Review: Hellblazer Vol. 3: The Inspiration Game (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)

March 17, 2019

The Rebirth Hellblazer Vol. 3: The Inspiration Game is tonally closer to what one might want from a John Constantine title. But it is also a collection of two one-off stories with no apparent attempt being made to set the foundation for an ongoing Hellblazer run; it's as if one were reading a John Constantine special or anthology series. That's good for casual readers -- this is a book that a fan of Constantine's televised appearances could pick up and enjoy -- but bad for dedicated comics fans who continue to lack any serious attempt at an ongoing series for Constantine since he was released to the DC Universe.

The book starts well enough with a three-part tale by Tim Seeley, which is better than what's come before if not entirely Vertigo-esque. The second three-part story, by novelist Richard Kadrey, also has its moments, but again I'm mystified by the use of artist Davide Fabbri here, who draws well but in a style much too bright for this material. This book has moments of horror, but they're fleeting, and in all when your average issue of Batman has more suspense and intrigue than this, clearly the mix isn't right yet.

[Review contains spoilers]

Seeley's "Inspiration Game" sees Constantine sprayed with gore within the first pages and subsequently accused of murder. Seeley's got the elements right -- a gruesome crime, an old lover of Constantine's in the mix. Constantine makes his way with a couple of well-placed spells (after his spells notably failed in Hellblazer Vol. 2: The Smokeless Fire), including one with the consequence of burning up a bar that was formative to young Constantine once it's released its clues to the real killer. Particularly enjoyable is when Seeley flashes back into London punk culture; there's no ghosts or goblins thereabouts, but it's fun to see this book dabble in its culture of origin.

But Seeley's antagonists, revealed at the end of the first chapter, are distinctly supernatural, two demonic dwarves whose sole purpose is to sow chaos and possess Constantine. Though there is again some good mayhem here, there's not much suspense given that the villains' motivations are so simplistic. The third chapter first sees Constantine diving through a corpse into a nether realm, then stuck in an alternate reality where he has to fight the Justice League; the art in this story by Jesus Merino is at least grittier than the book has been, but Merino is not Jock or Leonardo Manco, and his heroically rendered Justice League seem way out of place. Seeley's "Inspiration Game" starts out with Vertigo tendencies but seems to end squarely in the DCU, like the gravitational pull of a planet that this book can't seem to slip.

Kadrey writes "The Bardo Score," set in Kadrey's own San Francisco, and is a send-up of sorts of the gentrification of mysticism starting at the corner of Haight and Ashbury. Again, there's plenty to like, and plenty germane to a Hellblazer story, like Constantine coming to the aid of old friends, hunting a serial killer, and sprinkles of social and political commentary. The story gets off to a promising, moody start with Constantine taking clandestine meetings with a crooked cop amidst the foggy Golden Gate Park.

But this story also veers too comic book-y, for instance, in a two-page wordless sequence where Constantine runs away from a behemoth blue demon, rendered in expressive, animated art by Fabbri. The third chapter offers an amusing conversation between Constantine and the demon, but the comedy here isn't tempered either with much drama or suspense, and the horror is negligible. Kadrey uses the San Francisco setting well, but -- no fault of Kadrey's -- the previous run by Simon Oliver just spent a while solidifying Constantine's prominent return to London after some time spent in the U.S., so this about-face doesn't quite jibe with the Rebirth series as a whole. Were these the adventures of Dr. Occult as written by Kadrey, he might be on to something, but for John Constantine specifically this doesn't quite rise to level.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Hellblazer Vol. 3: The Inspiration Game

Tim Seeley wrote the one-off Suicide Squad Vol. 4: Kill Anything that was among the best Suicide Squad stories of the last decade or so. To that end, I don't discount that Seeley may yet finish this Hellblazer series off well with the fourth and last volume. But with Hellblazer Vol. 3: The Inspiration Game, unfortunately I think we can definitively say the Rebirth Hellblazer was another ignominious attempt at a John Constantine series in the DC Universe. This can be done -- Joshua Hale Fialkov's I, Vampire is a prime example of how good, scary, mature horror can be written in the DCU. I'm eager for DC to do right by John Constantine one of these days.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Hellblazer Vol. 3: The Inspiration Game
Author Rating
3 (scale of 1 to 5)


Post a Comment

To post a comment, you may need to temporarily allow "cross-site tracking" in your browser of choice.