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Hellblazer #194
Story: Mike Carey
Art: Leonardo Manco

From the first page you know this is going to be fun: there's a hulking bruiser crouched in a public toilet over a terrified middle-aged man he's tied up and gagged and laid out on the cold hard tile. The bruiser's got a gun, but he puts it away and gets out a knife. "I hate guns," he says. "Killing someone with a gun -- that's like shagging
with a rubber on."

John Constantine has been gallivanting all around the world and he's finally ended up in London with nothing to do. Good job, too, because if you remember last issue, you know he doesn't: amnesia, son. It's the stuff of soap opera plots, but it makes for the best opening to a Hellblazer story arc in a long time.

Things didn't quite get back to normal after the near-apocalypse of last issue. As the credits were rolling there was still a lot of cleanup to be done, much of London and presumably the world tending to those dead and wounded at the psychic hands of the Beast. We get an idea of how bad it's been when the first person Constantine meets is a little girl with extensive burns calmly fishing in a waterway with a body floating facedown in plain view. He takes her with him to the hospital, where he attracts the dangerous attention of the aforementioned big bruiser.

The hospital staff quickly work out who Constantine is from his police records, and while they are able to jog his memory, he can't quite make the connection himself. See, there's someone else in the hospital who doesn't want him to remember, and they're willing to frame him for murder to prevent it.

Okay, so we know he's going to get his memory back eventually, and he's been to prison once for murder so it's unlikely to happen again, but still, this is the sort of horror -- specific, character-driven, disorienting -- that belongs in this series.

Anybody can look good as a top-of-his-game occultist in a trenchcoat fighting ancient evil, but
it takes a Constantine to lose his memory and end up between a psychic, psychotic killer and a demon with a grudge and still be a sure bet to finish first.

Carey's dialogue seems especially trenchant this time around, with some good double meanings you might miss the first time around. Leonardo Manco takes over the art just in time, giving the scenes a surreal tilt with sharp lines and nightmare camera angles.


Neotopia 3.1
Story and Art: Rod Espinosa

There's been a brief intermission since the previous volume, but it feels like we've never been away. Page two is another of those breathtaking full-page panels, a fleet of airships gliding into a mountain valley like enormous, airborne Portuguese men o'war. After some of the claustrophobic shadowy horror comics and the fire-and-spandex superhero sagas I read, a book with art as bright and expansive as this is music to the eyes.

This chapter begins with the discovery of yet another pocket kingdom of Neotopia, on the way to which the character development continues. Nalyn is beginning to feel the pressures of command as she struggles to keep discipline among the growing crew of tagalongs and against the temptations and mesmerizing effects of the ancient technology restored by Sergeant Philios.

The pocket kingdom turns out to be a tribe peopled by members of the Elfirin race (the name says it -- we're supposed to read them as elves). There's an Elfirin among Nalyn's crew, who suddenly finds himself contrasting his Mathenian upbringing with the arcane skills and traditions of the tribe. As usual, Espinosa easily avoids being too heavy-handed or too casual with any of his themes; though the elven tribe skirts the edge of cliche, the narrative flow is natural and real.

However, there is more soul-searching by Nimn the brownie, I'm afraid. It's beginning to feel a little twee and I hope Espinosa has a plan for where this subplot is going. He has such a steady hand with the rest of it that I don't doubt him here, but man, I got fed up with Faerie
back when Books of Magic got its own series.

The only other thing I worry about is the looming Statue of Liberty in the background of the cover illustration. It sure looks like we're leading up to the sort of scene where Charlton Heston would sink to his knees on the beach railing against the "damn dirty apes." This sort of explicit connection really isn't necessary, since the analogies are obvious enough, but it might not be too big of a letdown if handled with as much grace and subtlety as the rest of the story.


Andrew Simchik


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