For someone who was around when the Vertigo imprint was first created, and has been a fixture of the line from that point on, it’s actually a little surprising that Peter Milligan’s never actually written a full issue of “Hellblazer” before now. There’s been the occasional short story, and three issues of a guest-appearance in Milligan’s “Shade, the Changing Man” back in the day, but this felt like it should be a rather big deal. So why, then, did this feel a bit flat?
After a couple readings of the issue, I think it’s because Milligan’s first issue somehow feels like we’ve missed the issue right beforehand. The end result is that while “Hellblazer” #251 is paced like it’s the first part of a new story, the events feel like it’s somehow further along. Constantine already has a new girlfriend, the lovely Phoebe who works as a doctor in an emergency ward and doesn’t bat an eye at Constantine’s demon blood or occult exploits. And the strange scab that’s crawling all over Constantine’s body? It’s already there.
Part of me wants to commend Milligan on ignoring what would otherwise be a slow build up. I like the idea that he’s already met her, that things are already happening, that we’re going to hit the ground running. At the same time, though, Milligan seems to simultaneously be pulling back from that idea, with a slow pace for the first half of the book that seems to only really start moving as we near the conclusion. It’s that latter half that saves “Hellblazer” #251 in the end, when it comes to story. The exact set-up may be a bit of cliche, but Milligan sells it so well that I honestly don’t mind. It’s creepy and makes me want to read the next issue, and that’s exactly what “Hellblazer” should do.
On the other hand, Guiseppi Camuncoli and Stefano Landini’s art is strong the whole way through the book. I’ve always loved Camuncoli’s art since his work on the Brian K. Vaughan-written “Swamp Thing,” and I think that Camuncoli’s work with Landini is the best we’ve seen yet. His Ekimmu-as-little-girl is positively disconcerting, and Constantine himself has a great mixture of toughness and vulnerability on his face that is in many ways the quintessence of the character. And like I’d said before, the end scene is a bit of a cliche, but Camuncoli and Landini absolutely nail it. Between Phoebe’s expressions and what’s happening around her, it brings Milligan’s script to life in a way that just feels creepy.
Now that Milligan’s fully installed on “Hellblazer,” hopefully next issue will be full speed ahead. I’ve read enough of Milligan’s other comics in the past to know that he’s certainly capable of greatness here. With any lucky, we’ll get it before we know it.