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Story: Mike Carey
Art: Marcelo Frusin

For a moment, the Tim Bradstreet cover this month might make you think you're looking at a different book.

The giant Hellblazer logo kind of gives it away, but the rest is strikingly Gothic, in the Old World sense of the word. Tall columns and arches in deep despairing blue, a stone staircase leading up to a warm door glowing orange, saying "sanctuary" but also "inferno," a reading intensified by the shadowy hooded figure lurking on the stoop next to a sign reading YOU HAVE BEEN JUDGED.

Bradstreet's always a pleasure, but this cover is unusually lucid, remarkably expressive of the content within. That content being that Mike Carey seems determined to put the Hell back in Hellblazer.

This is no surprise, given recent storylines and of course Carey's involvement with Lucifer -- it's just the latest trend in the winning streak this book has been on. In more fallout from the psychic earthquake visited on the world by the Beast Who Would Not Be Named, we find a cult set up in an abandoned church, taking in the homeless, giving them food, shelter, a sunny disposition, and an unusual type of communion.

The amnesiac John Constantine, himself basically homeless now, is taken in by two lovely smiling acolytes and, unbeknownst to anyone involved, is about to run into yet another old acquaintance he can't recognize -- but who certainly recognizes him.

We're in more familiar narrative territory here than with the last few issues. Carey opens with a doomed stranger who goes where Constantine is about to go and meets an unpleasant fate;
we get another visit from Rosacarnis to remind viewers just tuning in that she's offered our hero a literal devil's bargain; there's a scene where Constantine's tendency to hurt everyone around him flares up again (beginning to smack of self-parody); then there's the "old friend/enemy" scene at the end. It's pretty predictable stuff, but it's effective, baffling at every turn Constantine's efforts to escape his past.

That sign on Bradstreet's cover raises an interesting point.

Constantine's success in riding the line between hero and anti-hero hinges on the fact that we are rarely called upon to judge him by his actions. It's not as though his friends always drop dead by sheer accident; flip all the way back to the very first storyline of the series, written by Jamie Delano. Sure, Constantine is only trying to save the world, but he seems awfully quick to sacrifice his ostensible friends. The current plot thread seems poised to bring his cavalier past to judgment, asking, for perhaps the first time with any serious doubt, whether those who hate the man don't have a pretty good reason to condemn him.

You can see him as the clever badass who always wins -- the way Brian Azzarello always presented him, for instance -- or you can see him as the reckless selfish bastard who makes everyone else lose. Just a few issues away from #200, it's a good time to revisit this obvious but central question.

Frusin's art seems more vivid and expressive this time around, the beatific smiles on the girls who find Constantine and take him in being the most memorable example.


Andrew Simchik


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