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Advance Review: Hellblazer #189

Hellblazer #189
writer: Mike Carey
artist: Marcelo Frusin

For a long-running story to work, it has to be accessible enough for new readers to jump right in, without boring old fans with repeated exposition. It helps when an established character has a back story easily summarized in a sentence or two and then everybody can move on.

In the case of the bitter Brit John Constantine (does anybody actually call him Hellblazer?), he's so simple that he can be adapted into film and played by Keanu Reeves, and really, it may not be nearly as painful as it sounds. Why? Because at the heart of the character, it just comes down to this: he dabbles at the edge of magic, and everybody around him gets screwed. Oh, yeah, and in the bigger scheme of things, it's usually for the best.

He's no grown-up Harry Potter. For Constantine, there's a Voldemort lurking around every corner, and it doesn't matter how many he's beaten in the past.

So as excitement (?) grows about the Hellblazer film, actually called Constantine for now, DC offers up #189 - that's a lot of friends getting dragged down to Hell. But you don't need to know that, as Mike Carey understands what makes a Constantine story work. Though the scruffy mage is clearly a major player, we need to get hooked by the horror first.

And Carey hooks us, giving us little glimpses of madness, daring the reader to find the pattern. If you've seen this sort of thing before, then you're no stranger to Constantine's world. And if you're new, welcome to it.

This arc, "Staring At The Wall," introduces a group of magi gathered together in a ruined building. Clearly, they know each other by some name, though Carey later makes a point that of course, in magic, names are too powerful to be tossed about lightly. Though we may not know them, they all know Constantine, whether by reputation or unpleasant experience. (For the record, only Zatanna, not included here, seems to have had any pleasant experiences with the guy.)

Where they fit in the grand scheme of things is only hinted at, as Carey shifts the action to an insane asylum, and an innocent-seeming young woman who also knows Constantine. Of course, the emphasis should be on "seeming."

There's also hideous cruelty to animals, random murdering, and a large shadow wolf. In all, a good start to a horror story, and if any of these characters have appeared before, it doesn't matter. Carey gives us everything we need to know.

To match this new storyline is a new artist, Marcelo Frusin, clearly of European influence. This book has had a lot of classic illustrators on it, but Frusin just might make a mark. Penciling and inking, his work has a few manga elements to it, particularly in Constantine himself, but overall carries the feeling of DC's horror stories of the early seventies, when artists like Berni Wrightson and Alfredo Alcala curdled our senses. (It's a compliment.)

Major media will be paying attention to Hellblazer as the film nears release. If you're not already reading, this makes an excellent place to start. I'm hoping it follows through.


Derek McCaw

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