Sunday, July 18, 2010

Blogathon 46: The Writers of Hellblazer

As we wind down on the final couple hours of the blogathon, I've run out of Hellblazer comics to discuss. There are two trades that I didn't discuss, the first two from Andy Diggle's run, but that's only because I don't have the third and I didn't want to discuss 2/3s of the run. It's one thing to take a quick look at the first issue of a long run just to get a taste of it, but when the run is complete and you just have 2/3s... best to leave it alone until you've got them all. So, without any specific comics, I'm going to spend the next three posts discussing three aspects of Hellblazer beginning with the writers.

There are five main writers of the Hellblazer comics I looked at today: Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, Brian Azzarello, and Denise Mina. I read their complete runs (aside from two uncollected Ennis issues...), while the other writes either didn't do much on the tile (Eddie Campbell, Grant Morrison) or I only sampled a small bit of what they did (Jamie Delano, Paul Jenkins). Sticking to those five, I'll rank their runs and say a few words about them:

1. Brian Azzarello -- It's hard to rank these writers since four of them did really strong work. Azzarello goes at the top partly because, along with Ellis, his John Constantine is the first I experienced. And like a lot of things, the first one leaves the strongest impression and is what you hold all others against. Azzarello beats out Ellis because his run is complete. He got to tell his big four-volume story. I like how Azzarello writes John as a conman. He uses his words and wit to get by, not magic so much. Azzarello's run did suffer in a couple of spots from filler issues that weren't that strong. The actual storyarcs were though. And I'm a sucker for that Bruce Wayne joke stuff.

2. Warren Ellis -- More than Azzarello, Ellis's John Constantine is the one I like best. He's stoic and cold somewhat, enjoys being the creepy bastard, but also has a lot of emotion beneath the surface. As I said in my discussing of Setting Sun, "One Last Love Song" is a favourite of mine. I also really like "Haunted" for the different approach Ellis brought to it with the focus on London. Ellis's run also has the advantage of being incomplete. It never really got bad. None of the single issues felt like filler or something tossed off, but were purposeful examinations of different things, often the idea that the horror that John deals with comes from humanity, not something mystical. I like that approach a lot.

3. Mike Carey -- He had a strong structure to his run with, basically, two stories: a big external one and a big internal one. That's a smart way to set things up. In the first half of the run, John has to save the world from something that really has nothing to do with him; in the second half, it's all about him, the threat literally coming from his genetics. Carey also does a great reversal with the end of the first half/beginning of the second and John losing his memory. It seems like a bad thing, but it's a good thing really. Regaining his memory and identity is a bad thing. Carey really nailed the emotions in the second half of his run. #200 stopping me dead the first time I read it and he ended his run the strongest of the bunch. But, some of his issues seem more mechanical when viewed in the context of the whole.

4. Garth Ennis -- Surprising since many consider him the best Hellblazer writer. I just find a good chunk of his run leaves me cold. The first and last arcs are amazing. The relationship of John and Kit is heartbreaking and very well done. There are a lot of nice little moments, but also a lot that aren't worthy any attention. This is a run that I think gets mythologised more than any other. His John was very grounded and easy to read.

5. Denise Mina -- Surprising no one. She wasn't that bad, the execution was just lacking. I don't want to harp on the point much.

For those that have read these five runs, what would your order be? Would you have different orders if you went by overall run versus depiction of John specifically? (I would. For John specifically, it would be: 1. Warren Ellis; 2. Garth Ennis; 3. Brian Azzarello; 4. Mike Carey; Denise Mina.)

In 30 minutes, I'll say some words on the artists of Hellblazer...

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