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Sunday, March 23, 2014

John Constantine, Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits

Title:
John Constantine, Hellblazer: Dangerous
Habits







ISBN:
9781563891502


Price:
$14.99


Publisher/Year:
Vertigo, 1996


Artist: William Simpson


Writer:
Garth Ennis


Collects:
Hellblazer #41-46





Rating:
3/5





For
those unfamiliar with series, it deals with the character John Constantine, a
trench-coated Liverpudlian transplanted to London who dabbles -- quite
successfully, usually -- in various arcane arts. He deals with demons, consorts
with angels, argues with ghosts and generally involves himself in supernatural
goings-on that sane people should avoid. If he sounds like someone who'd be fun
to know, bear in mind that most of the people he calls friends seem to end up
dead ... often under horrible, and likely quite painful, circumstances.





Constantine
is also a chain smoker. It was, perhaps, an affectation of early artists; it
looks suitably atmospheric to have him lighting up in tense moments or tossing
his smoldering butts in the face of danger. But smoking, as we all know in this
enlightened age, has its price. And in Dangerous Habits, Constantine -- not yet
40 years old -- learns that he is dying of lung cancer.





Suddenly,
his magic doesn't seem quite so magical. Walking life on the edge is one thing,
but knowing you're about to be pushed over that edge is another.





The
manner in which Constantine approaches his condition, and the method by which
he eventually attempts to change it, is at times a white-knuckled page turner.
It's also funny, and heart-warming, and annoying. There are times you want to
give John a good belt to the jaw, and there are times you want to shake his
hand and buy him a pint.





Ennis'
writing is incisive and passionate, witty and deep. He gives us a Constantine
who is at the same time fiercely self-reliant and extremely needy, indestructible
and vulnerable, equally insensitive and loyal to his friends. The small touches
(like another passenger's breakfast while crossing the Irish Sea and
Constantine's final salute to his unwilling benefactors) give the story a kind
of breadth rarely seen in comics. And Ennis' presentation of Satan (in various
incarnations) and at least one earthbound angel are ... well, somewhat
startling.





There
are two particularly memorable, emotional subplots in this collection. One
involves Matt, an aging fellow cancer sufferer, and the other introduces us to
Brendan, an Irish wizard of sorts and a friend of Constantine's who, above all
else, loves a good pint of Guinness. (Well, he is Irish, after all.)





Of
course, comics are ultimately a graphic medium, and the finest story is lost
without solid artwork. Although Ennis' writing would later be better paired
with artist Steve Dillon (in later runs of Hellblazer and the even more
disturbing series, Preacher), this run was handled admirably by William
Simpson. The characters are just to one side of looking perfectly realistic,
their facial expressions are vivid and evocative, and the backgrounds are
suitable for whatever setting Constantine finds himself in, be it grungy
downtown London, rural Ireland or various points of Hell on Earth. Inkers
including Mark Pennington, Tom Sutton and Malcolm Jones III completed the
picture, making this all in all an engrossing read.





Staunchly
religious readers might be uncomfortable with some aspects of the book, and
they may find their beliefs handled at times in unflattering ways. Then again,
the occult nature of the Hellblazer series should probably keep those readers
away in the first place.

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