Hellblazer: Joyride

Written by Andy Diggle
Art by Leonardo Manco
192 pages, color
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

If there’s one property that Vertigo will probably publish until the end of time, it’s Hellblazer. They’ve got good reason to; its staying power has proven in over 240 issues of the main comic, almost 30 trade paperback collections, numerous mini-series, and twenty years of continuous publication. What’s actually a little surprising, then, is that it not only continues to chug onwards but that writers are able to keep the series fresh—a feat that new writer Andy Diggle has succeeded with his start as Hellblazer‘s new writer.

John Constantine’s going back to his roots. In this case, it’s the early mistakes that continue to haunt him, searching to finally rid himself of all that guilt and anguish. It’s good timing, too; with mysterious deaths centered around a certain run-down council estate housing complex, he’s going to need all of his wits about him to save those caught up in the insanity. Or maybe, even just save himself.

What immediately struck me about Hellblazer: Joyride was Diggle’s early on attempt to try and redefine John Constantine as a little harder-edged, a little tougher. That’s probably because he’s not the first writer to do this; in fact, it’s almost seeming like a tradition as of late for a new, incoming writer to look at the previous incarnation(s) of the character and try and take him back to his roots (usually as seen in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing issues, where he first debuted). It’s a tricky line to walk, because if the character stays forever static then you run the risk of readers feeling like he never changes. If he changes too much, though, people may reject the idea of a noticeably different Constantine. With that in mind, Diggle seems to handle the situation well here; a guilt-free John Constantine is certainly an entertaining one, full of arrogance and absolutely no humility at all. It means that when Constantine does fail, it’s that much more of a defeat for him, because he truly doesn’t see it coming. The stories themselves that Diggle comes up with here fit that pattern well, really. While in many ways the opening two-parter is probably the strongest in this collection of eight issues (dealing with a trapped Constantine facing a slow drowning while his captor watches), the entire collection is entertaining. After the good-but-depressing ending to Mike Carey’s run on the book, followed by a year’s worth of gloomy stories courtesy Denise Mina, this piss-and-vinegar Constantine is a welcome return.

While writers seem to come through on a regular basis these days, the one constant for the past four years now has been artist Leonardo Manco. On the whole, I think he’s a strong fit for the book. His characters look very cinematic through his renderings, with sharp features and the occasional full-page portrait. What I think I like even more, though, is how he handles the non-human aspects of Hellblazer. First off, I really have to give him credit for how he can draw a horror scene. Be it tentacles erupting through a sigil on the ground, or an ancient horned shaman floating in a soul cage, Manco always nails the unearthly, crazy, terrifying aspect of his subject. This works really well with Diggle’s writing, who seems almost determined to give Manco scenes that work to his strength. Interestingly enough, the other thing that Diggle does so well is drawing the very realistic, mundane world around these characters. I love his renderings of architecture, be it the London skyline or an ancient gothic mansion. There’s a fair amount of detail here, and it’s a real pleasure to just stop and examine his creations from time to time. While I think Manco occasionally can look a little rushed with a page here and there, it usually stands out only because it’s the exception to the rule rather than a regular occurrence.

Hellblazer: Joyride is another thoroughly entertaining collection in the Hellblazer series, something that I’m seriously starting to think is writer-proof. Then again, if Vertigo keeps lining up good writers, that’s not really a problem. With another collection of Diggle’s stories due later this summer, I’m quite pleased with his start on the series. I’ll definitely be back for more.

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