In “Hellblazer” #281, Peter Milligan brings the “Phantom Pains” story to a conclusion, and it’s easy to have mixed feelings about it. At a quick glance, it’s an utterly predictable end to a story, one completely by the book. But it’s when you re-read the story that you’ll notice the littler moments that keep your interest up for what’s still to come.
Defeating the bird demon seems like such a throwaway moment at first, it’s a little startling. Half of it is done off-panel, and the other half is such an easy, convenient moment that it’s hard to keep from raising your eyebrow. But ultimately, I think that’s part of the idea behind Milligan’s script. The conclusion in terms of plot devices is tossed off quickly, because he really wants to dig down to the emotional reactions of the characters.
Everyone seems to be coming to a turning point, mentally, in this issue. John figures out why he’s no longer invulnerable. Epiphany figures out what to do with her back-up plan. And Gemma is taking another deliberate step down a dark and dangerous road. And that, ultimately, is what makes this issue better and better every time you read it. If you’d told me three years ago that John was getting married and that we’d come to love the character, I’d have laughed, but Milligan is showing us time and time again that he understands these characters, and that’s what draws me in every month.
It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini are back on the art this issue. The book looks great as always, from the look of terror on Constantine’s face as he’s attacked in the opening double-page splash, to Gemma’s sneer at John at the end of the issue. With each issue from the pair, they’re reminding me more and more of artists like Philip Bond, and trust me when I say that’s a good thing.
It’s been a while since I’ve been so utterly enchanted by a “Hellblazer” creative team as I am with Milligan, Camuncoli, and Landini. So long as they’re around, so am I. Good stuff, as always.