“Staring at the Wall (Part 1 of 5)”
Writer: Mike Carey
Artist: Marcelo Frusin
A great evil is coming and John Constantine has gathered a group of magicians to do battle with it.
I should point out right from the start that this is my first issue of Hellblazer in years. I’ve always loved the character, ever since the early days of the classic Swamp Thing storylines and such stories as Original Sins in his own book, but then I just stopped picking it up for some reason. Lately I’ve been flipping through its pages and when I saw issue 189 was the beginning of a new storyline, I thought it was time get back into the scary world of John Constantine. It was as easy as putting on a favorite pair of jeans or re-reading your favorite book. Not much, it seems, has changed on the surface of Hellblazer. A great evil is bringing about the end of the world and Constantine, along with an assembled group of “friends”, is preparing to do battle with it. That this is such a familiar storyline has its good and bad points. After all, Batman fights the Joker, Constantine saves the world from supernatural disasters. For me this works just fine.
After an opening page of snapshots describing a madness taking over the world the scene shifts to a gathering of magicians in an old, worn-down hotel. They have been invited by Constantine of course, though they do not know that at the time. This is one of the few unsatisfying moments in the book. Why in the world would a group of powerful mages show up to an anonymous invitation? But we can live with this contrivance to get the action started. What really stands out here is Lee Loughridge’s subtle palette of blues and grays used to invoke the dead of night. It gives the scene a wonderful, creepy feeling. The background is never the same color for too long which keeps your eye tuned into the shadowy world these characters inhabit. In other parts of the book, which shift to day time he uses sand colors conveying the action through a filter, giving that sense that we are seeing the world of magic which sits right next to our own but is just a bit different.
To return to the gathering, once all have arrived in walks Mr. Constantine and I must admit it was the bottom panel on page 7 where he cocks and eye and brings the cigarette to his mouth that made me buy this issue. It is a classic rendering of our hero. Is it any wonder so many of us roll our eyes at the thought that Keanu Reeves is playing him in the movie? Somewhere Tim Roth is fuming that he did not get that job. After a lot of bickering Constantine goes on to explain that a creature called the Shadow-Dog (the beast never named by Adam and so it has no shape) is loose and ready to bring on the end of the world. This is the cause of the madness going around, which is depicted in panels interspersed throughout the book, describing horrible atrocities, bizarre murders and the like. The mages seem unimpressed.
Running parallel to this meeting is the story of Angie, John’s girlfriend, and her friend Jason just discharged from a mental hospital where he’s been painting some cujo-like renderings of the Shadow-Dog taken from his dreams. They set off to meet Constantine so Jason can tell him what he knows. Back at the hotel the magicians are preparing to leave. Hardly surprising given how all those who help Constantine usually end up dead. But when two of the invitees turn on each other, due to the Shadow-Dog’s madness, it looks like Constantine will get his help after all.
This is purely a set-up issue, which is wonderful if you are looking to get back into the book. As such it’s well paced and no nonsense, which suits the title character very well. It has some solid moments along the way such as the sequence where the Shadow-Dog is chasing the train Angie and Jason are traveling on. This has an excellent 1970’s supernatural thriller feel to it right down to Angie’s Rhoda-like headband/scarf for the 70s part of it. Here too the purples and burnt red backgrounds help bring the nightmare world into the real. So while the fight at the end of the book seems a bit forced and the gathering itself may be a bit contrived, as set ups go this is a solid one. It has me hooked.
A solid set-up issue briskly paced with interesting color work that enhances the atmosphere of the story. If you have not picked up Hellblazer recently, or ever, this is a good opportunity to get into the story. Let’s see if future issues build on this promising beginning. One question – where the trenchcoat?
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