Haunting. Graphic. Sorrowful. Magical. Acerbic. And of course, stylish in the way that only genuinely clever British material is capable of being. All of these descriptors make for the ingredients to a great John Constantine: Hellblazer story arc. And while I loved Mike Carey’s last pass at the middle-aged magus (Stations of The Cross), Carey (as well as Alan Moore’s most resonant mainstay in the field of comics, John Constantine) needed a change.
Along comes Andy Diggle, who rescued Swamp Thing from the ashes created by a horrible hack of a storyteller, Rick Veitch. Diggle’s Constantine is the stuff of legend. In Hellblazer: Joyride, Diggle takes the con man/dabbler in magic and puts him back on his feet after years of having other writers drag him through the mud just for the fun of it. While Brian Azzarello had an astounding run with the character, the whole rock-bottom aesthetic was getting a bit old.
Joyride finds the older Englishman on native soil looking to get rid of the demons (literal and figurative) kicking around in his head once and for all so he can go for a long shot at a fresh start and a stronger sense of self. As far as mid-life crises go, most people don’t have the type that involve running a gauntlet of limbless children banished to hell, a cult of astral-projecting mass murderers, a case study in the Jungian laws of synchronicity as they apply to games of chance, or a trip down memory lane to a hotel room that used to house our hero in a padded cell.
Everybody’s different, which is what makes Moore’s brainchild dance so delightfully at the end of a talented writer’s train of thought.
Diggle’s first turn at bat is a dazzler, and he knocks this story straight out of the park. While his work with Swamp Thing was a great way to cut his teeth in the mature/horror genre (as well as how not to destroy a property that Alan Moore turned into a moneymaker), Hellblazer is one hell of a learning curve for his 202 course, but he passes with flying colors.
Artist Leonardo Manco’s chilling pencils and frame-worthy covers (seriously, I showed the original cover art from each issue to the wife and her jaw dropped) complement the storyline wonderfully. There isn’t one original cover reproduced in the graphic compilation that I wouldn’t be proud to blow up and frame on a wall in my study. Not since Dave McKean’s work with Sandman and Mr. Punch have I seen such an innate talent and perfectionism to elevate the medium to a true art form.
If the only reference source you have for the character is the near-unforgivable Constantine film (which, all parties should be banned from Hollywood for making), you have no idea what you’re missing. I don’t want to spoil anything for the uninitiated, but I will say that John Constantine is a blond conman who dabbles in just enough magic to stay on the right side of a day job--which is to say that he never has to work a day in his life, doesn’t have to worry about staying in jail if he doesn’t want to, and has a way with the ladies if he plies his trade in just the right direction.
Joyride is a rollicking rollercoaster of a great time with terrifying highs, introspective lows and one hell of a view at all times. Buckle up and keep your hands inside the vehicle because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
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