Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Hellblazer: Haunted, written by Warren Ellis, drawn by John Higgins

This trade paperback collects issues #134-139 of Hellblazer, which is apparently the point at which Ellis took over for Brian Azzarello, who took over from Garth Ennis, whom I sometimes confuse with Ellis. Can you blame me, really? I mean, they're both brits, both write comics that are a bit off-center, and their names are identical except for the double consonant in the middle. After having read Preacher, though, I learned to tell them apart, because I didn't like Preacher, and I love Ellis's Transmetropolitan. Spider Jerusalem lives!

Truth to tell, John Constantine is reminiscent of Spider at times in Haunted, but then I suppose there's always been a bit o' the sadist in our John. Apparently just back to London after his sojourns in the US, Constantine learns that one of his old girlfriends has been murdered, and he decides to look into it. Isabel was something of a magician's groupie, and John suspects that it's someone in his line of work that's responsible. In seeking answers, he calls in some favors and makes some new enemies--of course, the only people who die quicker than Constantine's friends are his enemies.

This is Constantine all over. I like that every few issues he takes a good beating, because if Constantine became a martial arts expert it wouldn't be the same. It would make sense for him to learn to fight, but it would make him less Constantine. Besides, it's a noir tradition for the hero to get by on his wits rather than his fists.

The art here is cartoonish (not a bad thing) at times and unflinchingly gruesome at others. What's effective is how much is illustrated without being shown, if you get my meaning. I don't necessarily need to see all the blood; often it has more impact if I'm left to imagine it. In the clinical description of Isabel's murder this is particularly effective.

John Constantine is one of the most intriguing comic characters ever created--a selfish bastard with a conscience, he feels for the people who suffer because of him while still being unapologetically out for number one. Survival is his driving force, and everything else is by necessity secondary. Perhaps that's why he takes such pleasure in the "justice" he metes out in the course of this storyline. Perhaps he feels that he can exorcise some of the stains on his soul with a little bit of retribution. Or perhaps he realizes that any such hope would be futile, and he just enjoys it.

Good stuff.


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