Writer: Denise Mina
Artist: Leonardo Manco
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
After a few issues struggling to find her voice, new series writer Denise Mina hits her stride in the third episode of "Empathy is the Enemy." Turning up the dials on the mystery, suspense, and antique religious horror, Mina has restored Constantine to his proper environment, at the same time making the familiar foreign by giving John empathic insight into the souls of friends looking to betray him.
Alternating between Constantine's road trip to Glasgow, hunting for a man named Steve Evans who has aligned mystical forces against him, and the six-century founding of a monastery, this issue explores issues of trust and faith, and the lengths people will go to keep a secret. John meets up with Anita Nelson, by a coincidence he knows cannot be a coincidence. John once saved Anita from her psychopathic brother, Kenny, a favor which ultimately lead to the brother's suicide. Now, Constantine and Anita will summon Kenny's spirit for information on their quarry—a séance that John knows is a trap orchestrated by Steve Evans. Meanwhile, in the archaic Iona, a monk's troubling prophecy creates a crisis of faith, and an envoy to Rome might not survive the long journey.
There are not many things more terrifying than monks gone bad, and early Christian mysteries are great fodder for supernatural suspense. As sins of the past catch up with sinners in the present, the severity of Constantine's situation comes into focus. Which, of course, the con man laughs off. Denise Mina displays a keen knowledge of how John works, and which situations will let him strut his intellectual and magical stuff to the greatest effect. Artist Leonardo Manco supplies suitably spooky artwork. It's also worth noting that he does not bother to prettify Anita Nelson, depicting her instead as a haggard middle-aged woman. Hellblazer is perhaps unique in comics for populating its pages with realistic-looking characters, jowly men and less-than-beautiful women. There have, of course, been some knockouts, and the occasional lapse into romantic idealism, but that, too, is real when not overdone.
When John Constantine made his debut all those years ago in the pages of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, the tag line for that title was "Sophisticated Suspense." Under novelist Denise Mina's pen and complimented by Manco's moody illustrations, Hellblazer may again live up to that promise.
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