Hellblazer: Rebirth #1
Written by Simon Oliver
Art by Moritat and Andre Szymanowicz
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
After spending the recent years slinking around New York and Los Angeles while he hung out with superheroes during DC’s "New 52" era, Hellblazer: Rebirth #1 returns John Constantine to where he belongs — London. And quickly getting up to his old ways, Simon Oliver and Moritat tell a story of Constantine using other people as tools and props in an attempt to save his own life from a demonic, soul-stealing plague by inflicting all of London with that said plague. In this issue, which provides some course correction for the character of John Constantine, Oliver and Moritat demonstrate an understanding of the character of Alan Moore, Garth Ennis and Peter Milligan but also show just how ill-fitting the character is when he is regularly standing alongside superheroes like Wonder Woman and Shazam.
Moritat’s boozy, world-weary and constantly-one-step-ahead-of-everyone Constantine feels like the old, familiar S.O.B. who haunted our Hellblazer books like his own ghosts haunted him. One of those ghosts — maybe the oldest lover who really means anything to Constantine — is used to tempt our “hero” (I use the term loosely) to serve his own self-interest. In an issue filled with a lot of posturing and misdirection, the decadence of Moritat’s artwork reflects the moral ambiguity of the character and the story. Even when a handful of superheroes show up in the story, Moritat has them entering Constantine’s world as they look incredibly out of place in this comic. They don’t bring any sense of heroics, but instead stand out as characters who are not part part of the world of magic and demons. Constantine’s story isn’t about heroism or even redemption; it’s about temptation and survival, two character traits that Moritat captures perfectly in Constantine’s face.
While this comic feels like a visual return to the Vertigo glory days, Oliver’s story tries desperately to recall the Vertigo stories while having to serve the master of ultimately being a superhero title. Constantine may not be a superhero, but this version of the character exists in a superhero world and like so many times in the past, that neuters the character and the drama that may exist in his story. From the gratuitous and forced cameos of members of the Justice League to grating emoji-like swearing, Hellblazer: Rebirth #1 wants to be a Vertigo title in a DC Universe, and winds ends up being a watered-down version of anything it desires to be.
The new supporting characters and guest stars that Oliver brings into this story never become part of this story. As Oliver focuses on trying to capture the cheeky, dark flippancy of John Constantine, the demon that Constantine fights is never threatening. There’s nothing to the struggle so if Oliver is trying to define this new Constantine by his enemies, the character is left wanting for some more solid and better definition. This demon is more of an obstacle than a threat. Oliver also introduces Mercury, a magical psychic, but like the demon, she’s given no real role in the story. She’s introduced, shows up and performs her narrative function but who cares? There’s no rhyme or reason for anyone other than Constantine to show up in this comic.
Hellblazer: Rebirth #1 reflects a view of John Constantine that wants to recapture the creepy glory of the character. Visually, Moritat produces an issue that feels like it could be the next issue of the Vertigo Hellblazer series that lasted for 300 issues. And while Oliver appears to have a similar goal, his story tries to be an amalgam of classic Constantine and "New 52" Constantine. Instead of being a return to form, Hellblazer: Rebirth #1 ends up being more of a hesitant half-step, reminding everyone that for as dark and dangerous John Constantine can potentially be, this version of the character still exists in a bright world of capes and cowls.