Weeklies

Comic: "Hellblazer #11"
Published by: DC Comics
Written by: Jamie Delano
Artist: Richard Piers Rayner

Reviewer: Protoclown
Posted: 9/22/2008

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.

Overall rating: WholeWholeWholeWhole
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)

Reader Comments

Smooth Operator
Sep 22nd, 2008, 06:20 AM
My first experiences with Constantine were Alan Moores' Swap Thing stories. After that I started to scoop up all the stories Garth Ennis wrote. So for years I would read volumes all containing at least a slight mention of the Newcastle incident, without having a clue as to what went down. And I have to agree, after finally reading this issue, some of Constantines flaws make a lot more sense.
(And I still think the first two issues of the series were brilliant.)
Crazy dog woman
Sep 22nd, 2008, 03:04 PM
Yep, that one was really good. But I think that this book has seriously gone downhill since. It still shines time to time, but it has one big major problem, which is this: It has happened SO OFTEN by now that some city or town is possessed by evil forces, everyone there go on a kill/maim/raping spree and mass death ensues, that it's not even near shocking any longer. Rather you find yourself thinking something like "oh here we go again...". I don't like either that many writers nowaday portrays John as if he simply shook off lots of the bad stuff that happened to him. There was even a whole issue of the book dedicated to showing how he exorcised ("killed", because they had taken on physical form) a bunch of bad old memories. I don't know, I find it hard to care about that character any longer, the book has simply gone on for too long. But once it was really, really good.
Crazed Techno-Biologist
Sep 22nd, 2008, 11:42 PM
I really like hellblazer, its one of those comics that feel graphic novellish.
it seems though that his trick of summoning a bigger more bad ass demon seems to be his cureall.
though i do like how it usually ends up with some nice action sequences.
Crazy dog woman
Sep 23rd, 2008, 05:09 PM
It was great when Ennis first took over the book and gave him lung cancer. That's pretty unexptected for a comic book character.
pickled
Sep 24th, 2008, 07:07 PM
So what part of the comic was adapted into a shitty movie?