Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today's page is from Hellblazer #261, which was published by DC/Vertigo and is cover dated January 2010. Enjoy!
Early in his run on Hellblazer, Peter Milligan introduced a new love interest for John ... and then killed her off. John felt a bit guilty about this, so he decided to go to India and see what he could do about bringing her back to life. Was it his fault that there happened to be a monster roaming around Mumbai? It was not!
So on this first page, Milligan shows us a babbling Brit talking to a painting of Queen Victoria. He's telling the queen - and us - the situation in India, as he rambles about people thinking that India is all exotic when it's really far more dangerous than that. Then we see that he's done something horrible, and our inference - that he killed the girl in Panel 4 - is borne out on the next page. What's interesting is that Milligan doesn't really peg this in a specific time. This could be the present day, and even on the next two pages, where the dude - Colonel Burke - meets that dude in Panel 4, it's not really clear that this is taking place in the past. But it is taking place 100 years or so ago, and that means that John has to confront ... an ancient evil! You know, like you do.
Throughout Milligan's run, the main artists have been Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini, with Camuncoli doing the layouts and Landini finishing the pages. It's been a good combination, although the early work seems a bit stronger than the more recent stuff. Camuncoli doesn't give us too crazy a layout - four panels stacked on each other - but he does put Burke in the correct place in Panel 1, as he's the first thing we see and then we follow his word balloons across the page. In Panel 2, he's again in the correct place, leading our eyes back and across to the painting of the queen. In Panel 3, the alcohol is probably more important than Burke himself - we know he's drinking, but Camuncoli is drawing our eyes toward it, plus Burke is slightly reduced as the consequences of his actions hit him. Notice that his body arcs downward toward Panel 4, leading our eyes to the dialogue box and the holy man (two pages later, he rejects the title "fakir," so I guess we can't call him that) standing near the body of the girl. Camuncoli and Landini do a nice job with Burke in Panel 1, widening his eyes so he looks more crazed, blackening the area around his eyes, and making his mustache on giant black bar. Landini inks in the cheekbones, making them seem more sucked in and heightening the idea that Burke is not well. Panel 4 has a nice border, with the decoration helping change the scene from Burke's high-class digs to the squalor of Mumbai. Trish Mulvihill uses her typical palette of brown to suggest rattan and wicker and sandstone (maybe) when Burke is in his quarters, but she does a nice job coloring his dressing gown pretty much the same shade as the girl's dress, linking the killer with the victim. The fact that the border in Panel 4 is blue helps set the girl off, as well, and contrasts the earth tones of Burke's lodgings with the more depressing life on the streets. I'm not the biggest fan of Mulvihill's work, but the choices she makes on this page work pretty well.
Hellblazer is going out with a very strong run, and this issue is part of it. Will this get anyone to check it out now that it's leaving us? I don't know, but that's not the point, is it? We're just here for the first pages!
Next: Is this the absolute best work from a pretty widely-reviled comics creator? You be the judge! You won't find his name yet in the archives, but you can certainly zip through them!