REVIEW: Hellblazer #296

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A Constantine family reunion! Ol’ Uncle John has found his long-lost nephew… and then proceeded to tie him up and accuse him of all manner of body horrors. Is this new found kin the monster John expects, or might he have escaped the Curse of the Constantines? Read on!

HELLBLAZER #296
WRITER: PETER MILLIGAN
ARTIST: GIUSEPPE CAMUNCOLI, STEFANO LANDINI
COLORS: BRIAN BUCCELLATO
LETTERS: SAL CIPRIANO
EDITOR: SHELLY BOND
PUBLISHER: DC COMICS (VERTIGO)
COVER PRICE: $2.99

Previously in Hellblazer: Despite a promise he made, John Constantine didn’t want to go looking for his nephew, but, as usual, fate conspired to send his life in directions he would never willingly walk.

THE WHITE SHEEP OF THE FAMILY

Fair warning: I read this in a vacuum. having not read the previous issues in the arc, I lack the context of the greater storyline, but I’ll give it a go.

On the Emerald Isle, Constantine meets his nephew, Finn, though their first encounter is a bit of a rough patch since John believes Finn to be a dark wizard responsible for human mutilations. Finn is by all accounts a saint on earth who would gladly give away all he had if it would be to the benefit of someone else, so John’s theory doesn’t hold up to observation. It turns out Finn has an adoptive brother, Declan, is an obsessive melodramatic type who appears to be using dark arts not only to control Finn’s wife (?), Sia, but also to reanimate and commune with his mother’s corpse. It’s obvious, I suppose, because his kind of jealous psychosis can only be rooted in severe mommy issues.

As usual for the character, the banter between Constantine and, well, pretty much anyone was superb. His quick-witted drollery is always delightful and verisimilitudinous—the latter being no small feat in a story about a modern-day mage. As I mentioned, the bits between Sia and Declan seems very overdone, but now that she’s made her decision about which path to walk I imagine we’ll see an explanation about the events that put Sia in his thrall; perhaps the melodrama is justified.

My favorite part of the book: John, while trying to teach Finn about establishing protective circles, breaks through his nephew’s rationalistic worldview with the help of a posh and shoephiliac “spirit.”

CARTOONSTANTINE

I wanted to hate this issue’s art. This issue was my return to “Hellblazer” after a few years’ absence and I remembered the book as having an art style that was much less abstract—this felt like Travel Foreman’s “Animal Man.” It didn’t feel right in this title and I was sure I’d be justified in my distaste. After getting into the story, however, I was happy to be wrong. The book’s muted palette and great use of shadow, coupled with she fantastic character expressions, help spin a tale just as well as the John Ridgway drawing style I unfailingly imagine when I think of “Hellblazer.” I don’t want to say the art’s not important, but strong writing can often overcome anything incongruent between words and art styles.

If I had to pick one failing of the art, it would be the scenes with Finn and Declan’s mother. While undead talking corpses have spooky potential regardless of their visual portrayal, this one landed further from “nightmarish” and closer to “Nightmare Before Christmas.”

There’s an excellent panel where Finn really begins to understand what’s going on with his uncle and the things he’s being told. When he finally gets it, that panel so effectively illustrates what’s going on in his head that the dialogue wasn’t even necessary.

BOTTOM LINE: STREWTH!

I am predisposed to enjoy (almost) any book involving John Constantine and this was not an exception. Even though I was largely in the dark about the events of the arc’s previous issues I didn’t experience too much of an entry barrier to the story. Any given issue of “Hellblazer” can be enjoyed as long as you remember two givens: “Constantine gets sucked into screwed-up events” and “He goes on to make them infinitely worse before they get better.” This issue reminded me how much I love this character when he’s doing his own thing and not running around with Justice League Dark. While I heartily recommend this issue to anyone reading, I also suggest you go ahead and pick up the preceding three issues in the arc. Once you read this one you’re going to want to get them anyway. Four stars.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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