Review: Hellblazer Vol. 1: The Poison Truth (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

I hadn't intended to start reading the recently cancelled Rebirth Hellblazer series any time soon, having found the initial Rebirth special too light and comedic for my John Constantine tastes. I was actually catching up on my Green Lanterns, but then looking ahead I saw that writer Tim Seeley is bringing Constantine to Green Lanterns at the same time Seeley was writing Constantine in Hellblazer. It seemed worthwhile enough to be able to compare/contrast Seeley's two Constantine portrayals to go ahead and read the Rebirth Hellblazer first, and for that matter to begin at the beginning with Simon Oliver's run. So here we are.

I ultimately liked Hellblazer Vol. 1: The Poison Truth more than I thought I would. This is not the gritty Hellblazer I'm looking for, though between the madcap DC You version (see Constantine: The Hellblazer Vol. 2: The Art of the Deal) and Constantine's growing inclusion in TV's Legends of Tomorrow, it's possible straight horror Hellblazer is a thing of the past.

But writer Oliver, with artists Moritat and Pia Guerra, at least manages to duck the traditional superhero tropes that originally came with Constantine leaving Vertigo for the DCU; we do not have an action sequence every issue, and as a matter of fact Constantine barely lifts a finger the whole volume -- the most harrowing (and absurd) sequence is when Constantine is tied up and threatened by an angry bookie. There's a lot of talking, a lot of wandering about, and Constantine and the book's villain don't even come face-to-face before this volume ends. If not devoutly "Vertigo-esque," Poison Truth is at least something different, and that's pleasant enough to carry me over to the next volume.

[Review contains spoilers]

Without discounting art by Riley Rossmo, again the DC You Constantine: The Hellblazer tended too funny for me. At the tail end of that last volume was the Hellblazer: Rebirth special, also collected here, which sees Constantine stall a foppish demon until he can defeat him. Moritat ultimately is a fine choice for this book's conversational aesthetic, with emphasis on facial expressions, but never is there danger or fright conveyed in the special's pages. Essentially the Rebirth special seemed a too simple, too mild Constantine story, following on the heels of the same, and that relegated the Rebirth Hellblazer to low on my reading stack until I had a good reason otherwise.

But outside that special, a couple of things end up bolstering the "Poison Truth" story proper. One is that the story picks up elements from Scott Snyder's and Charles Soule's exceptional New 52 Swamp Thing runs, and at times Constantine is just the window dressing in what really seems Swamp Thing's book. That's not great for Constantine, perhaps, but a dedicated John Constantine/Swamp Thing team-up book is probably exactly the thing we've needed for a long time now, and the scenes of Swamp Thing keep the story moving while Constantine goes around London conducting caustic tête-à-têtes.

The second is that, in "Poison Truth"'s fourth part, Constantine and pal Chas get tied up by an angry bookie and his gang who want Constantine to teach them how to magically predict horse races. Again, Moritat doesn't convey much danger and Oliver's resolution is completely bloodless, far more so than it would have been under different writers, but equally Oliver is so far into the kind of situation comedy we don't often see in comics that it's hard not to be engaged.

Just after, Y, The Last Man's Pia Guerra comes on, and among the final two chapters, one sees Constantine knocked about the emotions a bit, and the other abandons Constantine almost entirely for the mystic machinations of Mercury from the original Hellblazer series. Oliver writes a good turn with Mercury lying to Constantine and the reader, and then a surprising reveal of the truth; and though the book dallies more than I'd like in hallucinations and mystic realms, Guerra reminded me of Y, The Last Man's picaresque aesthetic in such a way that I was inclined to give this book some slack. Oliver's got a meandering, thoughtful story here; it does not perhaps really qualify as a Hellblazer book, but in the Y or Fables vein, it's interesting nonetheless.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Hellblazer Vol. 1: The Poison Truth

I don't particularly expect we'll see Mercury again after Hellblazer Vol. 1: The Poison Truth and the next volume, Smokeless Fire; with Oliver's run ending after that and Tim Seeley only going two volumes before the series is cancelled, overall it doesn't appear DC has yet found what to do with a non-Vertigo John Constantine just yet. Again, perhaps what John Constantine means, especially to a new-to-comics audience, is changing anyway; maybe this is what to do with Constantine and I'm just not there yet.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Hellblazer Vol. 1: The Poison Truth
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)
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2 comments:

  1. In Vol. 2 Mercury and John spend at least 4 issues chasing a flying shoe. I stopped reading at that point. I was never entirely sure what the antagonists were (Genies right?) or what they wanted (Uh.. to do evil stuff!) - it just wasn't good. At all.

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    1. Flying shoe was a low point for me, too. In fairness, they actually only chase the flying shoe in the break between two issues (mostly), but let's not overlook that the flying shoe spell _doesn't even work._ And that the back-up bright idea is to create a viral video to draw out their quarry, and that _does work._ Low point indeed. We'll chat more about that one about two weeks from now.

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