John Constantine has been a character DC has always seemed to struggle with when it came to making the transition from Vertigo, his original universe, to the DCU. During the New 52 he joined the Justice League Dark and became a magician as well as a slightly less dark character (somewhat PG-13 even). With Rebirth however, he’s gone back to his old-self. He’s back in his native city, London, with his traditional compatriot Chas Chandler by his side and fighting the demon-infested world that Constantine lives in. That’s why the Hellblazer Rebirth which I’m going to review can be seen as both a way to connect his stories to the wider DC Universe and an attempt to bring Constantine back into the DC continuity while keeping his Vertigo characteristics.
But did it work? Let’s start with what this series did a good job at. Firstly, they managed to properly represent the kind of relationships Constantine has with other people. One example of this is the grown-up Mercury (a young woman Constantine met way back in the original Hellblazer series), whose relationship with him is fraught with tension and anger but still she helps him whenever it comes time to face a threat. Swamp Thing himself says that John Constantine isn’t the best man in the world and clearly expresses his disdain for his actions and behaviour. Yet, he tells Wonder Woman and the Justice League that he trusts him; it’s a combination of contempt and aid which captures perfectly the dynamic Constantine should have with his allies.
This series also did a good job overall with Constantine’s characterization. He is known for his arrogance, he can be grumpy, rude, constantly sarcastic, even at times charming. He will always do what he has to in order to save the world but most of all, to save himself. All of this is apparent in the series and this is complimented by Simon Oliver doing a good job giving John his usual British dialect talk.
But does this comic series stand up to its predecessor? The story doesn’t add anything particularly interesting or new, it misses that special something that makes a book incredibly compelling. For example, the threat to the city of London is something they take care of far too quickly, something that was a little boring to read, but the way John solved the situation- that is acting selfishly and by manipulating the others to aid his schemes- kind of saves the issue. So far however, there’s not enough about The Hellblazer Rebirth that feels exciting or different from the stories has Constantine already gone through countless times.
To remain on what this comic lacks, the representation of why Constantine isn’t considered to be a genuine superhero isn’t properly explored and is purely blamed on his arrogance and sarcasm. Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing, and Mercury all agree that Constantine is dangerous and inflicts pain on the people close to him, however, it’s expected that we see this danger through his actions, and not only through being told this. Yes, he acts selfish in this comic series too, but selfish and truly dangerous are two different things and both need to be shown.
The art is fine, but some panels look simply mediocre. Moritat draws Constantine well enough, but it seems like it’s harder to draw fantastical creatures, who seem a little weird and whose expressions are hard to understand.
But after issue #6 we can see a new artist, Philip Tan, and the art seems “clearer” (although the characters are all more attractive out of sudden).
Therefore, although the English anti-hero is back in stories that seem to be inspired by his old ones, it’s fair to say that the attempt to bring him back with dark and gritty stories is only working in part. It seems like the fact that this book isn’t for mature readers anymore kind of put a limit to the dread and horror that was present in the old stories, an element that can I consider to be a vital detail, and maybe even the most intriguing one in all of Constantine’s comics. It’s almost like his unfocused plotting reveals difficulties to find the right balance between the character’s classic horror roots and the updated (new 52 rebooted) all-ages version.
Everybody likes Vertigo Constantine, that’s for sure, and, the Hellblazer Rebirth run definitely has potential in spite of the negatives, so let’s wait to see what’s next and whether its potential will be fulfilled.
Written by @lolita on Twitter