Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hell House of Lords

John Constantine Hellblazer: Original Sins (Revised Edition), written by Jamie Delano and Rick Veitch, illustrated by John Ridgway, Rick Veitch, Tom Mandrake, Alfredo Alcala, Brett Ewins and Jim McCarthy (1988-89; collected 2011): Liverpudlian occult investigator and magician John Constantine's first solo adventures (he'd been introduced in Swamp Thing by Alan Moore, Rick Veitch, Steve Bissette and others in the mid-1980's) get a new collection here, with two stories from Swamp Thing added to the volume.

Writer Jamie Delano really made the character his, giving Constantine an even more jaded and cynical bent. But Constantine, a dangerous man who gets his companions killed, a lot, nonetheless fights the malign schemes of Heaven and Hell alike. And protecting humanity requires a lot of booze and a lot of cigarettes.

And a lot of politics. Thatcher's Great Britain and Reagan's America are the primary settings for Delano's initial 40-issue run on the title, and both places are drenched in blood and intimately and intricately tied to the apocalyptic plans of Heaven and Hell. Good times, good times!

Delano had a real flair for twisted updatings of traditional supernatural threats. His demons are stockbrokers in souls and day traders in damnation, literally at points. Soccer hooligans get transformed into hideous monsters. Computers strain to reach the shores of Heaven. Heaven has put a new group on the board, the Resurrection Crusade, believing it destined to create the next Messiah. Hell has countered with the Damnation Army, led by long-time Constantine nemesis Nergal.

Constantine also faces an ancient hunger demon in New York and a horrifying resurrection of Viet Nam veterans in the American heartland when he's not stalking the nightmarish streets of jolly old England. John Ridgway's art is, for my money, the best Constantine ever had in his own book -- grimy, realistic, grotesque. It perfectly suits Delano's exploration of Constantine's damned yet heroic psyche, and the terrible new ways evil works in the go-go 1980's. How Hollywood got a Keanu Reaves movie out of this is anyone's guess. Highly recommended.

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