The first thing you’ll note about this issue (and last issue, since this is the second installment in a two-part story) is that this isn’t the Simon Bisley you’ve seen before. Bisley doesn’t go for the extremely distorted figures and violent etchings in this “Hellblazer” arc. He doesn’t give John Constantine rippling muscles and a tiny waist. He doesn’t draw the comic as if he’s obsessively filling in the corners of his school notebook in the art class detention hall.
That Simon Bisley may be long gone, for all know. I haven’t really kept up with his work in the past decade.
His work on “Hellblazer” #266 is softer than anything I’ve seen from him before. It’s a bit like Richard Corben mixed with Tan Eng Huat mixed with Drew Friedman, using pencil and charcoal instead of ink. With Brian Buccellato on colors, we get a haunting, dreamlike, still-grotesque-but-not-like-1990s-Bisley series of images about John Constantine’s punk lifestyle, then and now. It’s an effective look for the issue, certainly. But the scent of faint nostalgia gives me a longing for the harsh edges and hyperbolic excesses of the old Bisley style. It would have given this story a mania that might have made it something truly insane. As it stands now, it’s just mildly insane, which is maybe all it was shooting for.
This is one of those “Hellblazer” issues that recalls Constantine’s days in Mucous Membrane, the punk band of his youth. And in this issue, the now-old-and-wizened-and-cynical Constantine gets a haircut that recalls the look of his younger days, as he attempts to connect with his past to free the ghosts of the present. Something evil has taken over the body of Sid Vicious (literally, Sid Vicious) and nu-punks are worshiping at this beast’s altar. To add to the conflict, old-monied conservatives are enlisting young punks to their cause, pointing out how short it is to hop from anarchy to free-market capitalism. Youth in revolt become youth in defiance of government regulation. And the old fossils can feed off of that.
Constantine busts up the whole racket, as is his style, and Peter Milligan gives him a whiff of what it was like back in the day. What he used to fight for, and why.
And the world marches on, with Constantine as its mad, cynical, secret guardian.