Saturday, July 17, 2010

Blogathon 20: Hellblazer: Hard Time

[Discussed in this post: Hellblazer: Hard Time (#146-150).]

Brian Azzarello was the first American to write Hellblazer. The first person who wasn't born in Europe, actually (some say from the British Isles, but Darko Macan did the two issues between Ellis's and Azzarello's runs and he was from Croatia -- but they also sometimes say 'ongoing writer' when discussing that, so there's that, too...). That's pretty impressive for a couple of reasons: 1) That he was first, and 2) That the book lasted over 12 years of being published by an American mainstream comics company without an American writing it. If you look at the list of artists, you find a similar pattern. Funny that.

Hard Time made quite the impression when it first hit, because of Azzarello's bold, direct storytelling. He sends John to prison in the US for the murder of a con artist by the name of Lucky. He didn't kill Lucky, but he did give him the gun back knowing what he would do... just not why. We won't know why until much later into Azzarello's run. All we know here is that John is in prison and needs to survive.

He begins by getting into it with a fellow inmate who's set on making John his bitch by lending him a pack of smokes, a debt that doubles every day. John's response is fantastic: he borrows exactly one cigarette from the guy's crew and uses those as fetishes to fuck with them when they come after him in the shower. It's not explained outright or obviously, Azzarello just has it happen.

From there, he goes about pissing everyone else off by snubbing the white supremicists, making the Muslims face the wrong way when they pray (or, turn their back on their god), manages to kill the brother of a man who's been apparently feeding him cut up glass every day for a week, and beating Stark, the king of the lifers, at poker when everyone knows he's supposed to win. John just fucks with everyone... and gets away with it, because Stark likes his style. So much so that he makes sure John takes the wrap for the killing of a guard, making him a lifer and a guy with a rep, too. While in solitary, John uses magic to set off a riot, and take over the prison. An FBI Agent by the name of Turro comes in to negotiate... by which he just lets John walk out as an employee (of sorts) for Turro.

We learn a couple of important things: Lucky tried to con a rich man by the name of SW Manor and that's why he killed himself... seemingly. John allowed himself to be arrested because he felt guilty.

Part of what makes this story so good is the manner in which Azzarello writes. His John is ballsy and likes his wordplay (like Azzarello does). Words play a big part here with doublemeanings often cropping up. Like John talking about how Allah shouldn't be talking behind his back just before the Muslims face the wrong way. He also has a different narrator for each issue. The one from the first, Traylor's 'fish,' just slides into the background for the rest of the arc. John narrates the fourth, while Turro does the fifth. The other two are done slightly different. That gives each issue its own feel while still fitting into the larger arc.

This arc also has Richard Corben. What to say about Corben? David Brothers does a pretty great job. There's a strong exaggerated element in his art. People don't look real, but they look like personality. They have attitude and they wear their insides on the outside. The facial expressions are real. The line work around the edges reminds me of David Lloyd's work on the Morrison two-parter. That dotty style. I like how his characters have big teeth and big grins. They're emotional.

In 30 minutes, I'll discuss Good Intentions and the return of Marcelo Frusin...

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