Review: Hellblazer Vol. 2: The Smokeless Fire (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)

March 6, 2019

Well, that was rough. Simon Oliver's Rebirth Hellblazer run comes to an inglorious end in Hellblazer Vol. 2: The Smokeless Fire. What seemed a kind of charming, meandering fairy tale in Hellblazer Vol. 1: The Poison Truth devolves into something very rudimentary here, with plot turns at times ridiculous and nonsensical. Most of all, Smokeless Fire's attempts to be frightening or suspenseful fail remarkably. For decades Hellblazer was a crowning horror jewel in Vertigo's crown; this second Rebirth volume is a desperate cry to put this title back where it belongs or else (as is finally the case two volumes hence) put it out of its misery.

[Review contains spoilers]

Smokeless Fire has trouble from the start, but begins to go terribly wrong in its third chapter. We get whiffs of lampooning both British and American politics, which is good, but then Oliver gets mired in the tale of a Parliamentary figure, Mr. Carver, who apparently works for an angel, except that angel has been captured and tortured by the tale's pervading bad guy, a djinn. It is out of left field, and confusing -- we've never met Carver before and have no frame of reference for him, nor how and why he's in league with an angel. The book's politics are unclear, too -- the drug-abusing, brothel-visiting Carver apparently "sold" Brexit to the British people, positing that as an evil, but then again Carver has an angel behind him. All of this confusion is simply so the djinn can possess a military installation that's hardly mentioned again; it's a head-scratching bit that maybe Oliver meant to come back to, but all on its own it falls flat.

At the head of that chapter, Constantine has cast a spell so that a shoe lost by a thief will lead Constantine and sidekick Mercury to the thief and the book's McGuffin, a journal. That spell fails, with the shoe dropping randomly, and with no explanation of that other than Constantine isn't portrayed as a terribly good magician here. Later on, Constantine's strategy to find the thief is to cast a spell on this unremarkable white shoe so that it floats, with the hope that the floating shoe will become a viral sensation that will then draw out the thief to reclaim his shoe. That's inane, in general and for Hellblazer especially, and even more so that it works and the thief's girlfriend recognizes the shoe (despite knowing nothing about the situation and the fact that the thief has subsequently put new shoes on). The story ends with no clear indication of the journal's actual value, and the djinn abandoning the book anyway just for a chance to seemingly kill Constantine.

In between those chapters, we see Constantine fight werewolves for what appears no strong reason than to move along some pages; though a scene in this book protests that Constantine is not "the 'superhero' type," the common structure of one fight per issue is more pronounced here than in the first volume. That werewolf fight also includes a wholly uninspired appearance by Hellblazer stalwart Papa Midnite, who appears with no context or introduction, spouts off for a bit, and isn't heard from again. In these ways the Rebirth run seems to have lost its mojo; it's a Hellblazer book by virtue of John Constantine being on the page, but there's little here in terms of depth, suspense, or new character development.

Artist Philip Tan offers manga-inspired work in the first two chapters, which is strange and unexpected. It is more in this style than I recall Tan's previous work on Green Lantern or Curse of Brimstone, and it seems well-done. Probably manga wouldn't be my first suggestion for Hellblazer, but it lends itself a little more to the creation of horror here, and simply for the absence of any grave missteps, Tan's are the best chapters of the book. Davide Fabbri takes over after that with a very straightforward, animated style that's wholly ill-suited for Hellblazer, wringing any horror straight out of the proceedings; I don't question Fabbri's suitability for Star Wars comics but on Hellblazer his work is very out of place.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Hellblazer Vol. 2: The Smokeless Fire

I'll mention that the variant covers by Yasmine Putri collected at the end of Hellblazer Vol. 2: The Smokeless Fire are pretty great, in line with DC's overall stepped-up variant covers lately. The cover to issue #7, with Constantine jumping over rooftops in the broad daylight, seems unsuited to Hellblazer, but is an energetic, exciting cover with Constantine slip-sliding and the birds flying in the opposite direction. Ditto too the variant cover to issue #9, with Constantine and Mercury in a shop of curios, reflected in crystal ball. It goes without saying that I wish the inside had been on par, and I can only hope Tim Seeley serves John Constantine better in the next collection.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Hellblazer Vol. 2: The Smokeless Fire
Author Rating
2.5 (scale of 1 to 5)

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