Pick of the Week

April 16, 2008 – Hellblazer #243

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Size: pages
Price: 2.99

Score a second week in a row for Vertigo, because this time out, we’re here to talk about John Constantine’s offering for the month.

I should probably admit that I’ve been in a mood for this lately. Ever since someone asked about all the old Hellblazer comics a couple weeks ago, I’ve been down in the mood for good Hellblazer. Yet the thing that’s most amazing to me is that it’s still possible to spin good yarns for good ol’ John. We know this because, ever since Andy Diggle has taken over the title, it is consistently good. I’m hearing people talk about Hellblazer for the first time in a long while. People are excited for new issues, and new readers are finding their way to the book. The title manages to be good for new and old readers, which is no small task.

So it happens that this week, I read through my stack, and looked at all the titles, and it occurred to me that Hellblazer #243 was the only book I read where I said, “that was really good,” but I couldn’t think of an argument for why it shouldn’t be Pick of the Week. After that, it was bloody simple, wunnit?

The thing about Hellblazer is that it’s not so hard to come up with a magical horror story that will fit into John’s universe, but it is challenging to make it feel fresh, as if it wasn’t something you’d read a lot, or anywhere in the last 20 years of this character’s history. The most challenging Hellblazer stories, and the ones which are enjoyable, but don’t really resonate are usually a bit convoluted. There’s a big plot by some demons or there’s an area of evil, or something just ambiguous. Denise Mina’s run was a bit like that. The characterizations were right, but all in all, I couldn’t really explain to you the details of the plot. About half of Mike Carey’s run read like that, but the other half was stellar. On the other hand, the best Hellblazer stories are dead simple, and they smack you in the face.

Such is the case with this issue. Here it is: there’s a room in the Vatican, and a pope, long ago, decreed that in that room, there was no sin. Nothing can be held against you in God’s eyes should you commit any act, no matter how heinous, in the room. It turns out that over the centuries, many of the catholic priests used the room, and the negative energy that built up over time has attracted a demonic force. And wouldn’t you know, John Constantine shows up to drive it out, and poke a couple of jabs at the priesthood while he’s at it.

That is a dead simple concept. It’s also a formula. Over the next couple issues, John will fight, and likely outsmart some evil demon. It’s basically what happens in every story. But when the concept is right, and the tone is spot on, it just works, and every page Diggle has penned on this series has just worked. This one struck me as particularly genius. It’s the only spot on earth where sin doesn’t count. What an awful idea! It so simple that you could, having never read a page of Hellblazer in your life, pick this issue up and get it right away. If this sounds at all interesting to you, I don’t know why you wouldn’t.

Lest you think I can only gush, I do have one this that bugged me about this issue. The artist, Giuseppe Camuncoli, who is new to the book slicked John’s hair back, and put him in a double breasted jacket. Now, I know this is a small thing, but it did bug me, since his look is so iconic, I don’t know why anyone would tinker with it. Camuncoli was soon forgiven though, because the work is, otherwise, very nice. There’s a moodiness and very clear body language from the characters, and a reader knows where things stand, just by looking at a page. And while John isn’t exactly as I know him, the attitude of the character is right there, as clear as day, so it didn’t feel that far off. There are some very nice pages in this book, and great dramatic angles and compositions, and I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing more of this guy’s art.

Finally, colorist Lee Loughridge really stepped up by attaining the right mood in every scene. Each scene has a unique color palette, and without reading a word, the coloring and art work together to let you know exactly how you should be feeling when you look at these pages. There are lots of sickly greens in the Vatican, and then a harsh red light of judgment when they hit a pub to talk about the problem. The mood is very important for this book to be successful, and they nailed it in this issue.

Again, this is a great jumping on point, and if you’re curious about the title, this is as good a place as there is to try it out. Diggle continues to impress with his natural fit on the title, and all I can hope is that he’s having fun, and he keeps them coming.

Josh Flanagan
Twice in a year!

Did you read Hellblazer #243? Add a comment and tell everyone what you think!


  1. Decided to jump back into issue on Hellblazer with this new arc. Given all the positive spin I was hearing from thr iFanbase lately. Glad I picked it up too. It was a good issue. Admirable POW.

    For me, Lone Ranger was my top book this week. A little brisk, but it got at the end there, with the hanging and the stranger. Oh and the Lone Ranger visiting the sheriff scene was awesome. The Paul Pope art was great as well. Top notch. 

  2. I haven’t read this yet, but I’m glad that it got POW.  I’m more excited to read it now.  I just got done reading the Powers Annual…it took me an hour to read the damn thing!  Bendis included a discussion from his message board that went on for pages.  It was a great read, but I’m cross eyed.  I need a break.

  3. This was a fun issue – can’t wait to see how it ends.  I love all the Stigmata/DaVinci Code/Malachi Martin stuff anyways, so I was bound to dig this – Put a J.C. spin on some Vatican esoterism and you have a winner kiddies!

  4. This is my first issue of Hellblazer ever and I loved it. I have been wanting to check out the old hellblazer as I am a fan of Swamp Thing where he popped up. But nI just haven’t gotten around to it. It being a light week and seeing this as a new story arc I picked it up and loved it. Looking forward to more issues.

  5. You know something? I saw this on the shelf today and I almost picked it up… Then I didn’t… Now I wish I had. I think I’m gonna buy this tomorrow… Darn it…

  6. If anybody is curious about this book, it is indeed a good time to jump on. This was my first issue and i thouroughly enjoyed it, with my only other exposure to this character being the movie. i’m a little ashamed to admit it took me a couple pages to realize who Constantine was.

  7. The suit jarred me as well.  But I think I like it better, John Looks good in a suit.

    SPOILER- Might John have wanted to look good for Ellie.  Don’t they have a history of exchanging "favors." 

    I’m a bit rusty on my Hellblazer so I might be wrong.

  8. reading this review + re-reading some classic hellblazer makes me wonder why i don’t buy it, as it’s such a fun and unique book. i might have to join the crowd and pick this one up…

  9. Hellblazer is one of very few comics that I can say has kept me consistently happy over the years. It goes without saying that I’ve been damn blown away by Andy Diggle’s  run so far and I can’t wait to see what he’s got up his sleeve for John’s future. Also, @EVERYONE if you haven’t read the “Dangerous Habits” TP you need to seriously skedaddle down to your shop and pick it up! It’s one of my favorite arcs of all time.

  10. Hey Josh, just admit you are the indy guy!

  11. @SteveM – Since when is HELLBLAZER (from DC Comics) an indie book?

  12. I just finished this issue, and I have to say it was primo comic reading.  Diggle is destroying with this book, and I am blown away with each and every issue.  Constantine is a right prick in this issue, and the fact that he interacts with a top Vatican official makes it all the more fun. 

    I actually really enjoyed the art in this issue, and kind of hope this artist stays on.  Not to say that Leonardo Manco (?) wasn’t doing a bang up job, but I enjoy the cleaner style that this artist brings.  Definitely, my POW.

  13. Dammit Flanagan!! You got me hooked on this book now.

  14. @Brandon2 – The suit isn’t so much wanting to look good for Ellie as it is his new look. If you look back at the end of Diggle’s Ravenscar story, he slicks his hair back and wears a suit because he’s "back to his old self." And… in fact, THAT look goes back to his earliest appearance in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing (gloves, suit, trenchcoat).

  15. Point taken, it is a DC book, but definitely not a ‘mainstream’ comic–no classic superheroes!

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