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The Sandman Universe Presents: Hellblazer #1 Reignites John Constantine

Story by
Art by
Marcio Takara
Colors by
Cris Peter
Letters by
Aditya Bidikar
Cover by
Publisher
DC Comics

The Sandman Universe Presents: Hellblazer #1 is the first John Constantine book in nearly a decade (or at least since the original series ended in 2013) where the character hasn't felt watered down. Now, there have been plenty of solid stories featuring the character throughout the years. The bizarre version we saw in Michael Cray is criminally under-praised, and Simon Oliver and Tim Seeley’s contributions to the Rebirth era of Hellblazer were enjoyable.

But the punk-rock attitude and snarky, chain-smoking charm covering up decades of emotional scars and a nasty mean streak have fallen by the wayside in recent years. And it’s been heartbreaking. It’s as if the pillars of the character were knocked out from underneath him. 

RELATED: John Constantine: Hellblazer Returns as Ongoing Black Label Series

Thankfully, writer Simon "Si" Spurrier (Coda, X-Force) and artist Marcio Takara (The Incredibles: Family Matters) have come to lift your spirits with a take on the rouge occultist that feels familiar to long-time fans. This Constantine has lived a lot of life and is cagey about taking trips down memory lane (and for good reason). As the return of one of his former pupils disrupts the very fabric of reality, John finds himself in a helpless situation. Of course, that’s not where things get really weird.

We won’t delve into spoilers for this one-shot, but for the most part, this comic feels like it is desperately trying to get reacquainted with the anti-hero so many of us fell in love with back in the early Vertigo Comics days. It mostly succeeds. There are plot threads from older Hellblazer stories and The Books of Magic referenced heavily, so this is by no means a great “jumping on point” for casual readers or comic fans who are unfamiliar with the character.

Or, hell, maybe it is. This reviewer jumped in and out of Vertigo Comics’ Hellblazer a half dozen times during its 300 issue run and never felt utterly lost. John Constantine’s world is dense, complex, and aggressively arcane. If you ever feel like you don’t understand something in a Hellblazer comic, there’s a good chance it’s because John hasn’t explained it to you yet…and he may never, which is part of the fun.

Spurrier captures the voice of Constantine perfectly, which is half the battle really. If John sounds like John, you already have most Hellblazer fans’ money. How his casual derision and sly devil-may-care cadence are handled will make or break a Hellblazer comic, and Spurrier knocks it out of the park.

As for the plotting, things are a bit all over the place. As mentioned before, there is a lot of backstory holding the door shut here, which might be a bit off-putting to some folks. If  you are either fine with a "sink or swim" reading situation or you have a general working knowledge of Constantine's world (and the relaunched Sandman Universe at large) you're going to have a great time.

RELATED: Constantine TV Show Not Planned At CW, He'll Remain on Legends of Tomorrow

As for the art, it's simply gorgeous. Marcio Takara, someone whom this writer wasn't terribly familiar with before, is doing amazing work. The large splashy pages filled with nightmarish figures and psychedelic imagery are just as impressive as the more subdued panels of John obscured by shadow and cigarette smoke. In fact, from the striking cover by Aditya Bidikar to the lush colors by Cris Peter, The Sandman Universe Presents: Hellblazer #1 is gorgeous, front to back. The only issue is there are a couple panels where the transition of action is a bit muddled (you'll know it when you see it).

The Sandman Universe Presents: Hellblazer #1 is a return to form for one of comics' greatest anti-heroes. It's brash, weird, funny, and everything  you'd expect from a comic with the name Hellblazer across its cover. This comic walks around with a knowing, wry sneer on its face, like a punk kid in a sea of jocks, returning John Constantine to the outsider status he originally flourished within.

The Sandman Universe Presents: Hellblazer #1 is available now.

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