Review: Hellblazer Vol. 4: The Good Old Days (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)

August 25, 2019

As yet another attempt at reintegrating John Constantine into the DC Universe comes to an end, Tim Seeley finally gets it right with the Rebirth Hellblazer Vol. 4: The Good Old Days. It is, of course, too late, and most of this series would best be forgotten, but at least we got one good Constantine story out of it. Hopefully, now that DC's deciding to give it another go, Seeley's last story of this series might serve as a model. Devils and demons abound here, but Seeley finds the right mix of supernatural and human evil to spin a Constantine tale that doesn't feel watered down for the DC Universe.

[Review contains spoilers]

The high concept of Good Old Days is that Seeley teams Constantine with the New 52/Rebirth version of "Matron" Huntress Helena Bertinelli, created by Seeley and Tom King for Grayson. A street-level hero feels more apt for Hellblazer, grounding the action, than when Constantine had a punch-out off-panel with Superman in Hellblazer Vol. 2: The Smokeless Fire, for instance. Helena hunts an old flame of Constantine's who's possessed by the ghosts of mobster brothers; again, there are demons and hellscapes aplenty, but Seeley's basing the story in terrestrial (or pseudo-terrestrial) villains goes a long way toward upping the realism, danger, and suspense.

Seeley has a well-structured story here, in which the introductory threat Constantine faces in the first pages becomes the solution to the problem in the end. The final issue is especially well-done, as Constantine has vanquished most of the demons and all that remains is to free his old flame Margaret Ames. We end up in familiar Constantine territory, which sometimes worked to this series' detriment but not here; because we know that Constantine is equally capable of sacrificing Margaret "for the greater good," condemning her to some worse fate, or double-crossing Huntress, the final sequence is particularly tantalizing with all of those options presented together. Further, the trick that Constantine's open door to Hell isn't meant to drag Ames in as we're lead to believe, but to release Huntress' late father Frank Bertinelli to perform an exorcism, was especially clever and used the Huntress character well.

It is that final sequence with Helena and Frank Bertinelli that redeems somewhat Seeley's loose use of Huntress. As creator of this iteration of the character, arguably Seeley knows best (though Seeley's character more often was Matron, not Huntress), and the sheer novelty of Huntress teamed with Constantine makes this a story to read. But the idea that Huntress is sent to fight demons at the behest of the Vatican doesn't jibe at all with what we know of the character, and the bloodthirstiness of Seeley's portrayal is out of step with developments parallel to this book in Birds of Prey. Seeley seems at times to lampoon Huntress as part of Hellblazer's general anti-capes aesthetic (see, for instance, Huntress' straight-faced insistence that "I have sworn to eradicate organized crime"), though the boon of the scene with her father demonstrates Seeley still has a soft spot for the hero.

Even artist Davide Fabbri is better this time, whose art I've been complaining all along seemed a poor fit for this series. Inked now by Christian Dalla Vecchia instead of Jose Marzan Jr., Fabbri achieves some of the grittiness a Constantine story calls for. It helps too for the horror of it all that the threats here are more violence and torture, less cackling demons; Fabbri is significantly stronger in the late sequence of three mob brothers hacking at one another than in Constantine's encounter with boisterous demon Nergal.

"Good Old Days" picks up from Seeley's story in Hellblazer Vol. 3: The Inspiration Game, which introduced Ames; I was not as taken with that three-part story, which pit Constantine against evil dwarves straightaway instead of mortal foes, but I was glad to see Seeley's stories correspond with one another. Should DC see fit to release a Hellblazer by Tim Seeley book one day, this'll make a nice, cohesive nine-issue package. Seeley also uses Blythe from Ming Doyle and James Tynion's DC You Constantine, the Hellblazer, an unexpected canoning of that book (plus Seeley's use of constant Hellblazer foe Nergal and etc.).

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Hellblazer Vol. 4: The Good Old Days

With its mix of real-life horror and the supernatural, Tim Seeley's Hellblazer Vol. 4: The Good Old Days finally delivers a gripping Constantine tale for the post-Vertigo era and shows how Hellblazer and superheroes can mix, too. As with New Suicide Squad Vol. 4: Kill Anything, Seeley again demonstrates himself a powerful pitch hitter, coming in with a solid one-off for a series at its end. If they ever need a guest writer on the new Hellblazer series, I hope Seeley is strongly considered.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Hellblazer Vol. 4: The Good Old Days
Author Rating
4.5 (scale of 1 to 5)

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