Friday, July 30, 2010

CBR Review: First Wave #3

I recently reviewed First Wave #3 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "I’m not entirely sure what Brian Azzarello is up to in First Wave. The mini-series is halfway over and it’s not completely clear what the plot is. There are lots of smaller plots involving the various pulp and pulpy superhero characters, but what they add up to and have in common is still a mystery for the most part. Yet, that doesn’t concern me, because Azzarello is clearly weaving a web of plots that show signs of converging soon, possibly in Hidalgo. But, why and what exactly is going on haven’t been explained. It’s an interesting slow build as it works against expectations and how these stories are usually structured. The pacing and build feel more organic and smooth here, lacking the usual ham-fisted manner of throwing a bunch of characters together."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Thor #612

I recently reviewed Thor #612 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "At the end of Thor #611, it seemed as if big things were happening. Thor and his fellow Asgardians learned of the Disir, former Valkyries that were cursed to eat Asgardian souls but never on Asgardian land, attacking the new Hel within Mephisto’s realm. The issue ended with Thor yelling 'To Hell' and the next issue seemed poised to deliver 22 pages of brutal fighting as the Asgardians journeyed to Hell to protect the souls of their departed brothers and sisters. Instead, this issue is a slow grind as the intricacies of the Disir, Hela’s bargain with Loki, and the fears of the Asgardians are all explored in great detail."

You can read the rest HERE!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

CBR Review: Puinishermax #9

I recently reviewed Punishermax #9 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Jason Aaron’s construction of this Bullseye character is unexpected and goes further than you would think. As he’s spent the last couple of issues trying to understand how Frank Castle thinks in order to kill him, he’s shown himself to be utterly psychotic. He’s killed four families in an attempt to recreate the Central Park gunfight where Castle lost his family. He sacrifices a bunch of the Kingpin’s men just to see Castle at work. He’s so casual about it that it’s scary. What makes his insanity stand out is that he doesn’t hesitate, ever. This is all natural to him; this is his logic."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Secret Avengers #3

I recently reviewed Secret Avengers #3 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "It’s amazing how good Mike Deodato is at drawing cosmic. When Secret Avengers was first announced, it seemed like it would be the spiritual successor to Dark Avengers (which was a successor of sorts to Deodato’s run on Thunderbolts with Warren Ellis) with darker stories that take place in the shadows of the Marvel Universe. And, honestly, the book has been just that so far, but who knew that the dark shadows of the Marvel Universe would involve the team going to Mars? Who knew that it would involve the Serpent Crown possessing Nova? And Deodato has done an absolutely fantastic job with those unexpected elements."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: After Dark #1

I recently reviewed After Dark #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "This may seem odd, but the biggest surprise in reading this comic created by Training Day director Antoine Fuqua and actor Wesley Snipes comes from the lack of a character that is obviously Snipes in disguise. When it comes to comics created by an actor, there’s usually a character that is drawn in the actor’s likeness and is obviously the role he would be playing if this got made as a movie. After Dark #1 doesn’t have the Snipes stand-in, thankfully, but that doesn’t stop it from reading somewhat like a movie pitch instead of a proper comic. The plot is a standard quest with the ensemble group that doesn’t quite get along. Even the dark edges Peter Milligan puts on the dialogue at certain points can’t raise the issue above mediocrity."

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

CBR Review: Wonder Woman #601

I recently reviewed Wonder Woman #601 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "While all of your questions about the new Wonder Woman status quo aren’t answered in the first full issue of J. Michael Straczynski and Don Kramer’s run on the book, a number of them are, including what exactly happened to Paradise Island. In fact, that question is answered in so much detail that this issue isn’t much more than a big pile of exposition that had me wondering where the other half of the issue, the part with the actual story, was. The exposition actually only takes up the first half of the issue, but the second half that follows doesn’t feel fully developed or anything but more exposition, only presented indirectly rather than told straight to us."

You can read the rest HERE!

Quickie Reviews (July 28 2010)

Hey, comics! YEAH! (And even shorter thoughts on them...)

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #4: Is that proof that Hurt is Thomas Wayne? The art wasn't as bad as I feared, but the depiction of Savage didn't actually look like him -- the shape of the head and face was off. Whatever. A fine issue. [***]

Rasl #8: I really need to reread the previous issues at some point. But, enjoyable for the background info provided. Not much else there besides that, though. [***]

Thor the Mighty Avenger #2: The other half of the 'pilot episode' of the book. Thor is lost and uncertain, but he can still kick some ass. Chris Samnee fucking brings it to this book. Definitely worth picking up if you weren't sure. [****]

That's it for this week.

The Splash Page Podcast Special Guest Episode 1

With Tim on vacation, I found a replacement for a special episode of the show: Sean Witzke of supervillain. fame. He's a great writer and a really nice guy and we wound up talking for around two-and-a-half hours. We jump from topic to topic quite a bit, but it's a fun conversation with us talking about: King City, Joe Casey, fun comics and Frank Miller, Grant Morrison's Batman, Armond White and criticism, Twitter, action movies, non-comics readers, Alan Moore and other comics writers and ideas, past their prime creators, some movie talk, action in comics, and other random comics stuff. And, as always, it all begins with "We're Hardcore" by Gord Downie. So, enjoy this special episode; Tim and I should be back sometime next week.

You can download and listen to the Splash Page Podcast Special Guest episode 1 HERE!

Monday, July 26, 2010

CBR Review: Darkwing Duck #2

I recently reviewed Darkwing Duck #2 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "First issues of series like this tend to get all of the notice, but there’s something more interesting about the second issue where you get insight into how the book will really play out when there isn’t all of the first issue pressure and effort. The good news for fans of Darkwing Duck is that things are looking great. After a strong first issue, the debut arc of BOOM!’s new Darkwing Duck ongoing series continues with an equally strong and entertaining second issue. The first issue established the premise of Drake Mallard retired from his vigilante life and struggling with regular life, ending with him considering putting on the costume while, elsewhere, the Fearsome Five has become the Fearsome Four and are making a comeback."

You can read the rest HERE!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

CBR Review: DV8: Gods and Monsters #4

I recently reviewed DV8: Gods and Monsters #4 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "If I had one big complaint about DV8: Gods and Monsters it's that, despite strong character work, it lacks a central focus, something that suggests that the story is moving forward instead of being a series of spotlight issues on the members of the group as they live on a primitive alien planet. This issue doesn’t entirely address my concerns, but it does move in the right direction with its focus on Matthew Callahan, the most violent and sociopathic member of the group."

You can read the rest HERE!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Blogathon Wrap-Up

Well, after an extra few days for donations, the final tally raised for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is $155! Thank you to Michelle Farwell, Tim Callahan, Greg Burgas, Patrick Watson, Raymond Conlon, and Tim Meakins for their generous donations. And thanks to everyone else who supported me during the event. Hopefully, I'll do it again next year. I have an idea of what I would like to do and it's a little different, so we'll see if that can happen. Thanks!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

CBR Review: Red Mass for Mars #4

I recently reviewed Red Mass for Mars #4 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The first three issues of the series have been the set-up for this final confrontation as Mars, the Superman-esque hero that landed on Earth in the 9th century, has decided to stand beside the rest of the heroes after some, including his son, have already fallen in a failed attempt to destroy the Hun-Du fleet as it makes its way to Earth. The final battle is bloody and brutal with both sides taking heavy casualties, but the stakes are high with the Hun-Du being parasites that feed upon and control their hosts, reveling in the destruction and control that comes with the conquest."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: X-Factor #207

I recently reviewed X-Factor #207 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "With 'Second Coming' out of the way, X-Factor can return to its regularly scheduled plots and style without worrying about what’s going on in the rest of the X-universe. That means, of course, a new case for Madrox: a woman named Halja (who we all recognize with a different name) comes walking through the door, wanting a necklace to be retrieved from a man named Gofern. That seems simple enough, but, in this busy comic, it’s almost forgotten after the other ongoing plots of the title are addressed."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Atlas #3

I recently reviewed Atlas #3 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Parker, though, is paired with a couple of great art teams in the Gabriel Hardman/Elizabeth Breitweiser duo and Ramon Rosanas flying solo. Hardman’s drawing style is sketchy and bold, using extreme contrasts of light often. He does dynamic action well, especially towards the end of the issue. Where he’s most impressive is in his presentation of the events that befell the Chandlers with a much more impressionistic style that stands out from the rest of his art. Breitweiser’s colors reflect the extremes in Hardman’s art, using simple colors for the most part. Together, they produce page after page of interesting, bold, compelling art. It’s the sort of art that you can spend a lot of time poring over."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Amazing Spider-Man #638

I recently reviewed Amazing Spider-Man #638 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Two-and-a-half years and nearly 100 issues later, Amazing Spider-Man returns to 'One More Day' to answer the lingering questions raised by that story and the deal made between Mephisto and Peter Parker and his then-wife Mary Jane. Reactions to 'One More Day' were decidedly on the negative sign, but the 'Brand New Day' status quo that followed has won over many, especially in recent months with a series of solid stories with great art on the title, so, if there were ever a time for Marvel to play off the good will of Spider-fans and return to the subject matter that pissed so many of them off, now is it. And, the first part of 'One Moment in Time,' the story that will show how it happened that Peter and Mary Jane never married is a solid, interesting read."

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Quickie Reviews (July 21 2010)

Most of the books I got this week are for reviewing purposes (or books I normally buy and am reviewing). But, there are a trio of Avengers titles that aren't getting reviewed, so I guess I can share a few words on them here...

Avengers #3: Goddamn, I am enjoying the hell out of this book. This is like the anti-Bendis comic, but with the same Bendis dialogue. Lots going on, lots of action, lots of fun with great art by John Romita, Jr. This story isn't going off in any direction that I expected and... yeah, just very, very satisfied with this comic right now. [****]

New Avengers #2: This one less so. It's not bad, but it doesn't blow me away the same way. It follows a similar pattern of tons of action with Bendis's dialogue thrown in and great art, but the story is just less compelling and surprising. Some very nice bits of dialogue, like the Thing's comment about the answer to who would win in a fight between himself and Luke Cage. Just a small step down from Avengers. [***3/4] (Yes, I used three-quarters! It's my blog, I can rate how I want...)

Ultimate Comics Avengers 2 #5: This series hasn't impressed me as much as the first one, which didn't really impress me as much as either Ultimates series by Millar and Hitch. This second series has felt like stalling and padding and never getting to the point, this issue no exception. It's like Millar had two issues of story here and just dragged it out. But, hey, that means six issues of Leinil Francis Yu working his magic, which I can live with. Also, there are the odd cool moments like the conversation between Hawkeye and Punisher, or Cash's reaction to War Machine worrying that he may kill him. We'll see how this ends in two weeks. [***]

And that does it for this week. Later.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

CBR Review: Daytripper #8

I recently reviewed Daytripper #8 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Brás de Oliva Domingos, the protagonist of Daytripper, doesn’t appear in this issue and it’s the best so far. Instead of focusing on an event in Brás’ life, Moon and Bá focus on events where he’s absent. His lack of presence being his presence. While he’s never shown on panel, he’s felt throughout the entire issue as his wife, Ana, and son, Miguel, miss him while he’s doing a book tour. It’s a heartfelt issue and, if you’ve read Daytripper so far, you know how it’s going to end, but that doesn’t stop you from getting sucked in and feeling the hurt and heartbreak on that final page. That Moon and Bá can elicit such a strong reaction is an amazing and wondrous thing."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: The Man with the Getaway Face

I recently reviewed The Man with the Getaway Face for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Last year, Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novel adaptation Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter was one of the best-loved and critically acclaimed comics released, and the anticipation is high for this year’s adaptation of The Outfit. High enough that the release of the prelude/preview, adapting The Man with the Getaway Face was a huge hit at this year’s WonderCon -- so much so that many of us who didn’t attend were a little bit jealous of those who did. Thankfully, IDW recognized the demand for the book and released it through Diamond. And, honestly, you’re not likely to find a better way to spend two dollars any time soon."

You can read the rest HERE!

Monday, July 19, 2010

CBR Review: Officer Downe #1

I recently reviewed Officer Downe #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Remember Tackleberry from the Police Academy films? Played by the late David Graf, he was the semi-psycho member the gang, obsessed with the law and not afraid to bust some heads to get the job done. He was the sort of guy who, when asked by a frustrated mom to help get her son to leave the car and go to school, responded by shooting a smoke grenade through the back window. Terrence Downe is a bit like that if you turned the volume up to 11 and also made him basically immortal in the wonderfully over-the-top and ultraviolent Office Downe by the “Nixon’s Pals” creative team of Joe Casey and Chris Burnham."

You can read the rest HERE!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Splash Page Podcast Episode 25

This week's episode is up. In it, we talk about Tim's comics workshop that he ran this week, various comics from this week including Superman #701, Batman #701, Daytripper #8, two Joe Casey books, and loads of other random stuff before, during, and after. It all begins with "We're Hardcore" by Gord Downie and I'm off to finish reading books for tomorrow's blogathon.

You can download and listen to the Splash Page Podcast episode 25 HERE!

(Edit: I bumped this up in case some people didn't see it.)

Blogathon 2010 Archive Post

Here is a complete archive of the Blogathon 2010 posts:

Blogathon 01: Alright, Sunshine?
Blogathon 02: Hellblazer #11
Blogathon 03: Hellblazer #31, 35 & 84
Blogathon 04: Hellblazer #25-26, 56
Blogathon 05: Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits
Blogathon 06: Hellblazer: Bloodlines (Part One)
Blogathon 07: Hellblazer: Bloodlines (Part Two)
Blogathon 08: Hellblazer: Bloodlines (Part Three)
Blogathon 09: Hellblazer: Fear and Loathing (Part One)
Blogathon 10: Hellblazer: Fear and Loathing (Part Two)
Blogathon 11: Hellblazer: Tainted Love
Blogathon 12: Hellblazer: Damnation's Flame
Blogathon 13: Hellblazer: Rake at the Gates of Hell
Blogathon 14: Hellblazer: Heartland
Blogathon 15: Hellblazer #85-89
Blogathon 16: Hellblazer: Son of Man
Blogathon 17: Hellblazer: Haunted
Blogathon 18: Hellblazer: Setting Sun
Blogathon 19: Hellblazer: "Shoot" and Planetary #7
Blogathon 20: Hellblazer: Hard Time
Blogathon 21: Hellblazer: Good Intentions
Blogathon 22: Hellblazer: Freezes Over (Part One)
Blogathon 23: Hellblazer: Freezes Over (Part Two)
Blogathon 24: Hellblazer: Highwater (Part One)
Blogathon 25: Hellblazer: Highwater (Part Two)
Blogathon 26: Hellblazer: Highwater (Part Three)
Blogathon 27: Hellblazer: All His Engines
Blogathon 28: Hellblazer: Red Sepulchre
Blogathon 29: Hellblazer: Black Flowers (Part One)
Blogathon 30: Hellblazer: Black Flowers (Part Two)
Blogathon 31: Hellblazer: Staring at the Wall (Part One)
Blogathon 32: Hellblazer: Staring at the Wall (Part Two)
Blogathon 33: Hellblazer: Stations of the Cross (Part One)
Blogathon 34: Hellblazer: Stations of the Cross (Part Two)
Blogathon 35: Hellblazer: Stations of the Cross (Part Three)
Blogathon 36: Hellblazer: Reasons to be Cheerful (Part One)
Blogathon 37: Hellblazer: Reasons to be Cheerful (Part Two)
Blogathon 38: Hellblazer: The Gift (Part One)
Blogathon 39: Hellblazer: The Gift (Part Two)
Blogathon 40: Hellblazer: The Gift (Part Three)
Blogathon 41: Hellblazer: Empathy is the Enemy
Blogathon 42: Hellblazer: The Red Right Hand
Blogathon 43: Hellblazer #229
Blogathon 44: Hellblazer #245-246
Blogathon 45: Hellblazer #250
Blogathon 46: The Writers of Hellblazer
Blogathon 47: The Artists of Hellblazer
Blogathon 48: John Constantine
Blogathon 49: "Goodnight and God bless -- now fuck off to bed."


As I get further Hellblazer runs/stories, I plan to write about them and figured I'd use this an archive for that.

* Hellblazer: Joyride, The Laughing Magician, and The Roots of Coincidence

Blogathon 49: "Goodnight and God bless -- now fuck off to bed."

And that's that. As I write this, I've been awake for over 24 hours, something I've done in the past, but never gets any easier. Not that it's that hard, it's just that... well, I'm tired. That probably showed for the last, oh, eight hours' worth of posts.

Like the last two times I did this, it was really a lot of fun. I didn't know how this one would go in comparison, but it was good. So far, $80 has been raised for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. If you donated because of this and didn't tell me, please do. As I have in the past, I'm leaving the window for donating open for the rest of the week. So, if you haven't donated, please do.

Thanks to those who have donated, those who commented, those who said encouraging words, or passed on links. That meant a lot to me and helped me push forward.

Hopefully, I'll do this again next year. It's always fun and a good way to raise some money for charity while doing something I really enjoy.

If you have never read Hellblazer, take my willingness to spend an entire day on it as a sign that, yeah, it's a great comic series. There isn't another ongoing like it where I openly say that I want every issue. There's usually a caveat of some kind. Not with this book.

I am very tired. Thank you again. I'm off to bed. The archive page for the blogathon will be posted later in the day.

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 48: John Constantine

John Constantine.

What makes him so interesting for both readers and those who create his stories? What about him makes him the Vertigo character that continues to endure while others have come and gone with their own ongoing series? How has Hellblazer made it past 260 issues? Why do I like it so much -- enough to spend 24 hours writing about?

Whenever I wonder about this sort of thing, my first instinct is to say 'I dunno.' Because part of me knows that there's an intangible quality to things like this. No matter how hard you try, you'll never pinpoint the exact reason. You can come close, you can explain most of it, but never all. Some characters and books have 'it' while most don't.

Part of what makes Hellblazer a book that continues is the creators it attracts. Look at the writers and artists that have worked on the title. Name me another book with a list of names equal to that. A Superman title? Nope. Nor Batman or Spider-Man or Fantastic Four or X-Men... Hellblazer endures because the worst issue of it I've ever read was still better than 90% of the comics published (well, actually, that's not true, but if we exclude that one issue from the Mina run, then it is true). Even the bad runs aren't awful. They're not even that bad. They only look bad because they're surrounded by so many fantastic ones.

But I'm not supposed to be talking about Hellblazer, I'm supposed to be talking about John Constantine.

John is... partly the sort of person I want to be. In an earlier post, I asked who would actually want to be John Constantine and I have to admit part of me does. Not really and not completely, but there's an allure to that "All right, squire?" stepping out of the shadows, lighting a cigarette, getting by on charm and wits... not afraid to give the finger to the devil... not afraid to take on a rich and powerful man who fucked you over...

But, he has such horrible flaws that you can't really want to be him. He's got a big blindspot when it comes to his ego and his selfishness. He often leaps without looking. He can be an awful friend. He wants to be the hero, but never take responsibility.

I think John Constantine is interesting, because he has all of the best qualities that you want and all of the worst qualities that you'd never want. He's the extremes of good and bad. There's no half-measure with John. It's either a brilliant success or a blinding failure. The closest you get to a compromise is a brilliant success whose price is a blinding failure.

He's a very maleable character. Despite existing in real time essentially, he's also very static. Reading over these runs, he doesn't really change. He reminds me of the way they write the character of House on TV: everything around him can change and even he can change, too, but only for a short time. He is who he is and he can't change. He's the doctor who can't heal himself.

All magic is is change. Except John can't apply that idea to the one place he wants to the most: himself. He can't change himself, not for good or in any lasting way. That's interesting. There's a bit of fun in watching him try to be better, looking like he can make it, and then falling back down.

None of that really answers any of those questions, but it all sounds half-decent, right?

In 30 minutes, this is over and I can get some sleep...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 47: The Artists of Hellblazer

I had never thought about how many talented artists have worked on Hellblazer, either for extensive runs or just short appearances. I've always thought of the title as a writer's book, but that's clearly not the case when you look at who's been drawing it since... well, damn near the beginning of the book. And even the artists that aren't great are workmanlike and skilled, bringing a base level of skill to the gig.

One of the issues, though, that I have with the art, especially with more recent runs, is how John and Chas are depicted. Both would be in their 50s by now, approaching their 60s and neither are drawn that way most of the time. John has an excuse somewhat because of the demon blood in his veins. You could argue that it makes him age more slowly (though that isn't official), but Chas? What's his excuse? Being a cabbie and having a nag of a wife keeps him young and fit? I made the comment in jest, but I do wonder: is drawing middleaged people one of the hardest things to do? Drawing people in their 40s and 50s... huh.

Like the writers, I'll rank the artists, but I'll just give you my top five from all of them...

1. Marcelo Frusin -- He breaks the rules about John's age all of the time, but with his work on Ellis, Azzarello, and Carey's runs, he's done a really strong body of work on the title. He does mood amazingly and draws striking pictures with characters that pop off the page. He's one of my favourite artists now more than ever thanks to this blogathon.

2. Steve Dillon -- No one does character storytelling as well. He handles the humanity of the characters. A lot of what makes John so great is his ability to talk and Dillon gets that across, making it visually interesting. He can draw just about anything and any time he returns to the title, it's an event.

3. John Higgins -- His art isn't pretty, but it's got a real quality to it. His John Constantine looks like he's lived the life he's lived. He's worn down a little and showing his age.

4. Sean Phillips -- This is the book where you can see Phillips growing and developing as an artist, becoming the strong, confident storytelling he is now, refining his line work. He's one of my favourite artists now and his early work is strong enough for him to rank then, too.

5. Richard Corben/David Lloyd -- I'm cheating to get them both in. Somewhat similar styles with shading, both didn't do tons of works on the title, but made their visual marks. Corben helped set the tone for Azzarello's run, while Lloyd did issues with Morrison, Ennis, Delano...

Who would be your top five artists?

In 30 minutes, I'll return with some words on John Constantine the character...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

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...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 45: Hellblazer #250

[Discussed in this issue: "Happy New Fucking Year," "Christmas Cards," "All I Goat for Christmas," "The Curse of Christmas," and "Snow Had Fallen" (Hellblazer #250).]

The final discussion of an actual Hellblazer comic specifically... This issue is an anthology issue with all of the stories revolving around the holiday season. I'll do these one story at a time...

"Happy New Fucking Year" by Dave Gibbons and Sean Phillips: John is asked to get back the Scythe of Osiris for the English Museum on New Year's Eve. Turns out the guy who stole is going to use to kill a baby and get immortality or something. John stops him by stealing a champagne bottle and giving him a swift kick to the balls. Nothing really wrong with this story. It's got Sean Phillips on art after all. Gibbons throws in a great joke where the saved baby's name turns out to be Brooklyn and John, of course, thinks the kid may have been better off with scythe.

"Christmas Cards" by Jamie Delano and David Lloyd: John goes to a bar to watch a poker game (he's not allowed to play). Chas gets tapped out and it comes down to two guys: a bald thug of a man and this old guy that we learn is in town trying to bring his daughter back home. She's had drug problems and he needs the money to buy her from her pimp. At the end, despite owing money and not usually having much of a conscience, something makes the thug lay down four queens and let the old guy have the pot. It's a sweet little story. I have no idea if John was meant to have done something. David Lloyd on art... shit, he gets across the emotion so well. I love the pencil crayon look of his colours.

"All I Goat for Christmas" by Brian Azzarello and Rafael Grampá: This is a weird one. It's a poem about John being hired by a bunch of Cubs fans to break a curse involving a goat. John does it by turning a goat into a demon goat of sorts and the people in the bar have to eat it to break the curse. Azzarello's poem has a good rhythm. Short lines, lots of rhyme... and art by Rafael Grampá. Grampá's line work is fairly unique. A little odd, but intricate and detailed, but also highly idiosyncratic. It tells more of the story than the poem. I don't mind Azzarello returning to the character for something like this. It's so out there and weird that it seem divorced from his run on the title.

"The Curse of Christmas" by Peter Milligan and Eddie Campbell: The ghost of an MP who died under mysterious circumstances the previous Christmas at the same time as two others wants John to figure out how he died. Turns out it was in the Queen's Christmas address. The guy who wrote it's wife slipped the spell in to help him rise through the ranks quicker. John doesn't do anything to them, seeming to think that being married to one another is punishment enough. Cynical and funny. Eddie Campbell does the art! His John has a look of age to him, too. He mostly looks over 50 years old.

"Snow Had Fallen" by China Miéville and Giuseppe Camuncoli: This is my least favourite story of the bunch. John investigates a chemical plant accident and some strange occurances. Devils coming to children in the night after they played in some waste from a plant explosion. Turns out, though, that since the factory was refining evil, the waste was pure good -- the unnecessary bits. When the children played in it and made snow angels (thinking it was snow), they created real angels... sort of. Giuselle Camuncoli does the art and it's not often you'll hear me say that his is the weakest in a comic, but, in this case, it is. It's actually bit weak for him in general. Not up to his usual standard.

A nice little collection of short stories. None that blow my mind, but most are pretty good. I'm torn between the Delano and Milligan ones for my favourite.

In 30 minutes, I'll write a few words on the writers of Hellblazer...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 44: Hellblazer #245-246

[Discussed in this post: "Newcastle Calling" (Hellblazer #245-246).]

Jason Aaron is only the second American to write Hellblazer. Him and Brian Azzarello. I've been thinking about big Vertigo writers and what other Americans would fit the book. I suppose Brian K. Vaughan is the obvious choice. Bill Willingham, too. Those two seem like the most popular American Vertigo writers to not handle the title. I wonder if either ever will...

I'm pretty good at this point on picking up random one- or two-off issues in singles, knowing that they may not be collected. I buy runs in trades, but know that singles will be essential. So, I was smart enough to grab the two-parter Jason Aaron wrote in the middle (or in the middle of the end) of Andy Diggle's run on the book. Like most of these sort of comics, I wouldn't rank these issues near the top of my favourites, but they're also pretty damn good. Aaron is paired with Sean Murphy who we all know now as the artist of Joe the Barbarian. Aaron returns to the beginning: Mucous Membrane and Newcastle. (Always Newcastle...)

The first issue revolves around a TV crew that go to the place where the Casanova Club was for a location for an episode of a show where they focus on an old band, wondering whatever happened to it. This episode is about Mucous Membrane, but, by going to the Casanova Club's remains, they stir the terror elemental (Astrid's Norfulthing) and it drives them crazy a bit, same with the town of Newcastle. Again, the Hellblazer possession/influence. Living in England with John Constantine sucks. Let's all admit that. John knows there's something up somehow and has to go make things right. He can't/won't save the TV crew, but he puts the terror elemental in its place. He'd subdued it before, feeding it once a year.

Aaron lets his punk knowledge out a bit, especially in a few panels where the producer and cameraman try to decide on the best punk song ever. The inclusion of a few bits of interviews with people about Mucous Membrane also makes these issues fun. It's a clever idea for a Hellblazer story, one that fits the times.

Sean Murphy on art is very enjoyable. His John's hairline is a bit further back and he's got some scars/lines, a face made out of stone almost. He has a lankiness to his figures. They're lanky. Some slightly sketchy line work. Just really strong visuals that look only like his art. I also love how his Chas has a big gut that hangs out the bottom of his shirt. He seems very keen on drawing the characters at their respective ages.

These two issues are worth tracking down if only because they probably won't be collected unless DC/Vertigo decides to do the randoms. Why not "Rare Cuts Vol. 2?"

In 30 minutes, we conclude the look at actual comics with Hellblazer #250...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 43: Hellblazer #229

[Discussed in this post: "With a Little Help from My Friends" (Hellblazer #229).]

Ah, Mike Carey is back despite his wonderful exit. Can no one stay away from John Constantine?

Unlike the return of Garth Ennis, this is just a throwaway one-off that features art by John Paul Leon! Yes, another great artist. There are still more to come! This issue has John telling a story when a friend asks him to use magic to get back at some guys that sideswiped him. The story revolves around two sisters, one of whom lived on the same floor as him. She was in a wheelchair and he overheard her arguing bitterly with her sister one day. Trying to be nice, he offers some sympathy and next thing he knows, he's doing her a favour: going to her sister to ask for what's hers. Her sister will give it up if John gets Innocent's Tears. And soon he's up to his next in weird demon shit where the two sisters are the same demon split into different parts. As I've said many times before, a fine, typical story. Nothing really bad about it, but nothing that blows me away.

The thing I like about this comic a lot is the art. Not just because it's John Paul Leon doing his thick lines with lots of shadows and suggesive line work. I like Lee Loughridge's colours, which are very restrained, reserved for mood. Scenes with be bathed in a colour, sometimes the background with another to pop. It's mostly some brown and a pale blue, but other colours are busted out to great effect, like this sickly green or red. Definitely a strong use of colours in John's story since it plays with the idea of the story/flashback being 'black and white' or just toned, but uses the tones effectively. A very simple, restrained approach, but highly effective.

Ah, I am glad that some of these random one-off type issues come near the end. They're much simpler.

In 30 minutes, the second American to write Hellblazer...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 42: Hellblazer: The Red Right Hand

[Discussed in this post: Hellblazer: The Red Right Hand, "The Season of the Zealot" (#223) and "The Red Right Hand" (#224-228).]

This trade begins with the one-off story "The Season of the Zealot" and it's awful. First of all, it interrupts the flow of the two story arcs since "The Red Right Hand" picks up right were "Empathy is the Enemy" left off. Having a story where John is in London just looks stupid. Next, it's told horribly. I still can't figure out what the point is. Something about London falling to zealots somehow with a suicide bomber maybe? Map is sick because his power is being drained by someone maybe? John stops it somehow? I have no idea. It's a baffling, confusing comic that has me struggling to figure it out. One of the worst constructed comics I've ever read.

"The Red Right Hand" is also a bit of a let down, but that's more because it's mostly just a lot of talking and standing around. Edinburgh is cut off from the rest of the world because the empathy engine has caused people to kill themselves, making it seem like a weird plague. The problem is, if people get out eventually, they'll spread the empathy 'virus' to others, eventually infecting the whole world. So, before that happens, they need to somehow stop the lord of the Third Place and shit the empathy engine down. Their solution is just to make everyone really happy and have a magic painter guy take the lord's place. It doesn't quite fit together, but it does revolve around the result of a World Cup soccer match and that's handled well. If England wins or loses, it would determine the whole thing because all of the guards surrounding the city are listening. Thankfully, they're all Scottish, so England losing makes them happy.

John's role isn't well defined and what happened in Carey's run is sort of pushed aside, even the rift between John and Chas. I don't like that as much. Not much mileage is gotten out that rift. The sacrifice of Cole at the end doesn't work entirely either since he's such a douchebag the rest of the time that it doesn't mean anything.

My other big complaint is that Manco and the colourist never get the whole 'red right hand' thing right since it referes to Cole's hand and him becoming the master of the Third Place. It begins with his right hand, but they do the hands as interchangeable. Always bugged me.

Using Angie and Gemma works for me, though. Then again, the way that Gemma is infatuated immediately with Cole doesn't work. She's so focused on being a big magician that I don't buy her being distracted so easily.

Denise Mina's run isn't awful, it's just serviceable. Easy to forget. Her John runs betwen too nice and too blase for my tastes. He has no edge. The payoff here is also weak because of five issues of people doing dickall.

And just when you thought we were done with him, in 30 minutes we have yet another Mike Carey Hellblazer comic...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 41: Hellblazer: Empathy is the Enemy

[Discussed in this post: Hellblazer: Empathy is the Enemy (#216-222).]

I don't hate Denise Mina's run, I just don't think it's that good. There's a good idea at its core with empathy and a third place after death that isn't Heaven or Hell. But, the execution just leaves me cold. She immediately has John break his vow of no magic while still having him cling to it. It's obvious that she wants to work with what Carey left, but had pitched something assuming regular Hellblazer status quo... or, at least, John using magic. Vertigo wanted a known-outside-of-comics name on the book and, like many first-time comics writers, the execution is what drags it down. The idea are there, but the dialogue is clumsy, the pacing is weak, and I don't really find the characters all that compelling. What happens at the end of the first issue of the run doesn't mesh entirely with what happens in the second. I still can't figure out what happens when you go from the end of the first to the beginning of the second. It simply doesn't make sense.

At the end of the first issue, John reverses the empathy energy that's infected Cole, sending it back to the source of the spell the man cast and also does something to Evans, the man that sent Cole to John... except there doesn't seem to be any results from what happens there because the next issue begins with John having the curse of empathy. Um, what? That doesn't make sense!

The rest of this story hums along a little better, but it's still clumsy. John just sort of goes along with everything and is fooled easily. It doesn't seem right; he's lost all his edge, something the curse of empathy wouldn't do.

I do like the end of this story where starting the empathy engine to help people avoid the Third Place actually makes them more likely to embrace it since it means an eternity of nothingness after feeling too much. At the same time, it reminds me of the reversal in other stories, like the dog/beast one from Carey's run. It's just all very typical. Some good idea, lacklustre, mediocre execution.

Leonardo Manco does the art and it looks good. He alternates between panels with intricate, thin line work and the thicker, messier line work he began using more and more towards the end of the Carey run. I'm not sure what to make of it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

The sad thing about Mina's run is that, out of the two trades, this is the better one. Mediocrity is the peak.

In 30 minutes, we'll see the worst use of a fill-in issue of the entire blogathon...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 40: Hellblazer: The Gift (Part Three)

[Discussed in this post: the third part of Hellblazer: The Gift, "R.S.V.P." (#214-215).]

"So. Magic. What it all about, then?"

That's how John begins his speech at the Tate Club's 200th anniversary party. He delivers a strong condemnation of magic, those who practice it, their goals, and the results. He calls them lazy, selfish, and uncaring about the effects of their actions. He then shows them all their deaths. It's the drunken toast to end all drunken toasts. It comes at the end of these two issues, the first of which has John falling further when he learns what Chas went through. John gets arrested as a result and burns down his storage unit. He decides to leave it all behind him, give up magic.

The final speech makes the story, though. You know it's going to be something special when he tells Map that he'll be attending the party and that they won't like it, but they'll remember it. I considered copying it out, but it needs to be read in the comic with Manco's thicker blacks. They're messy and mirror the words. The mood is foul there and John doesn't care, because he's sick of magic and magician. He looks around at his 'peers' and hates him.

The lines that stick out to me most of all are: "Innocent people die when we fuck up. And we fuck up all the time." I haven't mentioned superheroes yet today, but even if there was a line that I would love to see said as a drunken speech to a bunch of superheroes...

Carey ends his run with a big blaze orf righteous anger and it's a good way to end. It leaves John in a different place, he's changed the board, and hopefully left his mark on the character. This could have been the final issue of the series and I would have been happy. It's not quite John taking responsibility, but it's him not running either. I don't think he knows how to take responsibility for all the shit he's done, but not running away is good enough, I think. It's all he has. The issue ends with him being flanked by all the people whose deaths he's responsible for and he walks through them. He doesn't avoid them, he stares them head on. It's a start.

In 30 minutes, we'll see how a great end of a solid run can lead to a fairly bad run...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 39: Hellblazer: The Gift (Part Two)

[Discussed in this post: the second part of Hellblazer: The Gift, "The Gift" (#213).]

John shuts down a little bit after the death of Cheryl. We find him just standing in his old neighbourhood, watching and thinking. As does Angie and she tries to get him to go be with Gemma, to help her get through the deaths of her parents. John isn't having it and tells a story from his childhood...

Kenny was the neighbourhood bully and was threatening John if he wouldn't give him a couple of bob every day. John had no way to get the money, so he came up with a scheme involving a fake seance since Kenny's mom was dead. He pulls this whole routine and freaks Kenny out when he (as Kenny's mom) accuses Kenny of killing her. Kenny is so freaked out, he runs out into the street, is hit by a truck and loses his legs. John pulled it off with the help of Kenny's sister (whose eye was put out by Kenny). John speaks of this as his first time. He had fooled around with magic and such before, but that was the first. It was when he realised that his real talent was for lying, for fucking someone over, and walking away fine. That's what he does: everyone else around him gets fucked, but never him. And this time it was his sister. He goes off to wallow in self-pity.

Frazer Irving does the art and it's the right sort of creepy. He does kids really well. There's a British sensibility to their look that I can't describe any other way. I absolutely love the seance scene with John's body language and face, and the earnest pleading in Kenny's face that turns to horror when his killing his mom is brought up. He uses some good repeated images as well. This issue stands out between the Manco-drawn stories before and after it. I'm not sure if that's good or not. I do know I dig the art.

I know this issue is meant to be meaningful and emotional, but John's story doesn't quite work for me. Yes, Kenny got fucked... but that was the goal. John is feeling guilty because those around him get it and he doesn't despite him deserving it. In this case, Kenny was a monster and brought it on himself (as much as anyone can do so). it doesn't work for me. I don't even buy John feeling guilty for what happened to Kenny at all. So this issue is lacking there.

Also, Angie's warning at the end to not make any big decisions is a little too obvious that a big decision is coming soon.

In 30 minutes, Mike Carey's run ends with the speech to end all speeches....

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 38: Hellblazer: The Gift (Part One)

[Discussed in this post: the first part of Hellblazer: The Gift, "Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go" (#207-212).]

While there are three issues after this storyarc, they're more epilogues to this final story. John and Nergal go to Hell to rescue Cheryl's soul and confront Rosacarnis if need be. Though, the two really have two different agendas. John insists Gemma and Angie stay there so that Cheryl will have someone to guide her back to her body from that end. John and Nergal enter Hell via Limbo and throughout, Nergal keeps pushing to be allowed to possess John for easiness sake. John only consents when, in Hell, they come across John's double, the thing he left in Hell that contains all of his negative qualities (though I believe he created some more inside himself, obviously...). John allows Negral to take over so he can actually live. During this, we find out how Negral came to lose his throne, how his daughter wound up on it, and how, now, she's taking possession of it officially and, as her husband (sort of), John can challenge her for the right to rule over that house. Negral and John are separated when, trying to help John find Cheryl's soul, Angie and Gemma set up a beacon and... the soul is in Negral. John doesn't acknowledge that he recognised that sign, but he reveals that later.

Ultimately, it comes down to Negral in an unstoppable body and John joining forces with Rosacarnis on the condition that Cheryl's soul will go free. But that's also because he figured out that he needs to be alive for their children to live. His consent is an ongoing necessity because of the way they were conceived and born. The First of the Fallen gets involved when John is willing to sacrifice himself to save his sister's soul since that would mean John dies doing a noble act and he wants John dying a wretch of filth and wickedness.

In the real world, Tony has escaped and looks to kill Gemma, but she delivers a good speech about his crazy faith and what he did to Cheryl. Tony snaps out of it and kills himself. This allows the First of the Fallen to really fuck with John. He gives Cheryl a choice: she can return to Earth or she can stay in Hell with Tony on the condition that, if she does, his torments will be divided between them instead of just on him. She chooses to stay.

I didn't expect this when I first read it. After all, I never got the impression that she really loved Tony, especially as things went on. It seemed more a sense of duty and habit that she stayed with him. It's a brutal ending to this story. Quests like this usually result with a loss of some kind, but not this. The worst thing is that she chooses to stay. John can't save her. That's something he can't deal with. He knows best and people refusing to do things his way is torture for him.

Carey also isn't entirely neat with everything. He doesn't spell out what happens with the house of Negral. The First of the Fallen kills John's sons, but leaves Maria alive when she says she wants to die. I like that he leaves that open a little bit. It's not all closed doors. He leaves a little bit for future writers.

Manco is great. Messy. I love his double of John. A mean looking John. Ha. His Hell is horrific in detail. It looks alien and Hellish. Not a big fan of his First of the Fallen, though. He looks like a nobleman version of Dracula...

Still two posts to go on this trade, though. In 30 minutes, I'll discuss the immediate follow-up as Frazer Irving joins Mike Carey for the eponymous story of the collection...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 37: Hellblazer: Reasons to be Cheerful (Part Two)

[Discussed in this post: the second part of Hellblazer: Reasons to be Cheerful, "Cross Purpose" (#206).]

This issue has my favourite Tim Bradstreet cover of all of his Hellblazer covers:

It captures the hopelessness and regret of Chas at the end of the issue: that is a man that has destroyed his life.

Giuseppe Camuncoli does the art of the issue and it focuses on Chas after Nergal leaves him, but leaves a piece of himself behind. This sends Chas on a bit of tear, first shrugging off John and heading for home. On the way, he has sex with Maria (not knowing who she is), because she offers. He doesn't see why not. Chas has his personal outlet to do what he wants. He indulges all of his negative impulses. When he goes home, Renee confronts him over him being gone and, when she won't leave him alone, he hits her. He's never done that before. He hits a stripclub, but can't get drunk. He runs into Maria outside and they talk, Chas seemingly calming down a little and he gets through to her somewhat, making her rethink what she and her brothers have been doing: her life was a dream, not real... that's fucked up. She also senses something in Chas and removes the piece Nergal left behind of himself. Chas goes home and Renee won't have anything to do with him. The worst part, though, is that everything he did was already inside him. It wasn't Nergal's deserve to hit Renee, it was his. This issue will have lasting effects on John and Chas's relationship as Mike Carey didn't kill Chas, but effectively destroyed his life.

Camuncoli is the perfect artist. He does that savage, crazed face better than anyone. I've talked about this before. He nails that look. Chas is a man possessed (kind of) and looks like it.

Carey shows himself to be something of a cruel writer here. He isn't afraid to break some things. When people criticise his run, I don't really know what they don't like. Some parts aren't great obviously, but issues like this and #200? They're fantastic stuff. The way he tears things down with such emotion and precision. And it's not tearing it down just to tear it down. It makes sense and feels earned.

In 30 minutes, we begin the final trade of Carey's run as John and Nergal go to Hell...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 36: Hellblazer: Reasons to be Cheerful (Part One)

[Discussed in this post: the first part of Hellblazer: Reasons to be Cheerful, "Event Horizon" (#201) and "Reasons to be Cheerful" (#202-205).]

"Event Horizon" is a forgettable little horror story. It relies on the events happening while John was out of it and him dealing with them soon thereafter, but it really breaks up the flow of things. Some junkie kids are hired to break into John's storage space and steal stuff for a guy. One pockets a bracelet with a jewel in it where anyone who touches the jewel is safe from it so long as they own it. Once they lose it or give it away, they're taken as well. All three junkie kids and the guy who hired him touch the jewel and are taken away. John never touched the jewel itself and is safe. Yeaaaaaaaaaah... moving on...

"Reasons to be Cheerful" is where you actually want to pick things up. With Maria killing Alba, the white-haired magician of this world. With John learning that the place he was living is now a stripclub, so he fucks up the guy he talks with's TV, bowels, and penis for being an asshole about it. With Saul trying to kill Map, but failing. With Adam trying to kill Clarice and everyone else at the Tate.

John's kids kick things off with a bang.

In this bit, there is something I have a problem with: Albert is Clarice's companion and is a ghost. Manco draws him inconsistently (this happened before with Frusin as well). Sometimes, he's old and sometimes he's young. What I hate even more is that he dies here. A ghost... from broken glass? How? There's no explanation. "But, but, but, it's magic glass!" Yeah, not unless they say so. That really just annoys me. Moving on...

The kids go after more people like Chas. They don't succeed in killing Chas, but, during John's attempt to save him, a rat that's been following him around possesses Chas, revealing itself to be a demon of some sort. It wants to help John stop his kids, but they need to head for Liverpool to make sure John's sister and niece are okay. Meanwhile, Saul plots against Gemma, while Adam (I believe) goes after Cheryl and Tony. Saul's plot basically involves the date rape drug, which is kind of shit, but he's also a teenage boy, so... Adam's plan has him appearing to Tony as an angel and saying God wants a sacrifice to prove his faith. John and Chas/demon rat go after Gemma first, but she's handled it. By the time they get to Cheryl and Tony's, Tony has killed her. This is where the demon comes out of Chas and reveals that he's Nergal and he and John must travel to Hell to save Cheryl's soul.

This story ups the stakes and shows how much John's kids hate him. They try to kill everyone around him and don't succeed greatly. They only manage two out of the bunch it seems. Not too impressive, but it seems as such because they haven't been stopped. All that's been in John's favour has been their competitiveness and going in turns to see who can be the most creative.

Manco's pencils are messier and more suggestive here. There's elements of the line work I discuss with David Lloyd and Richard Corben. Not fully, but in spots. I do enjoy his art.

What I love best is that this arc is just kicking things off with John and his new demon family. Things do get worse. But, next issue is a favourite of mine, and I'll discuss it in 30 minutes.

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 35: Hellblazer: Stations of the Cross (Part Three)

[Discussed in this post: the third part of Hellblazer: Stations of the Cross, "Happy Families" (#200).]

Mike Carey does a special thing for the 200th issue of Hellblazer: he gives us three 'what if' stories of a sort and introduces us to John Constantine's three children with Rosacarnis. This is the day that lasts 40 years...

First up, we have Steve Dillon drawing a story where John married Kit and has a five-year old son. He gave up magic and is now a regular hustler. He's over his head a little. But something isn't right with his son, Adam. His daycare teacher/babysitter dies. The kid is creepy. But, it's John and Kit's fifth anniversary, so they leave him at home with Chas's granddaughter to babysit. John realises something is wrong by the way Kit is acting and rushes home to find that Adam has killed Tricia. He even killed the gangster John owed money to. Kit is really Rosacarnis and this is just the first little bit of his day.

Second up, we have Marcelo Frusin doing John married to Zed and older. They have a teenaged son and he's retired from magic, leaving it to Gemma. His son, Saul, shows a lot of promise, but something, again, isn't right. Abbey Cable was found dead in Scotland. Gemma nearly kills herself to let him know something isn't right -- Saul is torturing the green. John breaks into the greenhouse and finds Swamp Thing at the centre, captured and tortured by Saul. Saul finds John there and attacks him, revealing that he experimented upon himself first, existing as part plant himself. He begins to drown John and

John wakes up being drawn by Leonardo Manco. He's married to Angie and looks his age basically. He has a 14-year old daughter, Maria. She's been expelled from school and John doesn't know where the time has gone really... or what's happening. He follows her and her friends to find them torturing a man. John can't stop her. That's when Rosacranis and the other two kids arrive and she reveals her plan was to breed three children with him, all raised by him and able to outthink him, because they know how he operates. She reveals herself as Nergal's daughter and that she took only a day, his consent being important then and continuing. Now, she's going to let him watch as they rape the world.

It ends with John back to his old self, partly thrown off by his 40 years of memories that didn't actually happen. But also ready to take them on if need be.

I love what Carey does here, beginning with Steve Dillon drawing Kit and John married. This is what people wanted! This is what Kit wanted! This is what John wanted! This is what I wanted! And even if you ignore the Adam being evil stuff, the life isn't that great. Without magic, John isn't himself, can't operate as well. Carey makes the argument for why John giving it up for Kit wouldn't work even if it meant the end of the series and we accept that. John is John and taking away part of that weakens the whole.

The second bit with Zed doesn't work as well for me only because I missed all of Zed. I can't tell if Carey plays with that relationship much with Saul. I will say that there's something very disturbing about the little shit torturing the green and being part plant.

More than any, the last one is John's worst nightmare: he's old, balding, out of shape, not with it, and his daughter is a teenage socipath who dresses like a slut. Wait -- isn't that everyone's worst nightmare?

This is a deeply personal horror issue. This all ties into John's personal issues and past. This isn't 'save the world' horror or even save anyone else... this is him living through the horrors of Rosacarnis's kids because he said he would.

I also love the use of the three artists: past, present, future.

In 30 minutes, we begin to see what happens now that John has three kids that know magic, know him, and are deadset on fucking shit up...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 34: Hellblazer: Stations of the Cross (Part Two)

[Discussed in this post: the second part of Hellblazer: Station of the Cross, "Stations of the Cross" (#197-199).]

The story so far: John Constantine doesn't remember who he is and he doesn't want to remember who he is. Nergal's daughter, Rosacarnis wants John for a day and keeps trying to get him to accept her offer to return his memory. She'd probably have better luck if she said that he had to be in her service for a day or else she'd return his memory... then again, she needs him to remember who he is as we'll see shortly (not right now, though).

This story focuses on a weird church that sends out hot young women to pick up homeless people and bring them back. Frusin has some much fun with the opening scene in the rain. These two overexaggerated girls, the bundled up, confused teen sitting on the street... it's a thing of beauty. But, of course, something isn't right with this church. When John is brought there, he can sense and it and it isn't until he's brought to the prophet that he knows: the prophet is Ghant (who he doesn't remember) and Ghant has plans for John. He has him bound and chained and sets up an auction for his soul. As a result of his bone abacus being destroyed, the souls it contained fled to his body, leaving his chest full of little mouths that sometimes prophesise... which helps in setting up your own church. One of the girls helps John attempt an escape, but they just run to the chamber where Ghant has a bunch of demons waiting to bid on John's soul. Things go south there when the First of the Fallen shows up and isn't convinced that it's John since he doesn't act like John. John and the girl flee, only to be caught by the members of the church. They're then burned at the stake with Rosacarnis appearing before John, offering to save him if she'll accept his offer. He does. And so begins the longest day of his life.

Frusin's final storyarc (he does a part of #200) is a great use of his talents. Creepy church cult, chase scenes, a roomful of demons, cute girls... it's all shadows and mood. Frusin isn't the best at facial expressions always, only nailing a few of them, but the confused look of the teenage boy at the beginning of the first issue is great. Head tilted slightly, eyes wide, a pure "Are you fucking kidding me?" look. He can't believe it.

John can't escape himself or his past. He can forget it, but it doesn't forget him. He may as well be himself, because at least then he's prepared for what's coming. Of course, he doesn't have much of a choice: burn at the stake or become himself again... tough call. Seriously. He rejects Rosacarnis's offer at first. He seems ready to die instead, recognising that as the better of two options. I almost wish he had died because that could have been an interesting story: John not knowing who he is arriving in Hell or wherever, various parties laying claim to his soul and him not knowing what's going on.

But, what happens here sets up the excellent 200th issue of the series, which I'll talk about in 30 minutes...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 33: Hellblazer: Stations of the Cross (Part One)

[Discussed in this post: the first part of Hellblazer: Stations of the Cross, "Ward 24" (#194) and "Out of Season" (#195-196).]

Leonardo Manco comes aboard for two issues before disappearing until the third part of #200. John can't remember who his is and what I love about what Carey does here is immediately does things to rectify the situation only for John to actively fight against it. He gets a few flashes of memory, enough to realise that he doesn't want to remember who he was. Given the option, John Constantine wouldn't choose to be John Constantine. That's genius stuff, because it's true.

Would you want to be John Constantine?

Ask yourself that. I wouldn't want to be. He's lost everything numerous times. He's constantly on the edge of death. His friends and family all die because of him. Being John Constantine sucks.

And yet reading about him is so compelling.

In the process of trying to figure out, at first, who he is, he comes across a little girl who has a burn on her hand and takes her to the hospital. There, he draws attention by saying his name is someone else's. The attention comes from the only person on the planet who remembers what happened with the beast -- and he remembers everything, including everyone's secrets. When joined, everyone's minds were one and he retains that knowledge. He's also quite insane and only notices John because the name John uses is the name of the man he just killed. From there, he notices that he doesn't know John. John wasn't linked in with everyone.

Around the same time, a hit shows up on the computer for John's identity and a doctor mentions his real name to him, which is where John remembers enough briefly to know he doesn't want the rest. But, the killer guy shows up, kills the doctor and frames John for it. So, John is on the run, the killer is hunting him, and that little girl is really Nergal's daughter. And she wants John to give herself to him for one day in exchange for his memories back. He refuses because nothing about that deal appeals to him. The killer uses his knowledge of other people's memories of John to track down Chas and threaten his family as bait for John. John manages to save the day and kill the killer, but he runs away, not wanting anything to do with his former life.

Leonardo Manco sticks around for the first two issues with Chris Brunner doing the third here. I like Brunner's style, but it doesn't mesh with Manco's at all. If you need someone to pick up for Jock? Brunner. Manco needs someone a bit different. Someone more intricate and detailed, not quite as broad-stroked and blocky. I like Brunner's art in his issue, I just don't like the way it doesn't flow from Manco's.

I really do like John not wanting his memories back. You know he'll get them back, but that makes it worse. You thought that losing his memory was a bad thing at the end of "Staring at the Wall," but it freed him... now, it's just a countdown until he's trapped as the horrible bastard John Constantine again.

In 30 minutes, we do the second part of Station of the Cross with Marcelo Frusin's last storyarc on the title...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 32: Hellblazer: Staring at the Wall (Part Two)

[Discussed in this post: the second part of Hellblazer: Staring at the Wall, "Staring at the Wall" (#189-193).]

It's the end of the world, all because John was so desperate to save it.

John calls together a group of magicians to the kill the dog that is apparently the beast that will break on through the three doors. It's broken through the second door, which allows it to possess small groups of people, causing them to do the standard Hellblazer crazy shit. They need to stop it before it can go through the third door and enter the collective unconscious of humanity. Thankfully, Jason, Angie's brother, was cured of his mental illness while possessed and knows what's going on because he overheard it from the souls possessing him. So, the plan is to trap the dog and kill it.

And they succeed.

Except the dog wasn't the problem. The dog was humanity's protector. It hunted the nameless, shapeless beast. Yes, there were reports of the dog throughout history surrounded by madness and such, but that's because that was the trail it followed to get at the beast. So, now, without the dog to stop it, the beast goes through the third door and everything is fucked.

Not that John is going to give up. He keeps formulating plans despite everyone hating him. He enlists Swamp Thing and Gemma. The beast is saving him for last. It's going through every combination of murder, rape, assault, all of it... all because he hates the children of Adam. He still resents the indignity of Adam trying to name him.

Say what you will about John Constantine: he fucks up a lot, but that only makes him try that much harder. He doesn't know the meaning of the word 'lose.' Okay, sometimes, he'll pretend like he does, but that's when other people get played. Play him and he'll do everything he can to make you eat it.

He comes up with a pretty good plan involving making himself braindead and apart from the rest of humanity as a result. Since the beast was saving him for last, his mind is now completely off-limits. From there, he plans and gives advice until the beast finds him, at which point, Swamp Thing arrives loaded up with armour made from a piece of wood from Eden. But, that's just a distraction so Gemma and Angie can hook into the collective unconscious and get the entire world dreaming of a big dog that can kill the beast. Since Adam created the first one, why couldn't all of humanity create a new one? It shows up, kills the beast, and the world is saved, albeit rather wrecked.

The story ends with no one knowing where John is. On the final page, he's walking through the wreckage and he doesn't remember anything.

Much like Ennis did in "Rake at the Gates of Hell," Carey does a great job here of making it seem like all hope is lost. He also plays off each step of the process, showing how Constantine was played and made to look at the dog instead of the beast. Even with Constantine determined, victory seemed less than sure. Each successive issue made it seem worse. After all, the beast had all of humanity under its control. All it had to do was make everyone die.

I really like the ending. It gives the idea of a price being paid: John gave up himself to save the world. There's something very cool about that idea, I think. Gemma and Angie also came through, looking like important parts of the plan. Even Chas and Swamp Thing helped.

Frusin knocked this arc out of the park. Swamp Thing's Eden wood armour is totally badass. John has a weariness and coldness in his look throughout. He's pissed and tired and not sure it will work.

Since this larger arc was a big world-threatening story, Carey wisely puts the onus on John himself with the memory loss and leads to a more personal story that's even more devestating to John.

We'll begin that in 30 minutes with the first part of Stations of the Cross...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 31: Hellblazer: Staring at the Wall (Part One)

[Discussed in this post: the first part of Hellblazer: Staring at the Wall, "Bred in the Bone" (#187-188).]

This is a little two-parter focusing on Gemma. It really has nothing to do with the larger story of the first half of Carey's run on the book. It does set up something that happens later in the run, in the second storyarc of the second half of the run. I think it was stuck here as a delaying tactic to allow for Marcelo Frusin to get ahead and draw all five issues of "Staring at the Wall."

In 1983, John, another magician named Ghant, and a policeman named Bentham bound a succubus to Gruinard Island after it was hunting people in a town on the shore nearby. One of John's friends was killed, Benthem wanted the killings stopped, and Ghant had his own agenda. We've seen Ghant before. He was working for Fredericks and uses something called the bone abacus for his magic. He needs to return to Gruinard to obtain a bone from the succubus body to complete it. Gemma, meanwhile, gets arrested because the cops think she's a hooker. Ghant bails her out and offers her a job. Apparently, the succubus had sex with a vampire and left a brood of children on the island that feast only on adults. Ghant uses magic to make Gemma seem younger in appearance and smell, so she can go onto the island without being fed upon. She, Ghant, and Bentham go to the island, the two men staying in the boat, while Gemma goes ashore. Bentham feels guilty over what they did, killing the mom and leaving the kids, so he's been leaving clothes and food for them all these years. At the end, Bentham tricks Ghant to going onto a little rocky bit that seems like it's its own place, but is really attached the island, meaning the kids can get them since the binding spell would be broken if two of the three stepped on the island. The kids attack Bentham and Ghant, Bentham is killed while Ghant escapes. The kids then move on.

Doug Alexander Gregory does the art and I'd like to see more of his work. It's blocky and shadowy. It's a mesh of various styles. I've no idea what else he's done. He draws John in 1983 with a goatee. Did he have one when drawn by others?

One thing Carey does that's interesting is using a lot of different narrators, all identified. That isn't something he uses at any other time in his run. It doesn't always work, but it keeps all of the story elements from being too obvious.

I'm still just a little mystified at why this two-parter is here. It allows us to see that Gemma can actually think on her feet and allows us to see what Ghant is up to, but... yeah, I don't know. Though, this won't be the most obvious place holder story of the blogathon. That honour comes later.

In 30 minutes, the big story, the culmination of the first half of Carey's run comes with "Staring at the Wall"...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Blogathon 30: Hellblazer: Black Flowers (Part Two)

[Discussed in this post: the second part of Hellblazer: Black Flowers, "Third Worlds" (#184-186).]

Marcelo Frusin returns for this trio of stories that all take place in a different location: South America, Iran, and Tasmania. All have something that John wants in his efforts to track down what's going on with the dog and the three doors. In South America, John talks with Swamp Thing and asks for some help, but in the most dickish manner possible; he also does a scam with a buddy in exchange for information. They cheat a man out of his soul at a card game, seemingly looking like the guy fucked John. He's told that the dog comes from Eden, pre-fall. So, John heads to Iran, because Eden is close to there. There, he encounters a sect that believes they're descendents of Cain, waiting for the pardon to be lifted so they can return to Eden first, with whom he's had previous contact and they want him for theft, so he has to undergo a trial by ordeal. He learns about a beast in Eden that wouldn't be named. During that, he asks Angie to get as close to Eden as possible and bury some of his hair there. He also learns from Swamp Thing that two things crossed through the door: something large and something small. This has happened before, mostly recently in Tasmania. He escapes the trial by ordeal by using meditation to block out the pain. In Tasmania, he's trapped in a dream of sorts while Angie does the talking that gets him saved and his questions answered.

This storyarc operates under the rules that I discussed earlier: Carey telling small, somewhat self-contained stories that work on the macro as well. Each has its own little story in it that, once done, leads to the next location. The first issue is the best, because of the poker game. There's genuine intrigue there, while the other two descend in quality. We do get a cool shot of Angie being faced with a pissed off angel with a flaming sword, though.

I will say that there is something about these stories that don't sit right with me entirely. It's not because I know where things are going, it's that John doesn't seem too on the ball here. He's playing the part of the detective, but that's not what he is. It seems obvious that he's going to fuck things up, because he's just moving from place to place with such ease. Also, a big clue: John is trying to save the world. When is that ever good for anyone?

The relationship between Angie and John progresses here, but Carey plays it well. I think it works fine. Especially since we get some of Angie's past in the third issue. I still don't find her that interesting, though. She's too much of a loyal puppy with the odd snarky remark. She does what she's told. Meh.

In 30 minutes, we do the first part of Staring at the Wall as things go from bad to worse...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 29: Hellblazer: Black Flowers (Part One)

[Discussed in this post: the first part of Hellblazer: Black Flowers, "The Game of Cat and Mouse" (#181) and "Black Flowers" (#182-183).]

Joining the artistic showcase that is Hellblazer: Jock and Lee Bermejo. At some point, this title turned into an ongoing version of Global Frequency.

Jock's story is a one-issue affair where John Constantine's soul is chased throughout London by three lukhavim, monsters made out of souls. He's warned by Gary Lester, his old bandmate from Hell. So, John prepares and those preparations are meaningless. So he's forced to run through London, using his knowledge of the city to stay one step ahead of the lukhavim. It's a fast-paced story that plays well to Jock's art style. He works well with a lot of quick-paced action like a chase through London. In the end, John outsmarts two of them by leading them to a place in the subway that was once a mental hospital with a chapel in it, so they're destroyed. That leave just the one, but it has a message for John: "The dog is pressing against the first door." Hmm... Again, an issue that stands on its own with a beginning and end, but feeds the larger story.

Lee Bermejo's story is two issues of Celtic souls breaking through the door of death in Stone Cross, Bedfordshire. They're possessing people and that also happens to be where Angie's brother Jason is, in a mental hospital. So, both she and John head that way independent of one another, working together once they get there. They also have to contend with gironnved, shepherds of the dead. They're prowling the town, stabbing people with their staffs, figuring its easier to collect the escaped souls by killing the hosts. John solves the problem with magic, of course. It ends with him worried about what's going on. Fredericks wanted to do something with three doors and, now, the first one has been opened.

Both of these stories are fine. When you look at them as part of the whole, they show up clearly as puzzle pieces that lose some of their lustre once you can see them completely. In the actual execution, though, they are interesting. They're told well, it's just that not much actually... happens, I guess, in the grand scheme of things.

Jock and Lee Bermejo both do good work. I don't find Bermejo as suited to this title as Jock, but Bermejo's death shepherds are great with their cloaks and masks. Very spooky. I do like how his John Constantine has a face full of lines and scars. Not distractingly so, but enough that he looks like a man who's lived.

In 30 minutes, we'll conclude Black Flowers with the three-part "Third Worlds"...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]