The first time Peter Milligan wrote John Constantine, it was in the pages of “Shade the Changing Man,” one of the six titles that were the cornerstone of the Vertigo imprint back in the day. I loved “Shade the Changing Man,” with its impossible, anything-can-happen attitude and voyage through madness. So now that Milligan writes about Constantine every month in “Hellblazer,” it makes sense that he finally gets to have Shade return the favor and guest-star in Constantine’s comic.
And so, naturally, this is a story about madness, as Constantine tries to piece together what exactly he did to Epiphany, and if the world around him is really crumbling or if it’s just his own brain. Read entirely on its own this is an entertaining story, despite the fact that it’s one about Constantine doing progressively worse things to himself. He’s always had a self-destructive streak, but Milligan is taking him down a road that seems unusually harsh even for Constantine.
But if you have read “Shade the Changing Man” before, you’re going to see a lot of shout-outs to various moments in the series’ history. It’s more than just the comatose man in the wheelchair acting as a silent observer to two orderlies getting it on, but all sorts of winks and nods to the title’s readership. (Especially the oblique mention of Kathy, which seems to indicate that the final storyline from the original series still “happened,” such as it is.) Even the old go-go checks that Chris Bachalo loved to use as backgrounds in the comic are back, here, which was a pleasant surprise. Milligan doesn’t ever make these moments take center stage, though, and if you’ve never read “Shade the Changing Man” you won’t feel lost. It’s just a bunch of easter eggs for the readers.
It’s nice to see the supporting cast (Epiphany, Lenny, Carew) get things to do in a story that might have just as easily stayed centered on Constantine. (No Chas this month, but after his appearance last month I’m still pleased.) Constantine himself is a loner, but having regular faces appear is an important part of the title for me. Lenny’s appearance in particular is great for “Shade the Changing Man” fans, but even if you’ve never met her before Milligan manages to make her sly, caustic personality shine instantly.
Last but not least, I adore the work that Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini put into the art. From big burly orderlies to slight nurses, there’s a wide variety of body types on display, and they draw them all equally well. His re-interpretation of Lenny Shapiro looks great, too; older and wiser but still you can see that spark just dancing behind her eyes even in her most professional guise. And when Constantine himself starts taking his self-loathing out on himself, well, we get some undeniably creepy visuals to go with it.
“Hellblazer” these days is surprisingly entertaining and fun, even when Constantine’s life hits its lowest. (Or, should that be, because Constantine’s life hits its lowest?) It still surprises me that it took this long for Milligan to write this title, in part because it’s such a good match of talents. Milligan certainly is making up for time lost, though. If you haven’t tried the comic in a while, check it out.