John Constantine kicks off his third series — cheekily merging the titles of his two previous comics — with “Constantine: The Hellblazer” #1. While Ming Doyle, James Tynion IV,and Riley Rossmo don’t descend to the depths of the “Suggested For Mature Readers”-branded series published by Vertigo, there’s still a lot to enjoy here.
In many ways, the opening three-page sequence sums up the entire first issue, as we see Constantine covered in blood and wearing nothing but a pair of socks, talking to a startled clothing store clerk in order to get a new outfit. Doyle and Tynion have a mixture of magic and persuasive wit in Constantine’s dialogue, talking about the darker parts of the world and how it’s best to just look away from the nastiness lest you get sucked in. It’s classic Constantine, lulling bystanders into doing what he needs, but also having that extra edge in his pocket to make the process just a little bit easier. It’s self-serving and there are consequences to others (as Gaz the ghost notes, the clerk will almost certainly be fired); in other words, business as usual.
From there, Doyle and Tynion continue to move the book forward in an entertaining manner. This issue has both an A- and B-plot, with the first one getting wrapped up neatly, only for the B-plot to come back and show us how something much larger scale has been happening just out of sight. It’s a nice balance, and it also keeps up with the structure that we saw at the opening of the issue; Constantine’s dark abilities are part of the solution to this first issue’s conundrum, but his wits and quick-thinking are just as critical to keeping himself out of hot water. It’s a playful Constantine we get here, one who’s flirtatious with a burly restaurant owner but just as quick to hop in the sack with a smoldering demoness. He’s unpredictable and self-centered and, in the case of the latter, that’s shown as a character flaw in a way.
A lot of the charm of “Constantine: The Hellblazer” #1 is also thanks to Rossmo, whose stripped down art looks like nothing else in the DC Universe, but is instantly appealing. His characters are blocky and there’s some zip-a-tone patterns used to provide interesting shading on his characters. I love the looks on his characters’ faces, though. The eager look on Constantine’s face in the diner, for instance, is a perfect mixture of schoolboy excited and “uh oh” blended together, and it absolutely sells the moment. Rossmo also never loses track of his backgrounds, be it a dingy club basement, the inside of a diner or even just a seedy looking street. Rossmo and Ivan Plascensia give each location its own distinct look and feel, and it’s impressive.
From a visual standpoint, the best part of this issue has to be the big, turn-the-comic-on-its-side two-page spread, as Constantine and Blythe descend through the levels of the Inferno. Each floor looks different from the others and, by turning everything on its side, Rossmo’s able to not only give us long, beautiful panels to show off the topography of that area, but it also gives Doyle and Tynion the time to work in a long conversation in a manner that a more traditional layout would have lacked. It’s a strong usage of the comics medium and I want to see more forward thinking like this down the line.
“Constantine: The Hellblazer” #1 is a fun kickoff to a new series, and I’m pleased with the direction that Doyle, Tynion and Rossmo have quickly established. They clearly understand the character and, if they can keep this up, we’ve got a lot of entertaining occult adventures ahead of us. So far, so good.