagine.



It's drawn by a number of different artists, so it doesn't have the consistent look of a single artist's work, which is a shame. The mood is macabre, with the reddish tint of Hell predominant. The visual aspect is reasonably well done and always clear; although this is probably not something you would read purely for its artwork.



Constantine is a cynical character who manages to maintain a black sense of humor in the face of demons, adversity, and the threat of death or worse. But of all his enemies his worst one is usually himself, which is one thing that makes Constantine so likeable. His misadventures in Stations of the Cross should hit the right note for fans of dark and edgy occult horror.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

John Constantine – Hellblazer: Reasons to be Cheerful




Title: John Constantine – Hellblazer: Reasons to be Cheerful



ISBN: 9781401212513

Price: $14.99

Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2005

Artist: Leonardo Manco, Giuseppe Camuncoli

Writer: Mike Carey

Collects: Hellblazer #201-203




Rating: 3/5




Hellblazer is really one of the great success stories in modern comics. Introduced as a minor character (an annoying one at that) in Swamp Thing, John Constantine got his own series in 1988 and will soon be celebrating its 20th anniversary. Contrast that with so many far more well-known comic characters who have had multiple failed series in that timeframe. What has seemingly kept Hellblazer chugging along for two decades is the outstanding consistency of the writing and art, and the uncanny continuity of the storylines no matter who is writing them. This is also a series that is perfect suited to be collected in trade paperback format as the complex storylines work better when read in a single sitting.



“Reasons to be Cheerful” collects issues #201 – 206 of the regular series. The title story makes up the four-issue meat of the book while the outer pieces of bread unfortunately don’t fit as well…like a ham sandwich on raisin bread…The opening tale is perfectly fine…a solid story…it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the book. When a trio of thieves break into a storage unit owned by Constantine, they make off with a bracelet that holds doom for whomever touches it’s black stone. A nice, cursed artifact type tale.



In the main story, Constantine’s trio of offspring by his unholy union with the demoness Rosacarnis have been unleashed on the world, determined to make their father’s life a true Hell on Earth. But rather than attack him directly, they instead hurt Constantine where it matters most…by killing all of the people that he cares fore, one by one, and often in the most gruesome ways. Constantine finds aid in an unknown ally…a demonic presence who has hidden himself within the body of Constantine’s pal, Chas. But this presence is keeping its true identity a secret for now.



Constantine is brought about as low by these attacks as we’ve ever seen him. He can handle any attacks on himself but the attacks on his loved ones, including his girlfriend Angie, and niece Gemma, show off a vulnerable side to his humanity that we’ve rarely seen. Unfortunately, if you want to read the climax to this story you’ll have to buy the next trade paperback that comes out because the end of this book segues directly into the next, without benefit of even a hint of a conclusion. I guess one can see it from DC’s prospective. Putting the entire story into one book would have doubled its size and trades generally collect only four to eight issues. Still, it left me disappointed a bit, and now, having to wait impatiently until the next volume comes out.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Preacher: Alamo

Title: Preacher: Alamo



ISBN: 9781563897153

Price: $17.99

Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2001

Artist: Steve Dillon

Writer: Garth Ennis

Collects: Preacher 59-66



Rating: 4/5



If you’ve made it this far through Ennis and Dillon’s epic nine-volume Preacher series, we’re sure you don’t need us to persuade you to purchase this final volume. Featuring the last eight issues of the monthly comic, this book contains Jesse’s showdown with everyone – Cassidy, the Saint of Killers, Herr Starr and God himself.



Naturally there are some loose ends to tie and Ennis doesn’t disappoint, ending the series as bloodily but as satisfyingly as you might hope. Some burning questions are answered, such as what’s going to happen to Arseface, will Featherstone’s love for Herr Starr come to fruition and what’s under Cassidy’s sunglasses?



There’s no let up on either the pace or the action in this book. You may not see quite so many grievous injuries as you’ve seen in the previous volumes but the characters that drop in this book aren’t just cannon fodder, they’re the people we’ve been following all along. Ennis clearly isn’t afraid of pulling a few surprises and we’re all the happier for it.



It’s a suitable climax to an awesome series that’s far more than a sum of its parts. If you haven’t read the previous volumes and you’re not scared of a bit of violent action, pick up the first one or two and check out its genre-busting genius. It won’t be long before you’ve read through the rest and are picking up this volume to check out the ending.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Preacher: All Hell’s A-Coming

Title: Preacher: All Hell’s A-Coming



ISBN: 9781563896170

Price: $17.99

Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2000

Artist: Steve Dillon, John McCrea

Writer: Garth Ennis

Collects: Preacher 51-58, Preacher: Tall in the Saddle



Rating: 4/5



If ever there was a good argument for creating comics as finite series, rather than the never-ending cycle of many superhero titles, Preacher is it. In this penultimate volume Ennis ties up loose ends, leaving only Custer’s showdown with Cassidy, Starr and God left to cover in the final chapter.



Regular readers will be perfectly aware of Ennis’ use of flashback to flesh out characters’ back-stories, and in this volume we see both Tulip’s childhood and a new side to Cassidy’s murky past. There’s also a brief journey into the early criminal career of Jesse and Tulip, though given its location at the end of the book it could almost be described as anti-climatic.



Preacher wouldn’t be Preacher without some gratuitous violence and All Hell’s A-Coming has it in spades, doing its usual good work of providing shock value in a series that you would be excused for thinking had few surprises left. But again it’s the personalities that make this a fascinating read. We’ve come to know the main characters so well we’re hooked, desperate to know what happens next. Ennis may take us round the houses to his ultimate conclusion but it’s a neighborhood that’s worth of a visit.



Dillon’s artwork is wonderful as ever, as comfortable with long conversations as he is with bone-crunching violence – the perfect foil to Ennis’ scripts. But it’s the characters, their relationships and the damage they can do to one another that draw us into this story yet again.

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