The Hellblazer #1
Written by Simon Oliver
Art by Moritat and Andre Szymanowicz
Letters by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
A little bit of grounding goes a long way for The Hellblazer #1. Though not as flashy as Constantine: The Hellblazer, writer Simon Oliver uses John’s rich history to deliver a debut that reads more in line with his Vertigo adventures and less like his spell-slinging "New 52" era. Artist Moritat along with colorist Andre Szymanowicz also jibe well with Oliver’s slower approach to the character, with smooth character designs and all sorts of foggy colors as John attempts to make good on old promises all toward the goal of returning to his beloved London. With plenty of noir-like narration and a down-to-earth approach to magic, The Hellblazer #1 is a welcome return for fandom’s favorite magical bastard.
After a cold open set during the inciting incident of World War I that hints at the title’s first immortal antagonist, Simon Oliver quickly shifts to present-day London until the issue’s violent epilogue. Though both the opening scene and ending note are interesting enough, Oliver is much more concerned with resetting Constantine’s status quo, and the title is all the stronger for it.
Clearly shaken by the events of Constantine: The Hellblazer, this new John is still the sardonic, self-destructive trickster we all know and love, but through Oliver’s narration, he reveals a newly depressive personality hiding behind the quips and Silk Cuts. This new downturn in his personality is a stark change from the flirty, suave Constantine that was gallivanting around New York in his last run, and while this characterization could wear thin in future issues, Oliver’s Constantine feels like the broken mage of the Jamie Delano or Mike Carey eras of Hellblazer.
But while Constantine is grappling with depression, there are still things to do and debts that must be paid. Enter Swamp Thing, who comes to John seeking his missing love, Abby, who has gone missing from her place inthe Rot. It is here where Simon Oliver starts to use John’s sorted history to his advantage, as well as deliver a plot worthy of the old era of Constantine plots. By dropping a few weighty hints about John and Alec’s pasts, including an infamous issue of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing as well as Swamp Thing’s more recent solo title written by Scott Snyder and Charles Soule, Oliver connects The Hellblazer to the Vertigo era and the timbre of his old characterization in a way that feels substantial. This is works in his favor especially after the attempted whitewashing of his past when he made the jump to the main DC roster.
More than that, John’s first “case” out of the gate is a simple occult-themed missing persons case. While the "New 52" attempted to turn John into some sort of battle mage, the last run on the title returned Constantine to the rough-and-tumble street magician that he should have been all along. Simon Oliver continues that trend and depowers John further, as most of this title’s action is relegated to legwork and calling in favors from people who would rather seem him strung up by his bootstraps. That is the kind of Constantine that I want to read, and The Hellblazer #1 provides that in spades.
Hammering home the more street-level take on the character is artist Moritat and colorist Andre Szymanowicz. While they aren’t given much weirdness to work with during this debut, Moritat’s polished and emotive style feels tonally in sync with Oliver’s more thoughtful, action light version of Constantine. Also in sync are the colors of Szymanowicz who shifts from coppery, vintage photo looking tones for the opening into a hazy almost greyscale set of colors for John, Chas, and Swamp Thing’s romp through the English countryside. Though a stark contrast from the wiry style of Riley Rossmo, Moritat and Andre Szymanowicz work well together and provide The Hellblazer with a visual shift that fits the narrative shift quite well.
After some fits and starts with the "New 52" and a return to form as he stalked New York, The Hellblazer #1 continues to move John Constantine back to a place where readers want him; on the streets and pulling fast ones on those more powerful than him. Simon Oliver, Moritat, and Andre Szymanowicz strike a nice balance between what came before and what lies ahead from the trench-coated magus with a focus on character, slick pencils, and moody colors. Things may be quiet for now, but it is only a matter of time before the dam breaks and John Constantine is standing where he always it, at the center of the whole bloody mess.