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John Constantine, Hellblazer, Vol. 1: Original Sins Paperback – March 8, 2011
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About the Author
Born in 1954, Jamie Delano has made a diverse, cross-genre contribution to the comic book medium, scripting—over some 25 years—both original works (World Without End, Tainted, Ghostdancing, Hell Eternal, Cruel and Unusual, Territory, Outlaw Nation) and publisher-owned properties (Captain Britain, Dr Who, Night Raven, Hellblazer, Animal Man, Batman, Shadowman). He is currently practicing for retirement, living in semi-rural England with his partner, Sue.
John Ridgway is a British comics artist whose work is immediately distinctive for its unusual realism coupled with a delicate, sketchy pencil line. Ridgway has been responsible for creating the look for a number of series, including Hellblazer, and has worked on iconic characters including Doctor Who and the Incredible Hulk. He was also the artist chosen to depict Judge Dredd without his helmet for the first and only time in the character's history.
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Hellblazer tells the story of John Constantine; a cynical, foul-mouthed, chain-smoking, Liverpudlian magician, con-man, and occult detective who protects humanity from black magic and demons. Despite being a master sorcerer, he rarely ever uses magic. This is because unlike most people, John understand the dangers of his art. He chooses to only use magic as a last resort, instead relying on his talent for manipulation to get himself out of bad situations. Batman may be the world's greatest detective, but John Constantine is the world's greatest con-man. This talent makes him a very morally ambiguous character. He'll save hundreds of people, but manipulate and use them in order to do it. He's not a hero and he doesn't try to be, he's just a guy making a living doing what he does best. Unfortunately this living has been the death of several close friends who continue to haunt him years later. John Constantine is a brilliant character. Despite being morally ambiguous you can't help but love him and hope he wins. Even if you don't like the story, Hellblazer is worth reading just because of its protagonist.
This book contains the first nine issues of the comic, referred to as the Original Sins arc. The story is very episodic, the issues being only loosely connected to each other. Together they serve as an excellent introduction to the world of Hellblazer. It's a bleak world full of demons and fools who would sell their souls just for a taste of magic and the chaos that comes with it. It's a world where the good guys don't always win, and even when they do it isn't always a happy ending. In one chapter, an entire town is torn apart while John watches in horror. Another shows a demon that could easily end civilization, and to stop it John has to do something horrible. Of course Hellblazer isn't all depressing. There is actually a lot of humor, usually provided by the cynical protagonist. Not only that, but when John does win, it's usually by completely outsmarting his enemies. There is a lot of variety in the chapters, something I really appreciated. They aren't the greatest stories I've ever read, but they were still very enjoyable. Jamie Delano's writing is excellent; it's obvious why people consider him the definitive Hellblazer author.
The artwork by John Ridgway was great as well. While I waited for the book to be delivered to my house I read the first few pages on my kindle and, to be honest, I really didn't like it. However once I actually got the book and started reading, I began to appreciate the art a lot more. Personally, I think it suits the world of Hellblazer very well and I'm going to be a bit disappointed when I finish Ridgway's run. Unfortunately I'm sure a lot of people aren't going to like the artwork as it hasn't aged nearly as well as other comic from the 80's.
This book also contains two issues of Swamp Thing, the series John Constantine first appeared in. I'm not very familiar with Swamp Thing, but the two issues were entertaining enough and extra content like this is always great
The book itself is good quality. The cover art is done by Jim Lee and looks awesome while also giving people who haven't read it a good idea of what's inside. The pages are average-quality and nothing special, something I've come to expect from Vertigo after reading a couple other books of theirs. The book was in perfect condition when it arrived, however the packaging wasn't the best I've seen and it looked like it could have easily been ruined on the trip. No harm was done of course, but I think they could have put more effort into making it secure.
Overall John Constantine, Hellblazer Volume 1 was excellent. The main character is fantastic. So fantastic that after I finished reading the book I immediately wanted to buy Volume 2 just to see more of him. The story and artwork, while not the best I have ever seen, are both enjoyable and you get a lot of content for a low price (I've paid the same for comics that were half as long). Like most comics from Vertigo, Hellblazer is not for kids. It's a horror-mystery story full of disturbing monsters, morally-questionable characters, and other adult content. Personally I'd recommend it for ages 15 or older, but that's just me. If you're a fan of horror, detective-fiction, or stories involving the occult and supernatural, then you owe it to yourself to read John Constantine, Hellblazer.
Some stories do have a touch of Alan Moore which seems to have effected Delano as does the grittiness of some like Miller. Moore's politics seem closer to Delano's despite the latter seeming love of seedy and the gritty, and this really shows up in "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," which digs into the social damage of the Vietnam war in an effective but ultimately not very deep way. Moore would linger more but Delano does not.
The art is dark, messy, and slight oft, but hasn't aged as well as one would hope. It is more gritty than noir, and sometimes the figure work seems sloppy and the demons cartoonish. That said, the original muted colors are crucial, and I am glad they are maintained here. The styles seem root it in the 1980s but some of the art is distractingly inconsistently drawn and feels even older than it is.
The Swamp Thing stories seem to break the continuity a bit, and while it is nice to see Delano's work, the context for them is largely lacking. Overall, this is a very inconsistent volume but the promise of the character is definitely there.