Comic: "Hellblazer #11"
Published by: DC Comics
Written by: Jamie Delano
Artist: Richard Piers Rayner
Plot: Investigating rumors of a paranormal disturbance, John Constantine and his friends who dabble in the occult learn that a young girl who was sexually abused by her occultist father inadvertently summoned a terror elemental to kill those who abused her. Constantine in his arrogance tries to get rid of the elemental by summoning a bigger, badder demon, but things go horribly wrong.
Review: I reviewed the first nine issues of Hellblazer a while back, and I said that one of DC's best horror/occult titles got off to a rather mediocre start. It's true that most of the early issues don't hold a candle to the stuff that comes later, except for issue #11, "Newcastle", which finally gives us a glimpse of the greatness that's to come.
In fact, given the extremely fucked up content of this issue, I'm quite surprised that something like this was seen as publishable in the time before Vertigo where, despite the "Mature Readers" label, even things like cursing were verboten.
This issue finally delivers the flashback story of the horrific tragedy that took place at Newcastle, which was referenced many times in the early issues of the series but never explained until now. The events shown in this story perfectly illustrate why John Constantine's life became such a tragic mess and why he seems cursed to fail, no matter how good his intentions may be. His undying cynicism makes perfect sense after reading this story, which is why this issue is a must-read to understand the background of the character.
If I have any complaint about this issue, it's the art, and a good portion of that isn't even the artist's fault. He shies away from showing some of the more disturbing events, which wouldn't so much bother me if it was an artistic choice, but the way the images are portrayed and framed in the story I get the strong impression that this was an editorial choice rather than an artistic one. DC was clearly only willing to publish this story if certain events were hinted at rather than explicitly shown (and I do applaud them for even publishing that much back in the relatively tame 1988), and while I don't particularly care to see in detail one of the character's being ass raped by a demonic dog, the absolutely critical-to-the-story arm amputation at the end is rather glossed over and doesn't carry the gravity that it should due to the artwork shying away from it. The attempted symbolism of the doll arm in the present-day sequence doesn't have the impact that it should because of this. Again, this is not the artist's fault, but I still can't help but feel it detracts from the power of the story.
What is the artist's fault however is the depiction of Constantine's friends in the flashback story--while their hairstyles and manner of dress are no doubt meant to appear a little dated, it's taken a little too far and they come across as goobers and dorks, which makes it a little harder to take the story as seriously as it deserves. I realize that Piers Raynor was merely following the character designs introduced by original series artist John Ridgway, but given the time differences between the present and the flashbacks, I think he could have taken some liberties and changed their appearances a bit.
This is probably one of the five single most important issues of Hellblazer in terms of encapsulating the spirit of the series and what the protagonist is all about, so if you like John Constantine at all but haven't read this, you're missing a vital piece of the puzzle that you should really seek out. Fortunately, this issue has finally been collected in The Devil You Know trade paperback (the rest of the stories within are of varying quality), so it's easy enough to get your hands on without having to hunt through back issue bins.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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